Tor, or The Onion Router, is network anonymizing software that allows users to traverse the Internet anonymously. It is used by millions of people the world over who are both concerned about their online privacy and believe in a free and open internet for all.
The typical usage of Tor is to access hidden websites – otherwise known as the darknet markets – that are not available on the “clearnet.” It has also been used for encrypted communications by whistleblowers, and for accessing clearnet websites not accessible by region blocking.
What is the Tor network?
The Tor network is a cleverly designed computer network standard that is intended to provide anonymity for all traffic in the network. Any message intercepted on the network will not be able to be traced back to its origin, or traced forward to its destination.
What is the Tor browser?
The Tor browser is the endpoint of the Tor network: a website browser, not unlike Chrome, Safari, or Internet Explorer, but one that allows you to surf the web anonymously. This means that the sites that you access won’t know your actual location, no one can determine what sites you’ve been visiting, and you can access sites that are currently blocked by your network or region.
How does it work?
Instead of following a one-to-one connection to a given website, your Internet traffic is both distributed and routed through a series of “tunnels” to obfuscate your IP. Tor nodes on the network effectively mask your connections and data, using a series of layers of encryption – not unlike the layers of an onion, hence the name The Onion Router.
The Tor browser relies on many people, across the world, setting up these Tor nodes (via a free machine they have access to), so that people can access the Tor network effectively.
What are Tor Hidden Services?
Tor hidden services are various services that users can host while remaining anonymous on the Tor network; for instance, a chat server, a gaming arena, or a website, defined by an .onion address. As your location while using the Tor browser is anonymous, so too is the location of the .onion address.
All websites on the clearnet require a physical address to be logged, but on the dark web this isn’t necessary. On the clearnet, you are able to look up a website’s IP address simply through knowing the .com, .et, .org, etc. address, but with an .onion address, you cannot lookup the server’s IP.
The Tor browser gives you access to these anonymous .onion sites – these websites cannot be reached by a regular browser. The .onion suffix indicates that it is accessible only via Tor.
What sort of things can I find on Tor?
The most popular use of the Tor browser, at least in the news, has been the proliferation of various different underground black market sites . The anonymity offered to the market administrators, the sellers, and the buyers, has meant that deals can go forward, fairly well straight under the noses of law enforcement, without them being able to learn any of the user details.
Although sites like Silk Road have been dismantled following extended investigations, more sites like Nucleus pop up in their places. As far as their ongoing future is concerned, they look fairly sure to be around for a while still.
You are also able to access other things like darknet social media sites, providing you a voice but still with a cloak of anonymity, databases of leaked content, sites hosting both legal and illegal video content and more.
Unfortunately, .onion sites are not indexed, and as such are not “searchable” by any sort of search engine or content crawler such as Google. When finding .onion links, you will need to hunt them down yourself.
The much cited “Hidden Wiki” often contains broken or false links to .onion addresses. You best port of call to begin with is probably searching trusted Reddit forums.
How do I get Tor?
You can download the Tor browser by heading over to Tor’s website. The site provides download links for the browser for Windows, Mac, and Linux, so that everyone is able to enjoy it. You can also read more about setting up your own Tor node over there, if you’d like to help out with the Tor project.
Tor is a fantastic way to provide anonymous communications across the internet. If you are concerned about privacy and freedom of speech, or are just interested in having a bit of a poke around on the dark web, then use Tor and give it a try to see just what it can do.