How to Use Tor Browser for Anonymous Web Browsing

Got secrets? Browse on the QT With Tor

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.

Another way to keep your internet movements from being tracked is to us a VPN, and a VPN can be used in conjunction with a Tor browser to add an additional layer of security.

Tor network diagram

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.

No anonymous browsing method is entirely foolproof, and even Tor users are susceptible to prying eyes from time to time.

Download the 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. Choose from more than two dozen languages, including English and Vietnamese.

Tor Browser download page

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.

Tor Browser connect

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 using 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.

Tor Browser running on Ubuntu

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

Browsing with 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 search field.

Tor Browser check status

You can test your connection by visiting the Tor Project's test page, which 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.

Tor Security Levels

The Tor Browser eliminated individual controls in favor of more streamlined security levels. These levels let you control the level of security the browser provides. Of course, there's a trade-off. The more security you implement, the greater restriction on the content you see, which means functionality on web pages will break. Depending on how you're using the Tor Browser, you can choose the right security level for you. Select the shield icon next to your address bar to choose your security level.

Tor Browser security level

Here's a basic overview of the Tor Browser's security levels:

  • Standard - This is the default setting. All browser features and functionality are enabled, but you still have the added security of using the Tor Browser, which is configured for optimal security and privacy.
  • Safer - You have all the benefits of Standard, but the browser also disables potentially dangerous functionality. Audio and video become click-to-play. JavaScript is disabled over non-HTTPS sites. Some font symbols are also disabled.
  • Safest - You get everything from the previous two. All JavaScript is disabled by default, and some fonts, icons, and symbols are blocked completely.

Select Advanced Security Settings to bring up the full list and choose the one you want.

Tor Browser choose security level

NoScript

Tor Browser comes packaged with an integrated version of the popular NoScript add-on. The add-on's functionality has been fully integrated into the browser itself, so there's nothing for you to do with it independently. Instead, you can control it via the security levels functionality.

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) through its drop-down menu, accessible by first clicking on the main menu button located at the top of the browser window.

Beware Browser Fingerprinting

Resist the temptation to install a ton of plug-ins into your Tor Browser. These add-ins can leak your data and personal information, and adding them contributes to a process called browser fingerprinting that allows some trackers to uniquely identify you regardless of your IP addresses.