VPNs and Tor are both networking solutions that safeguard your privacy and data from third parties via the use of encryption and proxies. Is there any benefit to using Tor and a VPN concurrently?
Yes! Using Tor in conjunction with a VPN is an excellent method to enhance your online privacy, security, and anonymity.
So, how do you configure Tor to work with a VPN? Easy. Simply connect to a VPN first, and then launch the Tor Browser or any Tor program of your choice. This configuration is called Tor over VPN or Onion over VPN.
A concise introduction to using Tor in conjunction with a VPN
If you’re using Tor over VPN, you’re probably concerned about privacy and security. If this is the case, it is essential to get a VPN that will protect you. NordVPN is our top recommendation. It uses high encryption and leak protection and does not retain any records of your online activities that might be used to identify you. It even has a built-in Tor connection. I’ll return to that point later.
If you’re new to Tor, I suggest starting by using the Tor Browser. It’s a free, Firefox-based web browser that automatically routes all incoming and outgoing data via the Tor network without requiring any extra setup.
Tor is simple to use in conjunction with a VPN. Simply follow the instructions outlined below.
Here’s how to use Tor in conjunction with a VPN:
- Download an appropriate VPN, ensuring that the version is compatible with your device, then start the VPN software.
- Connect to any server by opening the VPN app. While you may wish to choose a server that is near your physical location for optimal performance, any server will safeguard your privacy.
- Once your VPN connection is established, open the Tor Browser.
- That is all! Both the VPN and the Tor browser are now protecting you. It’s worth noting that protection is restricted to Tor Browser activities and does not extend to other applications or services.
How Tor works in conjunction with a VPN
So what exactly is going on in the Tor-over-VPN configuration? The following depicts the traffic flow for outbound data:
- VPN encrypts data.
- Tor encrypts the data once again.
- The VPN server receives the data.
- Although the VPN decrypts the data, Tor continues to encrypt it.
- Tor network is used to transmit data.
- When a user visits a .onion site on the dark web, data is decrypted once it reaches its destination. When I browse the clear web, data is encrypted and sent to the website through a Tor exit node.
The following depicts the inbound traffic flow:
- Data is sent from a website, an application, or a service.
- Tor secures the data.
- The data is transmitted to the VPN server through the Tor network.
- The VPN then encrypts the data once again.
- The VPN server transmits the twice-encrypted data to the end user device.
- Tor decrypts the information.
- The VPN re-encrypts the data.
Why should I use a VPN in conjunction with Tor?
Using Tor in conjunction with a VPN (onion over VPN) provides many advantages over using either tool alone:
- My ISP is unaware that I am utilizing Tor.
- My VPN service is unable to monitor the websites I visit or the content of my connection.
- I am able to visit both darkweb .onion and open websites.
- I am able to browse the open web anonymously.
- My actual IP address cannot be seen in Tor entry nodes.
- I can use the VPN on its own with a standard browser for non-sensitive activities.
However, there are certain disadvantages:
- Websites and applications may tell that I’m using a Tor exit node to access them. Certain websites may ban me or cease to operate properly as a result.
- My VPN is aware of my actual IP address and is aware that I am using Tor.
- I risk exposing data to hacked Tor exit nodes.
- Combining a VPN and Tor severely slows down my connection.
It’s worth noting that just because a website or my ISP can see that I’m using Tor does not imply they know what I’m doing. My whole data set is encrypted and its destination is unknown.
How about using a VPN over an onion?
We obtain VPN over onion by reversing the sequence in which data is encrypted and sent. Instead of the other way around, traffic is routed via Tor first and then through the VPN under this configuration.
VPN via onion is typically regarded as less secure and more complex to configure, sometimes need help from the VPN operator.
However, VPN over onion has several advantages:
- My ISP is unaware that I am using a VPN.
- Clear online pages and applications that are usually inaccessible to Tor users will be accessible.
- My data is less likely to be compromised by compromised Tor exit nodes or packet discrimination.
However, there is a disadvantage:
- My ISP is aware that I am using Tor.
- I am unable to access dark web.onion sites.
- My VPN is able to monitor my internet traffic.
- My actual IP address is visible to Tor entry nodes.
In contrast to Tor over VPN, I am unable to configure VPN over Tor without assistance from my VPN provider. VPN over Tor must be set up on the server so that data is routed via the Tor network once it reaches the server. This is a feature that the overwhelming majority of VPNs do not provide.
VPN that has a built-in Tor support
Only a few VPNs provide built-in support for Tor over VPN. That implies I don’t need to utilize the Tor browser or any other specialized applications or configurations; all I need is the VPN software to connect via Tor.
NordVPN, a highly regarded VPN service, has this functionality. NordVPN does not retain any records of your activities and uses industry-leading encryption. To connect to Onion over VPN servers, you must switch to the OpenVPN protocol.
This functionality enables me to utilize any VPN, not only Tor Browser, with Tor. This is particularly helpful considering how difficult and time-consuming it can be to configure individual apps to utilize Tor.
However, there is a disadvantage. In contrast to the Tor Browser configuration described before, the VPN provider with a built-in Tor connection can record and analyze my data before it is encrypted by Tor. This may create worries about privacy for some.
Additionally, users will need to exercise greater caution in safeguarding their identities. Using Chrome, for example, websites may still be able to identify me through cookies, undermining the anonymity advantages of Tor.