What is Tor and how does it work?

7 min read
fairly easy
Because VPNs aren't the only way to stay anonymous online
If you're looking to keep your online activities to yourself then Tor is a great option for your privacy toolkit.

Tor is a custom browser with clever open-source technology which uses some very smart tricks to protect your web anonymity.

It accesses both regular websites and the dark web, the hidden area of the internet which you won't find indexed on Google. Oh, and it's also free, with no registration required, no data limits, no ads and no constant demands to upgrade to a paid product.

Is Tor the perfect web anonymity tool? Not quite, but it can work very well in some situations. In this article we'll explain how Tor works, when to use it, and how you can combine Tor with a VPN to get the best possible protection.

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How does Tor work?

Tor is an open-source package based around a principle called Onion Routing.

This involves encrypting your data multiple times, then passing it through a network of volunteer-run servers (or 'relays') from around the world.

The first (or 'guard') relay receives your data and peels off the first layer of encryption, like the layer of an onion. In fact, Tor stands for 'The Onion Router', and takes its name from this layering idea.

The guard relay knows your IP address but has no other clues to your identity. It can't see which site you're trying to access, either, so there's no way to log what you're doing. The only information it has is the address of the next relay.

The subsequent relays don't have your IP address or know which site you're trying to visit. All they do is remove a layer of encryption and pass the data to the next relay.

When your data reaches the last relay, also called the exit node, it removes the final layer of encryption and routes your web request to its real destination.

Your target website sees the IP address of the Tor exit node rather than yours, so has even less idea of who you are. It passes its response back to the exit node, which routes it…
Mike Williams
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