Tor is the name of the software that enables anonymous online browsing. It is the acronym of “The Onion Router,” which was how the project was named. Any online activity of an individual is traceable to his/her IP address. Any network is aware of the websites being accessed by the user. However, a Tor network is encrypted and routes the traffic through relays making it appear as if it is emanating from exit nodes. The exit node, however, does not know the user’s address. Therefore, when using Tor, it is difficult to trace back the internet activity of an individual.
What is Tor
The very first version of the onion routing software (so named because of the many layers of obscurity that is offered) was developed by the employees of the US Naval Research Laboratory, mathematicians and a computer scientist in the mid-1990s. This project was constituted to protect online communications among intelligence agencies. It was further developed by DARPA and many others later that make up the Tor project today. Though many non-profit organizations were involved in funding the project in its earliest stages, the US government made up the majority of the funding sources in its later stages. The Tor is free to use and consists of a voluntary network that consists of over 7,000 relays (computers) worldwide. The encryption is implemented in the application layer of the communications protocol. The data and the destination IP address are encrypted a number of times and are sent through many Tor relays that are randomly selected. One relay’s job is merely to decrypt the information to reveal to the next relay and send the entire packet of encrypted data to the next one. It is the job of the last relay to decrypt the layer that is innermost and send it to the destination IP address. The source IP address is not visible to the relay. At every hop in the circuit, the routing information is only incompletely visible with no knowledge of the source and destination. It, therefore, becomes difficult to track the information through the Tor circuit. All traffic that moves within the Tor network is encrypted.
How to Use Tor
The safest way to use Tor is by downloading and using the Tor Browser Bundle (customized for FireFox). This is a portable and customized version that is available for Windows, Linux and Mac platforms. This standalone version can be used whenever a user wants to browse anonymously. One can switch back to the regular browser when the browsing is over.
This bundle is available in a preconfigured version with settings and extensions that can be used for Tor. Using Tor with other browsers may not make it very safe as usage of some of the other browser plugins may reveal the user’s IP address. This browser bundle disables all plug-ins and makes it safe for use. The Tor Browser bundle also includes extensions that enable HTTPS with websites that have the matching support. HTTPS provides encryption of the last node and the target website.
The Tor Browser Bundle need not be installed for it to work. It can easily be loaded onto a USB drive and run from there. The downloaded .EXE file is double clicked to extract it to the hard drive or USB. A Tor Browser folder is created and the next step is to click on the Start Tor Browser icon in the folder. The .EXE launches Vidalia that helps to connect to the Tor network. Thereafter, Vidalia automatically opens the customized Firefox browser for Tor. After the browsing is over, Vidalia automatically disconnects Tor and the browser is closed. The browsing is done as one would with a normal browser.
It is a good idea to check the installer’s GPG signature before working the bundle. This ensures that the version that the user has downloaded is not a tampered version. It is important to note that this check requires that some additional software be downloaded. It is also not recommended that you download PDF and DOC files or open them in other applications when using Tor. The external application may connect to the Internet for additional resources and this action may reveal the user’s IP address. It is a known fact that the Tor browsing experience is a slower one when compared to the normal browsing experience. However, users understand that the slow speed is the price paid for the relative obscurity that the network offers.
The Deep Web, Dark Web, and Darknet Markets
The deep web refers to web pages and contents that are not indexed by regular search engines and accessible only with special software such as Tor,whiledark web is just a small part of the deep web. Darknet markets are sites operating on the dark web. They function as online black markets dealing with licit and illicit goods and services.