How to Use Tor Browser for Anonymous Web Browsing

tor browser bundle
How to Use Tor Browser for Anonymous Web Browsing. Getty Images (Colin Anderson #532029225)

With increased scrutiny by employers, schools and even governments becoming more commonplace, anonymity while browsing the Web has become a priority. Many users looking for an enhanced sense of privacy are turning to Tor (The Onion Router), a network originally created by the U.S. Navy and now used by countless Web surfers across the globe.

Motives for utilizing Tor, which distributes your incoming and outgoing traffic through a series of virtual tunnels, can range from reporters aiming to keep their correspondence with a secret source private to everyday internet users wishing to reach websites that have been restricted by their service provider.

While some choose to exploit Tor for nefarious purposes, most Web surfers simply want to stop sites from tracking their every move or determining their geolocation.

The concept of Tor, as well as 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. An open-source grouping of Tor combined with a modified version of Mozilla's Firefox browser along with several key features and extensions, Tor Browser Bundle runs on WindowsMac and Linux platforms.

This tutorial walks you through the process of obtaining and running Tor Browser Bundle so that your Web communications can once again become your business and yours alone.

Please note that no anonymization method is completely foolproof and that even Tor users can be susceptible to prying eyes from time to time.

It is wise to keep that in mind and always proceed with caution.

Download Tor Browser Bundle

The Tor Browser Bundle is available for download on a multitude of sites. However, it is highly recommended that you only obtain the package files from torproject.org, the official home of Tor. Users can choose from over a dozen languages, ranging from English to Vietnamese.

To begin the download process, navigate your current browser to https://www.torproject.org/projects/torbrowser.html.en. Next, scroll down until you find your desired option in the Language column, clicking on the link found under the header that corresponds to your specific operating system. Once the download is completed, Windows users should locate the Tor file and launch it. A folder will now be created at your specified location, containing all package files and named Tor Browser. Mac users should double-click on the downloaded file to open the .dmg image. Once open, drag the Tor file shown into your Applications folder. Linux users should utilize the appropriate syntax to extract the downloaded package and then launch the Tor Browser file.

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

Launching Tor Browser

Now that you've downloaded the Tor Browser Bundle and possibly verified its signature, it's time to launch the application.

That's right - no installation is required! Because of this, many users opt to run Tor Browser right off of a USB drive rather than placing its files on their hard drive. This method provides another level of anonymity, as a search of your local disks would reveal no trace of Tor whatsoever.

First, navigate to the location where you chose to extract the files described above. Next, within the folder labeled Tor Browser, 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 is launched a connection to the Tor Network is typically initiated, depending on your individual settings.

 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 will disappear and the Tor Browser itself should launch after a few brief seconds.

Browsing Via Tor

Tor Browser should now be visible in the foreground. All incoming and outgoing traffic generated through this browser will be 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 which contains a link to test your network settings. Selecting this link displays your current IP address on the Tor network. The virtual anonymity cloak is now on, as you will notice that this is not your actual IP address.

If you'd like to view this content in a different language, utilize the drop-down menu found at the top of the page.

Torbutton

In addition to many of the standard Firefox features, such as the ability to bookmark pages and analyze source via the integrated Web developer toolset, Tor Browser also includes a great deal of 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, described below, are accessible via its drop-down menu.

  • 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. 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 which 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 also comes prepackaged 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, which ensures that your communication with many of the Web's top sites is forcefully encrypted. HTTPS Everywhere's functionality can be modified or disabled (not recommended) via its drop-down menu, accessible by first clicking on the main menu button (located in the upper right-hand corner of the browser window).