Is Tor Safe? – Comprehensive Tor Browser Security Analysis

Tor is a browser designed to help you anonymize your web activity and maintain online privacy. 

By encrypting connections through a series of relay nodes resembling the layers of an onion, Tor keeps its users anonymous. 

Accessing the dark web, which isn’t searchable by conventional browsers, becomes effortless and secure with Tor. 

Dark websites are also encrypted behind relay nodes, ensuring the confidentiality of both visitors and hosts.

Notably, Tor operates on a volunteer-run relay network, meaning your traffic is routed through others’ computers. This already suggests the thought, how secure is Tor? 

Browsing history and site data aren’t stored by the browser. Let’s do our research into Tor’s security features and find out if the Tor Browser is secure and, if so, how secure it is.

Tor Browser Homepage
Tor Browser Homepage

How Does Tor Browser Work?

The Tor Browser relies on a network of volunteers to encrypt your traffic and send it through three different servers, also known as nodes or relays. This process hides your IP address and protects your activity data from snoopers and any other intrusive third parties.

When you access Tor, the entry relay can see your IP but not the data you are sending. The middle relay can see your data but not your IP. 

The exit relay performs the crucial task of sending your data to the internet without knowing its origin. These relays are changed every 5 minutes, adding an extra layer of security against compromised relays.

In theory, such a connection could be considered secure since no single relay has access to both your IP and data. However, the security issues associated with Tor demonstrate that the system isn’t flawless.

Why Use Tor Browser?

People use the Tor browser for various reasons. They access geo-restricted content, bypass censorship, and even visit the dark web

Tor is relied upon by organizations, journalists, whistleblowers, and anyone eager to keep their online activities private. It becomes particularly crucial in countries with restrictions on free speech.

Activists like Edward Snowden utilize Tor to safeguard their information, sources, and identities. 

In fact, Tor has been instrumental in aiding those living under repressive regimes to overcome online censorship and access blocked sites.

The 2010 Arab Spring is an illustrative example. During that time, Tor acted as a shield, protecting the identities of individuals and providing access to vital resources, including social media and blocked news websites.

Apart from activists, ordinary individuals also benefit from using Tor. 

It allows them to browse the internet without the fear of being watched. By posting on websites while concealing their location, Tor enhances privacy, which proves valuable when discussing sensitive topics. 

Furthermore, Tor has proven to be an essential tool for domestic abuse and rape survivors, as well as individuals with illnesses, enabling them to seek the necessary support while remaining safe.

Additionally, Tor finds utility in the realm of app development as well. Developers seek to incorporate Tor’s built-in privacy features to create more secure applications.

Advantages of Tor Browser

Tor is Open-Source

This means the source code is freely available for inspection and modification. 

You have the flexibility to install or remove components as desired, and with the knowledge and ability, you can even modify the code itself

The transparency that comes with this ensures that you don’t have to worry about anything being concealed. You, along with everyone else, maintain total control over Tor.

Decentralized Server Network

There isn’t a central authority monitoring or overseeing the browser’s activities. 

Once you quit your session, nothing you do is recorded. You can rest easy knowing that your comments won’t come back to haunt you, and your internet history won’t be tracked

The Tor community’s collective effort keeps Tor running, but no top-down authority has access or control over the data.

Multi-Layer Encryption

To ensure security, traffic passes through three random servers (or relays), providing multi-layered encryption. This process involves an entry node, a randomized relay node, and a randomized exit node

While the exit relay doesn’t encrypt traffic, using a VPN can address this concern, ensuring your data remains encrypted even at the exit node.

Access to .onion Sites And the Dark Web

Tor provides access to .onion sites and the dark web, where you can find a plethora of content unavailable on the regular web

Marketplaces with unique goods, hosts for paywalled academic research, and forums discussing controversial topics—all find a place on the dark web, catering to a variety of interests.

Is Tor Safe?

Want a quick answer, is Tor safe? Well, Tor Browser security is not absolute. 

In any case, Tor Browser privacy is significantly higher than that of users of other browsers. 

However, a good VPN like VeePN along with Tor Browser can offer even better security. 

In short, Tor Browser is relatively secure, but it is not a panacea. You still take on a number of potential risks. You should also take additional protective measures

Let’s look at it in more detail below.

Pros: Tor Offers a Range of Security Features

Tor is a privacy-focused solution that offers a range of helpful features for safeguarding online identities. Here are the key ones:

Cons: Potential Vulnerabilities

Tor’s security issues stem from its network being managed by volunteers, allowing anyone to establish a server and join. 

Consequently, your data could pass through relays owned by malicious actors, including government agencies like the CIA. 

Here are the main types of vulnerabilities that Tor cannot protect against:

Cons: Security Level Varies by Device

Tor Browser, officially available on Android, Windows, Linux, and macOS, has different security levels due to platform constraints

Unfortunately, it is not accessible for iOS devices as Apple requires the use of UIWebView or WKWebView rendering engine for any browser developed for iOS.

This requirement prevents Apple from creating a dedicated Tor Browser for Apple users. iOS users can consider using Onion Browser as the closest alternative, developed by Mike Tigas, one of the volunteer core contributors at Tor.

However, it’s important to note that the Onion Browser does not offer the same level of security as the official Tor Browser. If you need to use Tor for privacy and anonymity, it is recommended to do so on a computer or an Android device.

Tor Browser on Mobile Devices
Tor Browser on Mobile Devices

Is It Possible to Reveal the Identity of a Tor Browser User?

Suspicions that the FBI and other US government agencies can de-anonymize Tor users have existed for years. These rumors suggest that Tor is a trap used by law enforcement to monitor those seeking online anonymity. 

However, it is essential to note that the US Navy initially conceived and developed the Onion network, which receives substantial funding from the US government.

The ongoing collaboration between Tor developers and the US government, as revealed by Yasher Levine in Surveillance Valley, raises concerns. While Tor aims to provide complete anonymity, there have been instances confirming the suspicions of de-anonymization

In a 2017 court case, the FBI refrained from disclosing or presenting evidence regarding a potential Tor vulnerability used to identify a suspect, leading to the case’s collapse.

This event demonstrates that while the FBI may possess the capability to de-anonymize users, they cannot disclose their methods. Publicly disclosing a vulnerability would cause regular users to boycott the platform, rendering it ineffective for surveillance and making state-affiliated traffic easily identifiable

Despite this, recent years have seen the publication of various email correspondences between Tor developers and US government agencies, one of which involved a Tor co-founder discussing cooperation with the Department of Justice and mentioning the installation of “backdoors.”

Is Tor Browser Legal?

It is legal in the majority of developed and underdeveloped countries worldwide, allowing users to protect and conceal their device’s IP address during internet browsing.

While most individuals use it for regular browsing, there are a few with malicious intent who engage in illegal activities such as data theft, ransom demands, or identity fraud.

Certain countries restrict its usage, as they seek to regulate and monitor online activities during people’s leisure time.

How to Improve the Security of Using Tor Browser?

Apart from setting up a VPN over your Tor Browser, there are various other ways to ensure your safety. Let me share a few with you.

Set Security Level

You can enhance your security levels by adjusting the settings in the Tor Browser. You have three options to choose from: Standard, Safer, and Safest

The Safer and Safest settings disable JavaScript, certain fonts, and math symbols on non-HTTPS sites. Features known for causing security issues are also automatically disabled. Moreover, HTML5 audio and video, as well as WebGL, become click-to-play.

To change your security level, simply click on the shield icon located in the top-right corner and select “Change…” from the options. A window will open up where you can choose the desired security level.

Use a VPN

Using a VPN or proxy over Tor can potentially slow down performance and introduce an additional “traffic hop” that can track and store your browsing logs. 

Despite the fact that most modern VPNs and anonymous proxy providers offer a no-logs policy, it is crucial to carefully consider these tradeoffs.

Choose HTTPS Sites

It’s crucial to only use HTTPS sites when using Tor. 

HTTPS provides an extra layer of security by encryption and authentication information transmitted between your browser and a website. 

Never input your personal information into HTTP sites, whether you’re using Tor or the surface web.

Don't Disclose Personal Data

Remember, anonymity is the key when using Tor. 

Avoid revealing any personal details such as your name, address, email, or phone number. 

There is rarely a need to provide such information on the dark web, and doing so can be risky.

Be Careful With File Uploads

Another important aspect is to refrain from downloading files from untrustworthy sources. 

Hackers often take advantage of curious and unsuspecting Tor users by setting up traps with viruses and malware. 

Exercise caution and only download files from trusted sources.

Final Thoughts

As we venture into the captivating world of secure browsing, you might ponder, “Is Tor browser safe?” Let’s uncover the answer. 

Tor is a powerful and efficient tool for maintaining online privacy and anonymity. While complete safety can’t be guaranteed, it boasts a multitude of robust security features aimed at safeguarding users from online threats

However, it’s crucial to utilize Tor judiciously and implement additional measures to ensure web browsing security.

When you employ anonymizing services, you can surf the web without worrying about being followed or monitored. 

But remember, always keep your guard up, and practice secure browsing techniques to avoid falling victim to online scams or attacks.

Picture of Edgar Abong

Edgar Abong

Edgar is a skilled software developer with a passion for building and evaluating software products. His expertise in software development enables him to provide in-depth evaluations of software products. He can draw out insights about features, functionality and user experience.

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