Tor vs VPN

For one reason or another, Tor and VPN are regularly compared even though they do not provide the same service...

Tor vs VPN

We are continuing with our Q&A series, this time responding to the user’s question regarding Tor and VPN. One of our readers asked us to compare the two technologies or concepts, as he wasn’t sure what Tor is all about.

So we’ll start by defining Tor…

Tor 101

Tor is free and open-source software that enables anonymous communication. Its name comes from the acronym The Onion Router, where the “onion” is used to describe the protocol because of its peels. In that sense, Tor routes data through multiple layers (peels) of security before reaching its final destination.

Tor protects you against “traffic analysis,” which can reveal your identity and location by monitoring the data at different points between the device you use and the websites you visit. Here’s how it works, as depicted by this ever-handy EFF diagram:

How Tor works

Tor is used with a free Tor browser, which routes all the traffic coming to and from your computer through randomly selected servers, called Tor nodes. From there, the request is sent to several other servers (Tor nodes) before reaching its final destination. The same thing happens when data is passed back to you, assuring a high level of anonymity — as every node in the network only knows the IP address of the previous node and the IP of the next node. Therefore, it is impossible for any one server to know where the data originally came from and the final destination.

Tor advantages

There are several reasons why Tor is so popular, such as:

  • Resiliency – the Tor network is run by a distributed network of volunteers, and it is extremely difficult for any government or organization to shut it down.
  • Anonymity – the routing method used by the Tor network does not reveal your IP address to the websites you visit.
  • Price (it’s free) – you don’t have to pay a single dime in order to use the Tor software and network.
  • Bypassing geo-restrictions – Tor allows you to access geographically restricted websites and content.

In addition, with a Tor browser, you get to access .onion sites which are impossible to open on other browsers. Mind you, these are not websites most people visit.

Tor disadvantages

As that’s usually the case, there is always the other side of the coin. In Tor’s case, these could be its dealbreakers:

  • Speed – compared to a VPN, Tor is slow as its network is run by volunteers which have limited resources. In comparison, major VPN providers have put millions into building their networks.
  • No accountability – related to the previous point, because Tor nodes are run by volunteers — there is no accountability if something goes wrong.
  • Spying is possible on Tor – if you’re not using an HTTPS connection, the person/organization operating the exit node can spy on users — because by default, that traffic doesn’t get routed through an HTTPS connection.
  • Could be dangerous – as many Tor users rely on the anonymity of the Tor network to solicit illegal operations, they may end up being marked for surveillance.
  • Dark Web – visiting the earlier mentioned .onion sites could put you into trouble.

Most users should use a VPN instead of Tor

As far as the majority of users are concerned, they need a VPN rather than Tor. Just like Tor, a VPN will protect their privacy while delivering faster download and upload speeds, unblocking geo-restricted content and so much more. Also, a VPN is easier to use as it only requires users to start an app and they are good to go. Plus, a VPN can run on multiple platforms and devices and work for both websites and apps that require an Internet connection.

Nonetheless, you can still use Tor in combination with a VPN for an extra “peel” of security. We don’t think that’s necessary, but some people will find such a setup appealing.

If you want to start taking your privacy seriously, visit our page with Best of the Best VPNs. There, you will find services that have been field-tested for years and which you could rely on for accessing Netflix and other streaming services, torrenting, anonymously browsing the web and so much more. Do it now and never look back. 😉