With the recent net neutrality repeal, there’s been a lot of talk about VPNs and their importance. Where some analysts champion VPNs as the ultimate privacy tool, others are more skeptical.
While it’s true that VPNs can help lessen the effects of the net neutrality rollbacks, there are certain areas where they may not be very effective. If you really want to go the extra mile and make sure you stay off the grid entirely, it’s worth using a VPN in conjunction with Tor.
What is Tor?
Developed in the mid-90s, Tor is a free web service that was created to allow anonymous communication. Picked up by the U.S. government and used by the Office of Naval Research, Tor has earned several nicknames through the years, including the Onion Router, the Dark Net, the Deep Web, and more.
While once regarded as a seedy corner of the internet where users could partake in illegal activities, Tor has more recently come to be seen as one of the ultimate privacy tools—a must for today’s ever-changing internet landscape.
How does Tor work?
Run by various volunteers around the world, the Tor network is a group of interconnected networks designed to help connect and anonymize a user’s internet connection. When a person uses Tor, their data is bundled into encryption packets and relayed to different sites and services throughout the web. Similar to how a VPN encrypts network traffic, Tor makes it possible for people to browse with complete anonymity.
But while a VPN works as an application, the Tor network is a browser that users need to download and install. Many journalists, advocates, and other privacy advocates use Tor to send and receive data more securely.
With ISP’s now having more control over user networks than ever before, Tor use is only expected to increase.
How you can use Tor with a VPN
While both VPNs and Tor are secure privacy tools, each holds a few key differences: for one, VPNs are able to see (and therefore alter) your IP address, where the Tor network is completely anonymous. VPNs can encrypt and protect your network, where Tor simply encrypts your network data. Additionally, the Tor network generally tends to be a lot slower than traditional networks, which make it less ideal for streaming or downloading.
Think of it this way: Your VPN is used for privacy, while Tor is used for anonymity.
Both are great privacy tools on their own, but when used together they’re able to offer even more online protection.
The best way to use a VPN with Tor
While it’s possible to connect to the Tor network and then connect to a VPN, it’s a difficult process that requires advanced configuration. That’s because the VPN needs to adjust its traffic flow to accommodate Tor. Unless the VPN hosts its own Tor servers, it’s probably best not to follow this process. As of this article’s publication, ExpressVPN is the only known VPN provider to host its own service within the Tor network.
Connecting to a VPN first and then connecting to Tor is a much faster (and significantly easier) way to browse with added anonymity. However, for this scenario, it’s important only to use VPNs that do not keep logs, as the VPN provider will be able to see your IP address—thereby nullifying the anonymity the Tor network can provide.
When you use a logless VPN service, you don’t have to worry about your IP being exposed because there are no actual logs to place or pinpoint the user at any given time.
Interested in using Tor? You can start by downloading the free software and following the step-by-step instructions here.