Introduction to Tor

5 January 2021

This article was first published on championquizzer.dreamwidth.org

In this blog post, I would like to give you an introduction to Tor and try to address some fundamental questions about it.

What is Tor?

Tor is a network of virtual tunnels that allows you to improve your privacy and security on the Internet. It protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world, it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit and it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location. This collection of volunteer relays is called the Tor network. The way most people use Tor is with the Tor Browser, which is based on Firefox ESR and comes bundled with privacy enhancing & anti-fingerprinting features.

So, basically, it’s a VPN?

Nope. Tor is NOT a VPN and furthermore it is not recommended to use Tor and VPN together. These are fundamentally very different. In the case of VPN, you’re just transferring your trust from your internet service provider (ISP) to the VPN provider. The VPN provider can log any data while you use their network and it’s a single point of failure as well. Anyone snooping on the VPN connection can also easily gain knowledge of your activities. To add, VPNs don’t essentially take any steps to mitigate browser fingerprinting or cross-site tracking on the internet.

While using Tor, your connection is made to the website by bouncing the connection through three different relays so the website you’re connecting to can only see the IP address of the ‘exit’ relay. The Tor Browser furthermore comes bundled with features like: a different circuit of every different domain, i.e. a new circuit for every website you’re connecting to so as to mitigate cross-site tracking; ‘Security Settings’ with which you can also disable most of the harmful JavaScript (this might break some websites though!). Something noteworthy is that the idea is not to hide that you’re using the Tor network but to anonymize your activities on the Tor network.

“But, hey, if it’s known that you’re connecting to the Tor network then anyone can censor your connection, right?” Yep, let’s talk about censorship!


I’ve touched on this very briefly in my previous post. Many governments or internet service providers try to block connections to the Tor Network. The Tor Browser ships with “pluggable transports” to circumvent these blocks. Most pluggable transports, such as obfs4, rely on the use of “bridge” relays. Unlike the ordinary relays, bridge relays are not listed publicly (but these are still run by volunteers).

Tor is an essential tool for privacy and anonymity on the internet. It is a tool used by millions of people all around the globe - from journalists to human rights activists to ordinary people. My work as an intern with the Community Team is to handle tickets on the request tracker, answer user queries and derive useful reports for our teams across the board!