Shooting Flares: Why There Are Better Alternatives to Tor

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One of the most common tools people like to use to obtain anonymity online is Tor, which is a tool originally developed by the United States military so that their agents could communicate without being traced. Since then it has adapted into an organization dedicated to online privacy with a browser or program that allows for online anonymity.

To explain it simply, Tor works by sending your signal or requests through a series of other connections who volunteered to be relay points in the network. This makes requests untraceable to anyone wanting to know, including ISPs, government organizations, other individuals and any other individuals or organizations that want to invade your privacy.

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Yet in recent years there have been emerging trends and technologies that have proven Tor to be the inferior option and potentially unsafe for users. Organizations and governments have decided to start tracking Tor users, meaning a download of the browser or program effectively shoots out a flare to government agencies. Additionally, there are security holes and exploits that Tor users need to worry about. Here are some things you should consider:

Virtual Private Networks and Proxies

If you are looking for a high level of privacy and protection on any network (including problematic public networks), then you might want to consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) instead of Tor. A VPN is a service that connects your computer or smartphone to an offsite secure server using an encrypted connection. The server will mask your IP address which will hide your identity online. The encryption will make sure no one can intercept the information you are sending and receiving. You will be able to use the internet freely and bypass any censorship, surveillance and restrictions that made you interested in Tor in the first place.

The only worry about using a VPN is the occasional slowdown that can occur and the unreliability of some of the inferior services on the market, meaning that you need the best if you want reliable privacy when you need it. It might be best to check out some reviews from websites such as securethoughts.com or ambitweb.com. Look at what exactly you might be need from a potential service and make an informed decision from there.

In a similar vein are proxies, which you can use to make it look as though you are browsing the internet from a different IP address. They are better than nothing when it comes to privacy, but a VPN effectively has a proxy built into it while having additional security measures. The unreliable proxies (and there are many of them) will also cause your connection to slow down to a crawl. It won’t raise as many flags as Tor, but it isn’t the most efficient or safest option available.

Lack of Protection

While Tor might be great for anyone looking for privacy, from a security standpoint, it can put you at a disadvantage. It is not the most protected network in the world, and exit nodes can potentially be monitored. You don’t have to make your own computer an exit node (due to the risks involved, it requires explicit consent), but a skilled hacker can use a sniffer program to monitor traffic exiting the Tor relay. This could very well mean the loss of your data. Unless you have additional data protection, your accounts could be compromised.

On top of this, Tor wasn’t originally designed for home use as you are probably considering using it for. This means that certain programs and scripts can still give away your IP address. If it is just a simple html page you are browsing, then you can consider yourself private, but sometimes websites will request your real IP address. This means that your privacy is still at risk, and someone skilled can trace your location or your online activities. It just isn’t safe enough for total privacy and security while conducting your normal online business.

Government Tracking and Penalties

Depending on where you live, using Tor can be risky if not openly dangerous. You might want to read up on some of the surveillance programs in your country. For example, as of a couple years ago, any one who downloaded Tor in America, was put under increased surveillance through a program called XKeyscore. In this case, using Tor is unfortunately counterproductive, and an alternative is recommended.

In other more restrictive countries, the penalties are much stiffer for using increased surveillance. Some regimes will arrest people for using Tor, drumming up terrorism charges or whatever is the buzzword in that particular country. Tor users would need to be extremely cautious or risk vanishing into the night, and for that reason, it is advised that alternative options be explored.

Difficulty of Use

One of Tor’s biggest problems is that it can significantly slow down the internet speed of the computer using it. Having to relay your signal through so many other connections takes time, and it means that you will have to wait a bit longer to get your information. If your internet is extremely fast to begin with, then you could potentially get away with it, but those with slower connections might find the internet unusable when Tor is active.

Also, compared to some other services such as VPNs or proxies, Tor can be difficult to set up and run. It doesn’t change too much as part of its design, and some may find that to be confusing. Those looking to use the Tor browser might not want to leave the familiar behind, while other browsers and options can be integrated with what a person is already using. This means that they can be more alert to threats to their security or privacy.

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Do you have any thoughts on Tor or any experiences with the network? Are there any other reasons you are suspicious of it? Have you found it to work for you? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I did quite a bit of research and testing on the Tor browser. For any faults, Tor still provides a great deal of anonymity at no cost with an ease of use by non-tech computer users. Major governments have yet to actually break the Tor network and at best have only been able to exploit outdated Tor browsers.

    Other means of Internet access and communications may be ‘better’, but there is financial cost and risk of discovery because of having to pay for a service and other factors of ID when with Tor, it can be run from a flashdrive, plugged into a public computer on public wifi and discarded after use.

    Tor works well, it is just the users that break it or misuse it.

    • You make some good points that’s for sure. That said, even using Tor in itself can be a “red flag” in term of government surveillance. I’m also not sure I agree with the point about non-tech computer users, I think a lot of people don’t really know what Tor is or understand it although publicity around Silk Road etc has definitely drawn more attention to it.

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