More and more Internet users are making use of many security tools to stay safe and anonymous on the Internet, such as VPN, Tor, proxy, Shadowsocks and so on.
You might be confused about these tools because they share similar features. But they focus on different things that will come to your needs in different situations. You can read our previous posts to learn more: What is the difference between Tor and VPN? What is the difference between a proxy and a VPN? Shadowsocks vs. VPN: Which One Do You Prefer?
Of course, a virtual private network (VPN) is absolutely the most effective way to get private Internet access and unblock your favorite content. But you can get the maximum anonymity and privacy by using Tor and a VPN together.
What is Tor? And how does it work?
Tor is a free open-source software that lets you remain anonymous online. It protects your location and identity with the Tor network and multiple encryptions so that your online activity will be harder for others to identify.
When you surf the Internet with the Tor browser, your traffic is randomly routed through the Tor network before it reaches the final destination. The Tor network is made up of thousands of independent servers operated by volunteers around the world. When passing your data through the Tor network, several servers will be chosen randomly to transfer the data. Tor also bundles your data into layers of encrypted packets before directing it through the Tor network.
What is a VPN? And how does it work?
A VPN masks your real IP address with that of its server, making it possible for you to access the blocked websites and content. Besides, it also secures your traffic with encryption, preventing your ISP and other online spies from monitoring your online activity.
A VPN has many servers that are located in various countries or regions around the world. If you use a VPN, you will connect to one of its servers. Then, your data will go through the encrypted tunnel between you and the VPN server. In this way, your IP address and online activity are kept only to yourself.
When to use Tor and a VPN together?
A VPN safeguards users’ privacy, while Tor allows users to communicate anonymously. Sometimes, it is better to use Tor and a VPN together.
- When using a VPN, you have to trust the VPN service provider. When it comes to the Tor, you don’t need to trust anyone. If you are suspicious of your VPN service provider’s no-log policy, you can use the Tor browser to subscribe to a VPN anonymously and make your online activity invisible to it.
- Normally, at least three servers will be chosen from the Tor network to transfer your traffic data. An exit node, the last of these chosen servers, will forward your traffic data to the website you request. Since some exit nodes of the Tor network can be malicious, you need to combine the Tor browser with a VPN to protect you from malicious exit nodes.
- In some cases, Tor can reveal users’ real IP addresses due to incorrect configurations. This is dangerous because online spies can trace back to you via your IP address. To protect your self from such a sudden exposure, you’d better use a VPN to ensure your anonymity and security on the Internet.
When to use them separately?
Although it improves your security and anonymity online when combining Tor with a VPN, it is better to use them separately in some situations.
- When you want to unblock websites for online streaming, you should stay away from Tor because it inevitably makes your Internet connection very slow. Watching videos on Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus and so on requires a fast Internet speed. So, you should go for the best VPN that guarantees a fast speed.
- If you want to secure all the Internet traffic of your device, you should use a VPN because only the traffic travel through the Tor browser is safeguarded by Tor.
- It is rather troublesome for you to combine them together. And a good VPN requires a subscription fee. To achieve the utmost anonymity, using the Tor browser is enough. You don’t have to spend extra money on a VPN subscription.
- A VPN is always the best choice for you to download torrent fast, safely and anonymously. While Tor doesn’t support torrent downloads.
How to use them together?
- Tor over VPN
‘Tor over VPN’ means that you connect to a VPN first before making use of the Tor network for more privacy protections.
In this way, the Tor entry node will not be able to access your real IP address which is visible to the VPN service provider.
It also prevents your VPN provider from knowing what you are doing on the Tor network.
- VPN over Tor
‘VPN over Tor’ is harder to setup. You need to connect to the Tor network first and then go through your VPN.
The biggest advantage of redirecting your traffic through Tor to your VPN is that it protects traffic from malicious exit nodes.
Another advantage is that the VPN service provider doesn’t know your real IP address.
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Both Tor and VPN are good security tools that protect you from cyber threats. You can use them together or separately to meet your own requirements.