In browsing certain subreddits and other groups recently, it’s come to my attention that there’s still a lot of misinformation floating around about Tor (and the “dark web” in general).
For that reason, I checked Tor’s website and noticed that they had done a nice front end update! Well done, folks.
Anyhow, let’s start with the Tor network. The Tor Project has a nice overview explanation of how it works on their main site:
Tor Project: Overview
As they put it:
The Tor network is a group of volunteer-operated servers that allows people to improve their privacy and security on the Internet. Tor’s users employ this network by connecting through a series of virtual tunnels rather than making a direct connection, thus allowing both organizations and individuals to share information over public networks without compromising their privacy. Along the same line, Tor is an effective censorship circumvention tool, allowing its users to reach otherwise blocked destinations or content. Tor can also be used as a building block for software developers to create new communication tools with built-in privacy features.
Tor also made a nice YouTube video explaining (in simple terms) how Tor protects your privacy:
This network of “tunnels” is also the reason why Tor might seem so slow. It’s essentially bouncing your internet traffic all around the world through the aforementioned “volunteer-operated servers.” Because of this, if someone attempts to see your IP address while you’re using Tor, what they’ll see instead is your “Torified” IP address (although this is an oversimplified explanation).
The screenshot above is from an older version of the Tor Browser, but I wanted to illustrate what a Tor IP address might look like. (I’ll update it using the current version of the Tor Browser later.)
What people often refer to as the “dark web” includes what are called “Tor hidden services,” or “.onion sites.” These sites receive inbound traffic through Tor, and like the users, are anonymized by it. Here’s an example of one: http://3ur4xm2japn56c5f.onion/
One thing that I think confuses a lot of people is that some seem to think that the Tor Browser is for “accessing the dark web,” which isn’t quite accurate. While you can access .onion sites with the browser, it’s possible to access some of them with a standard browser like Chromium or Firefox.
As a matter of fact, the Tor Browser is a fork of Firefox, albeit one that’s made for anonymity. In the case that you’re accessing onion sites with one of these browsers, however, you would be using what’s called a Tor2Web or Web2Tor proxy, which I consider to be unsafe – you don’t know who’s operating the proxy server and whether or not they might have bad intentions.
Besides, you can also access clearnet sites (like Google, etc.) with the Tor browser. The difference is that the site you’re accessing will think you’re in a different part of the world due to the disguising of your IP address. For instance, let’s say you access Google search on the Tor Browser. It might look like this:
The reason for this is that the exit node (the gateway where Tor traffic reaches the internet) is located in Poland, and thus that’s what your IP address appears to be (for example,
Some clearnet sites treat Tor with suspicion, and may require you to solve a CAPTCHA in order to access them (or will just outright ban your IP address altogether). This is likely due to the criminal activity associated with Tor.
I could go into a lot more detail about this if you like, readers! Have questions? I’ll answer them in part 2!