TOR vs VPN

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Updated September 21, 2022

Did you know that you have an online address, just like the one for your house or apartment? Whether you like it or not, it’s true. But thankfully, unlike your home address, the best VPNs allow you to hide your IP address from third-party trackers, government censors, and hackers. However, VPNs aren’t the only solution to this problem. Below, we’ll compare TOR vs VPN and help you get an understanding of what’s all out there as you work to secure your online identity.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • TOR and VPN services aim to make online activity secure and anonymous and do so in varying degrees.
  • TOR browsers pass user data through a series of decentralized servers that encrypt user data and increase layers of anonymity.
  • VPN providers pass user data through an encrypting proxy server that’s part of a centralized system.

Feel free to check out our other internet security content. We have many excellent articles, like our comparison of Smart DNS vs VPN.

Insider Tip

Use a VPN to download torrent files. TOR browsers will take much longer, given data passes through multiple servers.

TOR Browser vs VPN

TOR browsers and VPN providers seek to achieve the same end: to boost online anonymity and security for internet users. And they accomplish this through similar means, such as hiding IP addresses, encrypting data, and working via proxy servers.

However, despite much overlap, the result is two solutions with surprisingly different strengths and weaknesses.

First, let us define terms.

TOR stands for “The Onion Router.” The name may sound silly, but it’s a helpful way to remember how it works. Onion routing works as a type of web browser. Once a user installs and begins to use a TOR browser, all data that passes through a series of random servers known as entry nodes, middle nodes, and exit nodes. With each added server, additional layers of encryption are added.

VPN stands for “Virtual Private Network.” After users download and connect to VPN servers, their internet traffic is routed through the server, where it’s encrypted before being sent out into cyberspace.

The key difference between these two is the matter of centralization. TOR is a decentralized system of random servers operated by volunteers. In contrast, VPNs are operated by private companies with a centralized network of servers. This structural difference has implications for overall anonymity and security.

If you decide to go with a VPN, be sure to read our article explaining the best browser VPN. And suppose you are still deciding what method to use. In that case, it could be helpful to read our article comparing VPS vs VPN to look at another form of internet security tech.

Warning

Users are limited to what websites they can access when using TOR browsers.

Anonymity

When it comes to complete anonymity, nothing beats a TOR browser. Because there’s no server oversight, meaning each packet of data is encrypted as it bounces from server to server. With each additional server, the ability for anyone to track user data becomes impossible.

A VPN connection changes a user’s real IP address. However, their information is still passed through and controlled by a centralized network. This structure means the VPN company can access user data, although many vow they don’t keep data logs.

If you finish this and want to learn more, we have a similar article answering the question, ”What is Onion over VPN?”

Security

VPNs are great because they encrypt everything a user does, whether downloading, using third-party apps, transferring documents, or browsing. TORs only encrypt what is done within the browser.

STAT: TOR Project, the most popular dark web browser, has over 20 million daily users. (source)

Price

TOR browsers are free to use. On the other hand, good VPN services cost users between $3 to $20 every month.

TOR vs VPN FAQs

Is using the dark web illegal?

The dark web, although sounding sketchy, is legal to use. However, there is plenty of criminal activity that occurs. So it all depends on what you use it for.

Do TOR browsers work on all computers?

TOR browsers are compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux OS systems.

Can you use TOR and VPN services together?

You can use both to boost online privacy, but be aware that it will reduce connection speed.
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