When the revelations about government mass surveillance were disclosed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013, the issue irrevocably changed how the world saw online privacy. Suddenly the general public started to think a lot more about how safe it is to post all their activities online, and to question how safe their data is on the internet.
One way many people now stay safe online is to make use of the Tor anonymising network.
The Tor anonymity network (named after The Onion Router project) consists of software that shields and redirects internet traffic through a worldwide network of relays. It is comprised of volunteers who set up their computers as Tor exit nodes, in order to offer at least three layers of encryption, whereby the source and the final destination of the Tor path is completely anonymised.
The network is used both by people who have privacy concerns and don't want governments and internet service providers (ISP) to be able to spy on their activities online, as well as by others who have nefarious purposes in mind — for example, people who want to obtain firearms, narcotics and counterfeit goods from secret underground marketplaces on the Dark Web.
How do I use Tor?
It's fairly simple to get started with Tor. Simply go to the Tor Project website and download the Tor Browser here. The Tor Browser is available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux, and it has been translated into 15 other popular languages besides English.
Step One: Select the Tor Browser in the language and operating system of your choice and click on the link in the table on the download page, then safe the file to your desktop.
Step Two: Install the software and make sure that it is updated to the latest version.
Step Three: Every time you want to go on the internet, from now on you should only do so by launching the Tor Browser. Sometimes it takes several seconds for websites to load, but this is normal – the extra time is due to the fact your internet traffic is bouncing around the Tor relays so that it becomes untraceable to you. Use Tor for all websites, including Facebook.
Step Four (optional): If you want to further encrypt your web traffic so it makes it impossible for it to be traced, then you should use Tor together with a virtual private network (VPN). VPNs are premium paid subscription tunnel services that route internet traffic through a private server to hide your traffic and geographic location. There are tons of VPN providers online, offering a range of different prices, so check out this VPN comparison guide before purchasing.
Advice: We know that illegally downloading pirated content via torrents is popular, but although it is tempting, you shouldn't do so on the Tor network, as it will slow down and jam up the network for everyone else. So please don't do this. Also, again, remember that it is illegal.