How to Use the Tor Browser (and Why You Should)

Tor browser


A while back I wrote a piece about the best way to secure your privacy with a web browser. Part of that advice was to use the Tor browser. In the simplest terms, you can’t get more privacy and security from a web browser than when using Tor.

Also: The best browsers for privacy

The Tor browser uses the Onion network to ensure privacy and security. What is an Onion Network? First, Tor is short for The Onion Router. When using the Onion network, all traffic is encapsulated in layers of encryption that are routed through a series of nodes called “onion routers.” As traffic passes through a node, it removes one layer that reveals the next destination of the data. This makes it very difficult for a third party to track your internet activity (more so than any other browser).

Both the Tor browser and the Onion network are available to everyone, and the Tor browser is available for Android, Linux, MacOS, and Windows. And even though Tor is a web browser, using it is a little different than using Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Brave, Safari, and Edge.

Also: Your guide to the dark web and how to access .onion sites safely

Seriously, if you want to really protect your privacy and security online, Tor Browser is the way to go. No other browser can match it, and you shouldn’t even bother trying to get your current default to match what Tor delivers.

That said, Tor isn’t perfect. Back in 2020, a number of security issues were discovered for Tor. Of course, since Tor is open source, you can be sure that these issues were immediately patched (or, as the article states, denied by the developers).

Also: It’s time for open source users to open their wallets

Of course, no software is perfect, and as long as your computer is connected to the network, it can never be 100% secure. You should also know that the network traffic when using Tor Browser will not be as fast as with other browsers. That slowdown is due to the layers of security that need to be “shed”.

Now that you know what Tor is, let me show you how easy it is to use.

How to connect Tor to the Onion network


All you need is Tor Browser installed on your desktop or mobile device. I’ll demonstrate Tor Browser on Linux, but it doesn’t matter what platform you use. You can download Tor Browser for your desktop from the official download page. The Android version link will take you to a page with downloads for .apk files. On that same page, you’ll find a link to the Google Play Store Tor login. I would suggest installing Tor on Android from the Google Play Store.

Also: No browser is perfect. What should the user do?

When using Linux, you can also install Tor from the standard repositories, which means it should be available to install from your desktop app store.

With Tor installed, let me show you how to use it.

The first thing to do is open the Tor Browser, which you can do from your desktop menu.

If you installed Tor on Linux from the standard repository the first time you run it, it will automatically download the latest version of Tor for you.

Once opened, you will see a button labeled Connect. When you open Tor, it is not set to automatically connect to the Onion network. Unless you are connected to the Onion network, the Tor browser cannot be used. I would suggest automatically enabling the connection by clicking the box labeled Always enable automatically. Once you’ve done that, click Connect and Tor will work its magic.

Also: This might be my new favorite browser

The connection will not happen immediately, so give the browser time to complete the process. If you find that Tor cannot connect, close the browser and try again. I had to do this almost every first time I started Tor. The next time you open Tor, it should have no problem connecting.

Once Tor is enabled, you can start using it like any other browser.

Tor network connection window.

Enable automatic connection after you’re sure Tor is working as expected.

Screenshot: Jack Wallen/ZDNET

However, I discovered that some sites cannot be viewed with the Tor browser. For example, when viewing, Tor displays a 403 Error: Forbidden. Your client does not have permission to get a URL from this server.

If this happens, click the lock icon to the left of that URL and click “New connection for this site” from the pop-up window. Once the new thread is created, the site should load as expected.

The dropdown menu for a website in Tor.

Screenshot: Jack Wallen/ZDNET

And here’s why and how to use the Tor browser. Although you’ll find it slower than your average browser, the extra privacy and security you get from Tor is well worth the speed bump.

Also: How to increase your browser privacy with DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials

I use Tor when I require enhanced security for a particular site or service (otherwise I just use Firefox). Try this browser and see if you can’t find the added privacy and security.

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