What is TOR and How Does It Work

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TOR stands for The Onion Router. Initially, it was a worldwide network of servers developed by the US Navy for secure military communications. Now, it is a non-profit organization working in research and development in the area of online privacy tools.

Since the emergence of various mass surveillance programs being run by various intelligence services (PRISM), TOR has gained prominence as users attempt to gain some privacy over their browsing activities. According to TOR data, the number of users increased by about 100% after the PRISM program was exposed.

How TOR works?

TOR disguises your identity by moving your traffic across different servers. The traffic is routed through other computers on the TOR network, called relays. It is not necessary to convert your computer into a relay, although that is a nice thing to do.

The above picture explains how the network encrypts your data. Relays are of 3 types –

1 End relays – These are the relays where connection terminates, i.e, the 1st and 3rd node in the above picture. These nodes have a burden of being targeted by law enforcement agencies and copyright violations. Also, these are the nodes where all of the data to be transmitted is together in unencrypted form, so these relays should be well protected for overall encryption of the system.

2 Middle relays – These are the relays between the end relays. These nodes are safe – you can safely convert your system into a middle relay.

3 Bridges – They are relays which are not listed publicly, which means that their IPs are not publicly available.

Whenever someone tries to track data moving on the TOR network, they see a multitude of encrypted random data coming from various sources.

Since your data is secured by making it go through various relays, higher number of users on the network allows for better security.

How to set up TOR Network?

Setting up a TOR network is pretty straightforward. To access this network, you just need to download the Tor browser. Everything you do in the browser goes through the Tor network and doesn’t need any setup or configuration from you. That said, since your data goes through a lot of relays, it’s slow, so you’ll experience a much more sluggish internet than usual when you’re using Tor.

Also Read: 10 Security Tips for safe Internet browsing

Capabilities of TOR

Other than hiding your online presence, there are various websites which can only be accessed on the TOR network. These form the Deep Web. The deep web is that part of the Internet which is not indexed by search engines. It can be accessed by specific software. The picture below talks about the Deep Web in detail –

Deep Web and Tor Illustrated Guide

(Image credits – whoishostingthis.com)

Limitations –

The main limitation is performance. As the data is bounced off various relays, speed decreases drastically and your browsing experience is very sluggish.

Also, we have already discussed how your data can be compromised at the end relays, so the encryption is not perfect. TOR only makes you anonymous, so while your identity is protected, your data can still be compromised. For data security, VPN (Virtual Private Networks) are a better solution.

 

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