Proxyrack - October 11, 2023

Everything You Need to Know About The Onion Router (Tor)


The Onion Router, or Tor as it's more commonly known, is a web browser that protects users' privacy.

If you're keen on hiding your identity and maintaining your online privacy, the Tor internet browser could be for you. But, before you head to the Tor project website to download it, you need to know how the browser works, the potential dangers associated with using Tor, and the alternative methods you can use to protect your identity online, like proxy servers.

We've put together this guide to peel back a few layers of how The Onion Router works. Here, we explore how Tor works, why use it, and the pros and cons of the web browser.

What is the Tor browser?

Tor is just like other browsers, but to access it, Tor must connect to the Tor network. This connection lets you hide your IP address and additional system information from the websites you visit so you can use the internet anonymously.

Tor uses different routers called nodes to hide your information and block tracking, making it popular with people who want to protect their identity, like whistleblowers.

How Tor works

Tor uses an encryption technique known as onion routing to reroute web traffic through the onion network. The US Navy initially used this technology to protect communications, so it's reliable.

The specific way Tor works is very complex, but here's an overview of the service's five main functions.

1. Onion routing

This is Tor's primary function. Imagine your data is at the center of an onion. When you send a request over Tor, i.e. try to access a webpage, your data gets wrapped in lots of layers of encryption, and each layer can only be decrypted by a node in the Tor network.

2. Nodes

A node receives your traffic and passes it along the Tor network. When you initially use the Tor network, your data will go through an entry node. This node knows your IP address, but it doesn't know what your request is. The process of going through the entry, middle, and exit nodes is known as the Tor circuit.

Middle nodes

After the entry node, your data is relayed through multiple middle nodes. Each node peels off one layer of encryption, so the nodes only know where the data came from and where it's going next, but not the original source or final destination - ensuring your data remains safe.

Exit node

Finally, your data reaches the Tor exit node. This node decrypts the last layer of encryption and sends your request to its destination, i.e. a website. The website perceives your request as coming from the exit node instead of your computer.

The same, but in reverse

When the website or server responds to the request, the process reverses. So, the response goes through multiple nodes in the Tor network, each adding a layer of encryption. Once the request reaches your computer, you decrypt the last layer.

3. Anonymity

Because of all those layers of encryption, it's complicated for anyone to trace your traffic back to you - providing a high level of anonymity that has made the Tor network so popular.

4. Constantly changing paths

Tor constantly changes the path your data takes through its network, making tracing your information and activity even harder. This dynamic routing adds an extra layer of security.

5. Encryption

Using robust encryption methods at every stage of the process means that your data and browsing history will remain secure even if a node is compromised.

Why do people use the Tor network?

Tor users favor the network for various reasons, but mainly these:


Tor helps users browse the internet anonymously by obfuscating their IP addresses. This makes it difficult for websites, advertisers, and government agencies to track their online activities.

Privacy Protection

Tor prevents websites and online services from collecting and profiling users' data. It shields users from invasive tracking technologies commonly used for targeted advertising.

Circumventing Censorship

In countries with strict internet censorship and surveillance, Tor can be a valuable tool for accessing blocked websites and communicating without fear of censorship or monitoring.

Whistleblowing and Activism

Whistleblowers, journalists, and activists often use Tor to protect their identities while sharing sensitive information, conducting research, or communicating with sources in repressive environments.


Tor provides an extra layer of security, especially when using public Wi-Fi networks or untrusted connections. It can help protect against eavesdropping and man-in-the-middle attacks.

Avoiding Geolocation Restrictions

Some websites or services restrict access based on a user's location. Tor allows users to bypass such restrictions and access content from anywhere in the world.

Protection Against Doxxing

Tor can safeguard you from malicious attacks where actors can attempt to steal and reveal personal information about someone online. This is known as a doxxing attack.

Research and Testing

Security researchers and developers often use Tor to study network vulnerabilities and test the security of their applications.

The 'Dark web' and Tor

Also referred to as the 'dark web browser,' Tor can help people access websites not indexed by search engines. This collection of sites is known as the dark web.

Websites on the dark web are suffixed by '.onion' instead of '.com' and can only be accessed through Tor and other anonymizing networks.

The Dark web can be used for various things, but it's most commonly known to be utilized for committing illegal activity. However, reputable sites live there, too, including Facebook, The New York Times, and even the CIA.

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Getting started with the Tor network

Tor is available on all leading operating systems, Windows, macOS, and Linux, and installing Tor is as straightforward as getting started with any other browser. You'll be ready to go once you've downloaded and installed Tor.

It's not just .onion sites that are available. You can use the Tor browser to access HTTPS sites, too.

How to browse anonymously with Tor

After you install and open the Tor browser, you can configure your connection or connect automatically. Pressing ‘connect’ means you can start using Tor without any further configuration.

If you configure your connection, you can set up bridges to keep your connection to the Tor network hidden. These can be useful if Tor is blocked in your location or if you think using Tor may be suspicious to anyone monitoring your usage, i.e. internet service providers.

It can take some time to connect to Tor, but once you're in, you'll be free to search the web. If you use Firefox, you may be familiar with the layout. This is because Tor is based on Firefox.

After connecting, you can use the DuckDuckGo search bar or the Tor search engine at the top of the window to perform a more private search.

If you want to visit a site on the dark web, i.e. one that ends in .onion, you must type the address into the Tor search bar at the top of the window.

Some regular websites, like Facebook, offer an onion service. If they do, Tor will tell you by showing a purple 'onion available' message in the address bar. Pressing this button will open the Onion version of the website.

The Tor browser has two features next to the main search bar - a shield and a broom - that can help you improve security. The shield icon lets you choose the security level of your browsing experience. The broom lets you start a new session, closing all tabs and information like browsing history.

The pros and cons of Tor

Pros of using the Tor browser

  1. Privacy and anonymity: The Tor browser hides your IP address, so websites and third parties will struggle to track your online activity and collect and profile your data.

  2. Side-step location restrictions: The Tor browser lets you access websites and services that may be banned in your physical location.

  3. Increased security: If you often use public internet networks, Tor will help to keep your data safe from hacking.

  4. Testing security: As well as protecting you from potential hacks, Tor can help developers study vulnerabilities and secure websites and users' data.

Cons of using the Tor browser

  1. Complex features can slow you down: Tor uses complex encryption layers that can significantly slow down your internet speed to keep you safe. Compared to other internet service providers, this can be frustrating.

  2. Limited access: Websites and services that use CAPTCHA challenges may make accessing certain content difficult for Tor users. Additionally, some websites will block Tor exit nodes to prevent malicious use.

  3. Legal and Ethical Concerns: Although it's legal in most places, Tor is banned in some countries, like Russia and China. The browser's privacy settings also mean it can be used for illegal activity, which raises ethical concerns.

  4. Anonymity is not guaranteed: Tor provides high anonymity, but it's not foolproof. Hackers can still find ways to operate exit nodes and intercept unencrypted traffic - removing anonymity.

Alternatives to the Tor browser

While there are positives to using the Tor network, its potential risks cannot be ignored. Likewise, the complexity of the system can slow down your computer.

To maintain privacy and security while using the web and avoid painfully slow loading times, a residential proxy server from Proxyrack could be what you need.

Our residential proxies come from genuine internet service providers and home users rather than public exit nodes, so you can be confident that your data will remain private.

Another benefit to residential proxies is that they're less likely to be flagged as suspicious because they come from real locations.

Discover residential proxies if you want the privacy and security benefits of the Tor browser without the worry of using onion routing. For more information, check out our guide on the best Tor proxies.


Is The Onion Router (Tor) safe?

Tor is designed to maintain the privacy and security of its users. However, the service has its vulnerabilities. Before you become a Tor user, here are some things to remember:

  1. It can be compromised: The exit nodes used by Tor can be compromised, which may intercept unencrypted traffic - exposing your data and increasing the risk of being hacked.

  2. The connection may be slow: All of those layers of encryption can affect your internet connection, making it slower and unsuitable for intense activities like streaming or online gaming.

  3. You must be vigilant: You must take care when you use the Tor browser, including ensuring it is configured correctly and avoiding doing things that may leak your information.

  4. .onion sites can be unreliable: Websites on the dark web (those ending in .onion) will vary regarding their safety and legitimacy. While some are reputable, others may be set up to scam or host illegal content.

Does the Tor browser hide your location?

The Tor browser is designed to hide your physical location and IP address by processing information through different nodes.

First, your information passes through an entry node, which hides your IP address. Next, it's routed through multiple middle nodes, each peeling off a layer of encryption, which makes it difficult for anyone to trace your location. Finally, your data goes through the exit node.

The exit node knows the website you're visiting but not your IP address or physical location.

This means that the website you're visiting interprets your request as coming from the exit node, not your location.

Is the Tor browser legal?

The Tor browser is legal to use in the majority of countries. The legality of how you use the Tor browser will vary depending on which country you live in.

The Tor project website states that it does not condone illegal activities and that users should behave ethically and responsibly when using the network.

Before you start using Tor, you must understand and comply with local laws and regulations.

Why is Tor called The Onion Router?

The onion router gets its name from processing and routing internet traffic to protect users' online privacy. 'Onion' references the multiple layers of encryption and routing the Tor network uses to keep users' data private.

When a user accesses a website using the Tor browser, their data is encrypted multiple times and then passed through a series of nodes, which peels back a layer of encryption until the data reaches its final destination.

How does The Onion Router work?

Short for the onion router, Tor is an internet browser designed to protect and maintain users' privacy while they use the internet. Tor gets its name from the technology it uses - onion routing.

Onion routing involves many layers of encryption through different servers called nodes. There are three stages of nodes - entry, middle, and exit nodes. This process ensures anonymity and makes it hard for user's online activity to be tracked.

When the user's request arrives at the website, the process is reversed, with each node adding a layer of encryption until it reaches the user's computer.

What is Tor used for?

Tor is used for many reasons, mainly relating to ensuring privacy and anonymity while using the internet. Some common uses for the Tor network include:

  • Privacy protection

  • Whistleblowing and activism

  • Additional security

  • Avoiding location restrictions

  • Accessing the dark web

Who created The Onion Router?

The US Navy initially created Tor as a research project in the 1990s before being further developed and expanded by the Tor project in the early 2000s.

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