Updated : Apr 28, 2022 in Not-Supporting

Tor vs. VPN: Which service is better for you? 2022 Analysis

Tor and VPNs are both secure network technologies. The purpose of using them is to protect your online privacy. But they are not the same thing. 

If you want to learn more about the two services, what makes them the same and what makes them different, and most importantly, which service is right for you, read this article.

VPN and Tor are not the same: here’s why

So what’s the difference between Tor and a VPN, and which one should you use?

Basically, VPNs focus on privacy and Tor focuses on anonymity. While there is some overlap between these two concepts, think of it this way: anonymity hides who you are, and privacy hides what you do.

A VPN encrypts your connection and routes it through an intermediate server at another location of your choosing. This server is operated by the VPN provider.

Tor encrypts your Internet connection and routes it through a random sequence of servers run by volunteers.

What’s the difference between Tor and a VPN?

Both Tor and a VPN encrypt data before it leaves your device, and then route it through proxy servers to disguise your IP address and location. Incoming data goes through the same process in reverse order. But let’s focus on what make them different and what service will work best in your case.

Centralized vs. decentralized

The biggest difference is that a VPN is a centralized service. This means that a central authority controls and manages the connections. In this case, that’s the VPN provider, which is usually a private company. A VPN company may own and operate thousands of servers around the world that its users can connect to. Best VPN offers good privacy protection and fast connections, but users must trust the VPN provider to some degree.

Tor is decentralized. No one owns or manages it. The proxy servers, also called “nodes” or “relays,” are run by thousands of volunteers around the world. When you connect to Tor, every time you visit another website, your connection is routed through a random sequence of these servers. It’s possible that an origin server – the last in line – will read unencrypted traffic that passes through it, but it can’t determine the source of that data.

Single-hop VPN vs. Tor onion routing

Most VPNs use only a single proxy server. Outgoing data is encrypted on your device, sent to the VPN server, decrypted, and then sent to the destination website, app, or service. A few VPNs offer multi-hop configurations, but these are the exception to the rule.

Tor sends your data through no less than three random relays. Your data is encrypted once for each server, including the IP address of the next sender in line. At each server, an encryption layer is removed so that the next server in line can see the data while it remains hidden from the previous servers in the chain. No relay can see the content, source, and destination of the Internet traffic, making it extremely difficult to trace. This process is called onion routing because the encryption layers are removed like the layers of an onion. Tor is actually an acronym for “The Onion Router”.

VPN applications vs. Tor browser

Devices and applications can be set up to use Tor in a variety of ways, but most users access the Tor network through the Tor browser. This is a Firefox-based web browser designed with security and anonymity in mind. The Tor browser routes all Internet traffic through the Tor network. It does not save your web history, does not run scripts, and does not save cookies after you close it.

Tor can be used in several other ways, from entire operating systems like TAILS to communication apps like SecureDrop and Ricochet.

Devices and apps connect to VPNs either through a VPN app or through built-in clients on computers, smartphones, and WLAN routers. Most commercial VPN services make their own apps that are pre-configured with all the VPN provider’s servers. Good VPN apps can greatly enhance connection privacy and security with features such as leak protection, kill switches, obfuscation, split tunneling and IP address modulation.

Rudimentary VPN clients are built into most popular operating systems, including Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android, but each VPN server must be individually configured to use them.

Can I use Tor and a VPN at the same time?

Yes. It will definitely have a negative impact on your internet speed, but it’s definitely possible.

The easiest way is to connect your device to a VPN and then launch the Tor browser. This will route outgoing traffic through the VPN first and then through the Tor network.

This way, it will be harder for third parties to track you. If your ISP rejects Tor connections, then the VPN will hide the fact that you are using Tor.

When should you use a VPN?

For these purposes, a VPN is better than Tor:

  • Bypass censorship – If you’re in a country like China where much of the internet is blocked by the authorities, a VPN lets you access censored content as if you were in another country.
  • Prevent ISP throttling – If your ISP throttles certain types of Internet traffic, such as torrents or streaming video, then a VPN can hide that activity so it can’t be discriminated against.
  • Accessing blocked content at work or school – If you work or study in a place that restricts access to the Internet, a VPN can bypass those blocks.
  • A VPN can hide your IP address, but the VPN provider can still see the connection data and traffic that passes through its servers. Although most VPN providers say they don’t log this information, you still have to trust the VPN provider, while Tor uses a trustless system.
  • Unblocking regionally blocked content – For example, many streaming services only allow access to viewers from certain countries. With a VPN, a user can “fake” their location by changing it to any country where the VPN provider has servers, thus bypassing the regional restrictions.
  • Torrenting – VPNs are usually much faster than Tor and allow much more bandwidth for downloads.
  • Securing public wifi – If you’re on the go and need to connect to a public wifi, a VPN is a more convenient solution. The VPN’s encryption prevents hackers from snooping and launching man-in-the-middle attacks, but otherwise doesn’t affect your browsing experience.

You can’t get to the dark web with a VPN. A Tor connection is required to access .onion websites.

When should you use Tor?

Tor is better than a VPN in the following cases:

Anonymous access to the Internet – It’s nearly impossible to trace a Tor connection back to the original user. You can safely visit a website without leaving any traces, both on your device and on the website’s server.

  • With Tor, you can’t choose the location from which you access the Internet. Also, most websites can detect that traffic is coming from a Tor exit relay and block it accordingly.
  • Although Tor is very secure, connections must go through Tor’s entry and exit relays. These relays are public, so your ISP and other third parties can know when you are using Tor. Even if they don’t know what you’re doing or who you are online, using Tor might arouse suspicion because many people associate it with criminal activity.
  • Accessing the dark web – Tor can be used to access the dark web. Most of the dark web consists of websites that can only be accessed through a Tor connection and cannot be found on Google. It is often associated with criminal activity, such as black markets, but it is also used for a variety of legitimate reasons.
  • Untraceable communications – Journalists and their sources, whistleblowers, activists, dissidents, and victims of crime who wish to remain anonymous can use Tor to communicate securely without being tracked or leaving a trail of evidence.

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