As cybersecurity becomes a priority worldwide, it’s no wonder that people are keen to find the best privacy and protection tools available. But before you even click on a website and browse, so much of your information could be given away simply by connecting to the internet.
So, how do you guarantee your privacy online? And what tools, if any, can be used to protect your anonymity?
Two of the most popular ways to address privacy concerns are using a virtual private network (VPN) or the Tor browser. This article will highlight the pros and cons of using these two cybersecurity tools and answer the question of which performs best.
Firstly, what even is a VPN?
A VPN is a cybersecurity tool that safeguards your internet connection. Data sent and received is sent through a secured, encrypted connection, preventing anyone from monitoring your activity and spying on your screen. Even on public Wi-Fi networks, which are typically a haven for security vulnerabilities, a VPN establishes a secure connection.
Moreover, many VPNs have additional security features, including hiding your IP, accessing geo-restricted content, and bypassing censorship restrictions. This is because you can choose from a wide selection of servers, instantly changing your location online.
VPNs can also flag fraudulent websites and downloads before you click on them, preventing you from becoming the victim of phishing cyberattacks.
What is the Tor browser?
Coming from the phrase ‘the onion router,’ Tor is open-source, free software built upon layers of independent servers run by other Tor users worldwide.
When you use the browser, your server requests are sent through these middle servers (or nodes), helping to hide and protect your identity. Nodes only connect to the preceding and following nodes, thus establishing anonymous communication across the network.
With the Tor browser, websites won’t be able to track your activity, and browser history and cookies are reset when your session ends. It is compatible with various operating systems, including Windows, macOS, Linux, and Android.
Because volunteers run it, Tor is not subject to government or law enforcement. Unfortunately, lack of regulation means the browser has earned a reputation for criminality, where users can access the dark web and other prohibited services.
What are the main differences between Tor and VPN?
On the surface, both the Tor browser and VPNs sound quite similar. Both focus on improving privacy and security. We can only answer the Tor vs VPN question and learn which tool is superior by comparing how well they perform.
1. Connection Speed
A high-quality VPN can protect your information while causing minimal impact on your internet speed. Traffic is rerouted through a single server, causing a slight delay that, in most instances, is hardly noticeable.
Thankfully, there are many ways to make your VPN faster, including choosing a server closer to your location and changing to a speedier protocol.
Sometimes, a VPN can improve your internet speed. This is because it prevents data throttling, i.e., when your internet service provider reduces speed during high-intensity activities like online gaming or streaming.
The Tor browser, on the other hand, redirects traffic multiple times across servers worldwide, drastically impacting your internet speed. Also, the browser can suffer from bottlenecks and network latency, especially when more users are online.
A VPN handles all of your online activity with care. It routes all data sent and received through an encrypted tunnel. Your IP address will also be changed to whatever server you select. This ensures that your websites and services cannot gather personal information about you.
The only privacy concerns that may come from using a VPN are from the provider itself. They can still collect and monitor your activity. To counter this, many providers operate a strictly ‘no-logs policy,’ which means they do not collect browser history or downloads.
The Tor network, in contrast, is volunteer-run. While there are three levels of security users can choose from, groups of hackers can abuse its encryption and monitor traffic by holding the entry and exit servers.
Additionally, the owner of the entry server can find out information about you, such as your IP address, while exit servers can find out what websites or services you accessed. As a result, the Tor browser is by no means foolproof.
When placed on your router, a VPN can protect every internet connection in your home, safeguarding a wide range of devices, including your PC, smartphone, tablets, gaming consoles, and IoT devices.
With a VPN, you can enjoy complete privacy protection across your household, as many providers allow simultaneous connections on multiple devices.
On the other hand, Tor is a browser that can only encrypt and protect online activity during its use. As such, it is better suited for surfing the internet and communicating online on one device, as it offers little coverage or protection to your other online activities.
With VPNs, there are lots of providers on the market today. Some of these may not offer a high-quality service or fail to properly protect your information, so it’s always wise to research each service before committing to a package.
The best VPN providers will often have the following common traits:
- Wide selection of servers: A wide selection ensures you’ll always have a fast connection and can access geo-restricted content.
- Mobile VPN: A complimentary app that can be installed on your smartphone, protecting you while on the move.
- Support: Choose a provider compatible with multiple operating systems and devices, allowing for simultaneous connections.
- Kill Switch: This feature will block internet access on devices if the VPN fails. This can protect against any accidental leaking of information.
While both VPNs and the Tor browser have revolutionized how we stay safe online, there is one clear winner—the VPN. A VPN strikes the perfect balance between speed and security, ensuring you’ll always receive a great connection while enjoying privacy protection.
What’s more, VPNs can protect all your devices, providing you with robust security for the whole household. While the Tor browser offers a novel way of browsing anonymously online, it is much slower and limited in its coverage, and opportunistic hackers can still abuse its encryption.