When it comes to surfing the internet, all of the data that we send over it can be highly valuable to advertisers and companies. With all of this data being transferred across the web, it can be possible for them to learn information about you and your browsing habits. Using a VPN or Tor can help reduce data collection.
What is a VPN and what does it do?
A VPN (also known as a Virtual Private Network) is a service that essentially acts as a tunnel for your traffic between you and the internet. When connected to a VPN, all of your internet traffic passes through an “encrypted tunnel” to a VPN server, then passes on to the website you are connecting to. The website can only see the IP address of the VPN server and not the IP address of your internet service provider.
There are free and paid VPN services you can use to help keep your online activity more private. It is recommended that you should only use a paid VPN because a paid service is unlikely to store logs. Most free VPN services will log your internet traffic to sell to advertising companies.
The advantages and disadvantages of a VPN
Using a VPN has the following advantages:
- Your browsing activity remains private and secure on public Wi-Fi – Anyone snooping in on the coffee shop Wi-Fi you are connected to will only see gibberish data, as your connection is encrypted.
- You can bypass geo-restrictions and access content from other countries – If you wanted to watch a TV series only available on the US version of Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, you can connect to a US server to access the content.
- Hides your real IP address from websites and servers to which you have connected.
While using a VPN can help keep your online activity more private, a VPN has the following disadvantages:
- Cannot make you completely anonymous on the internet – Despite your internet traffic being encrypted by the service, your identity can still be revealed through the use of personal information on websites while connected.
- Cannot provide immunity against cyber threats.
- Cannot prevent social media sites from profiling you.
What is Tor and what does it do?
Tor (also known as the “The Onion Router”) is a network of servers that are operated by volunteers. It offers greater anonymity on the internet by routing it through different Tor relays within the network before it reaches a website. By having your internet traffic routed through different Tor relays, it prevents someone from watching where your internet traffic is originating from.
The Onion Routing protocol was originally created by United States Naval Research Laboratory in the 1990s and is now maintained by The Tor Project, which is a non-profit organisation.
To use the Tor, you have to download the Tor browser, which has been configured to allow internet traffic to pass through the Tor network.
The advantages and disadvantages of Tor
Using Tor has the following advantages:
- Free to use and open-source – As Tor is open-source software, anyone can inspect the code for malicious vulnerabilities.
- Improves anonymity on the internet.
- Access .onion websites – websites with .onion domain can only be accessed via the Tor browser, improving security.
- Hides your real IP address.
Although Tor improves your anonymity on the internet, there are disadvantages to using Tor:
- Slow speeds – Your internet traffic is being moved around different relays around the world.
- Websites may not load correctly – Depending on the settings you configure in the Tor browser; most websites will break.
- Your internet traffic is not fully encrypted by default – To circumvent this, the Tor browser includes an addon which defaults your traffic to HTTPS where available.