How to Use Tor Browser for Anonymous Web Browsing

Got secrets? Browse on the QT With Tor

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With increased scrutiny by employers, schools, and governments becoming more commonplace, anonymity while browsing the web has become a priority for many people. Many users who seek an enhanced sense of privacy turn to Tor, a network created by the U.S. Navy and now used by countless web surfers across the globe.

People who use Tor, which distributes your incoming and outgoing traffic through a series of virtual tunnels, range from reporters who want to keep their correspondence with their sources private to everyday internet users who want to reach websites that are restricted by their service provider. While some choose to exploit Tor for nefarious purposes, most web surfers only want to stop sites from tracking their every move or determining their geolocation.

Understanding the concept of Tor and learning how to configure your computer to send and receive packets over the network can prove overwhelming even to some web-savvy veterans. Enter the Tor Browser Bundle, a software package that can get you up and running on Tor with minimal user intervention. The Tor Browser Bundle is an open-source grouping of Tor combined with a modified version of Mozilla's Firefox browser along with several key features and extensions that runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms.

Warning: No anonymous browsing method is entirely foolproof, and even Tor users are susceptible to prying eyes from time to time. Keep that in mind and proceed with caution.

Download Tor Browser Bundle

The Tor Browser Bundle is available for download on many sites, but to be safe, you should obtain the package files only from torproject.org, the official home of Tor. Users can choose from more than two dozen languages, ranging from English to Vietnamese.

When the download is complete, Windows users locate the Tor file and launch it to create a folder named Tor Browser, which contains all the package files. Mac users double-click on the downloaded file to open the .dmg image. When it opens, drag the Tor file into the Applications folder. Linux users use the appropriate syntax to extract the downloaded package and then launch the Tor Browser file.

To ensure that you received the intended package and were not duped by a hacker, you may want to verify the signature on your downloaded package before using it. To do so, you first need to install GnuPG and reference the package's associated .asc file, which is automatically downloaded as part of the browser bundle. Visit Tor's signature verification instructions page for further details.

Launching Tor Browser

After you download the Tor Browser Bundle, it's time to launch the application. That's right — no installation is required. Because of this, many users opt to run Tor Browser from a USB drive rather than placing its files on a hard drive. This method provides another level of anonymity, as a search of your local disks reveals no trace of Tor whatsoever.

Go to the location where you chose to extract the files and open the Tor Browser folder. Double-click on the Start Tor Browser shortcut or launch it via your operating system's command line.

Connecting to Tor

As soon as the browser launches, a connection to the Tor Network is initiated unless your settings prevent it. Be patient, as this process can take as little as a couple of seconds or as long as a few minutes to complete.

Once a connection to Tor is established, the Status screen disappears, and the Tor Browser launches.

Browsing Via Tor

Tor Browser is now visible in the foreground. All incoming and outgoing traffic generated through this browser is routed through Tor, providing a relatively safe and anonymous browsing experience. Upon launch, the Tor Browser application automatically opens a web page hosted on torproject.org that contains a link to test your network settings. Selecting this link displays your current IP address on the Tor network. You'll notice it is not your actual IP address: The virtual anonymity cloak is now on.

Torbutton

In addition to many of the standard Firefox features, such as the ability to bookmark pages and analyze source code via the integrated web developer toolset, Tor Browser includes functionality unique to itself. One of these components is Torbutton, found on the browser's address bar. Torbutton allows you to modify specific proxy and security settings. Most importantly, it provides the option to switch to a new identity — and therefore a new IP address — with a simple click of the mouse. Torbutton's options are accessible via a drop-down menu. Those options include:

  • New Identity: Assigns a new, random IP address for your active Tor connection. Selecting this option requires a restart of the browser to take effect.
  • New Tor Circuit for This Site: Rather than restarting the browser and establishing a brand new identity, this option instantly creates a new circuit only for the active tab.
  • Privacy and Security Settings: Opens a dialog containing configurable settings including those that dictate private browsing mode, third-party cookie behavior, prevention of Flash and other plugins from running, and more. It also allows you to specify Tor's security level via a slider, ranging from low to high.
  • Tor Network Settings: Lets you configure proxy and firewall settings, as well as settings specific to your ISP. Also contains a button that copies Tor's log file contents to your clipboard.
  • Check for Tor Browser Update: Ensures that you are running the latest version of Tor Browser.

NoScript

Tor Browser comes packaged with an integrated version of the popular NoScript add-on. Accessible from a button on Tor Browser's main toolbar, this custom extension can be used to either block all scripts from running within the browser or just those on specific websites. The recommended setting is Forbid Scripts Globally.

HTTPS Everywhere

Another well-known extension integrated with Tor Browser is HTTPS Everywhere, developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It ensures that your communications with many of the web's top sites are forcefully encrypted. HTTPS Everywhere's functionality can be modified or disabled (though that is not recommended) via its drop-down menu, accessible by first clicking on the main menu button located at the top of the browser window.