Here is an inconvenient truth: everything that you do on the Internet leaves a trace. If you have an extension like Ghostery* installed on your browser, you’ll know that even a simple benign-looking webpage can be filled to the brim with web trackers that spy upon your browsing habits. These trackers then use the data that they’ve gathered for a whole variety of purposes- advertising, analytics, or whatever it is that their creators have set them upon to track.
Use Tor Browser to Protect Your Anonymity
*Ghostery is a privacy-focused browser extension that shows all the companies that are tracking visitors on a web page.
But of course, those trackers are just the tip of the iceberg. The idea of having our computer usage being mercilessly tracked and spied upon can be really discomforting for most people. Thankfully, there are a number of viable options with which people can escape surveillance and tracking.
Enter the Tor Project.
What is the Tor Project?
Tor was initially conceptualized by the US Naval Research Laboratory to protect government communications. Control and development of the project has since then been transferred to a nonprofit organization founded by one of the project’s original developers.
Tor stands for “The Onion Router.” It got its name from the way it encrypts the data of the people on its network: all sorts of communication that pass through Tor are nestled through layers and layers of encryption, in the same manner as how the insides of an onion are organized. Once the original data has been sent through the network, it goes through a relay of computers on the Tor network, which decrypts it further and further until it reaches its destination. Since that data packet has already gone through a multitude of “relays,” its sender can’t be traced back to its originating server/computer.
How to Use Tor?
Tor has gained quite an (in)famous reputation partly due to the role it plays in the buy-and-sell of drugs and other contraband on the dark web. Despite this, the software is also notable for the good that it does to society. For one, it helps people living in countries where the Internet is heavily censored and regulated (e.g. China and Russia) to access the Web without restrictions. It also lets political whistleblowers to bypass surveillance and political persecution safely.
For us normal folks, Tor is just a simple way within which we can get ahead of the corporations and entities who are using our browsing data without our knowledge. Thankfully (despite sounding so complicated), using Tor is just as easy as downloading a small application onto your computer. Here’s how to get started.
- Download Tor Browser from its official download page at www.torproject.org. The software is available on Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux.
- Install Tor Browser on your computer. Do take note that you can install the application anywhere you like, whether it’s on your computer or on a flash drive.
- Open the Tor Browser. Simply head on over to the folder where you saved the application and click on the “Start Tor Browser” file.
- Wait as the application connects you to the Tor network. Waiting time is dependent on how fast your internet connection is.
Voila. You’re now free to roam the Internet as you please, without worrying about corporations and other entities spying in on your browsing habits. You can see that the Tor Browser is actually a modified Firefox browser, so getting around it will be intuitive for most people. There are no extensions of any sort, so forget about running Java or Flash-based applets in-browser.
Tor Tips and Tricks
- If you’re a mobile worker who likes to connect to public Wifi in cafes or libraries, then keep a copy of Tor Browser in a flash drive. This way, you’ll be safe from attackers who use public Wifi networks to spy on people’s internet traffic.
- Forget about having extensions like Quicktime and Flash. These applications often leave traces of a person’s unencrypted IP address, so the Tor Browser safely leaves them out. If you must use these applications, consider using a VPN instead.
- As much as possible, don’t use Google for searches. There’s a possibility that it will tag your search as malicious, thereby making you go through numerous captcha pages. Just use the default search engine “Startpage” when you have to search.
- To ensure your anonymity, always keep your copy of Tor regularly updated. The browser’s frontpage will notify you if a new update for Tor is available for download.