Are you concerned about your privacy online? The 2019 The CIGI-Ipsos Global Survey showed that 43% of internet users are now taking additional measures to secure their devices for online activities. This concern is leading to a growing interest in security tools like virtual private networks and Tor. But what are they? And which should you use to stay private online? Read on to find out.
The differences between Tor and a VPN
Tor and VPNs are both ways of increasing your privacy online. They do this by routing your internet traffic through other servers on the net using encrypted tunnels.
The difference is which servers, and how many they use.
- Most VPNs route you through one server, owned by the VPN provider
- Tor bounces you through multiple ‘servers’ (really the computers of other Tor users)
There are more differences, let’s look at the pros and cons of each option.
Pros and cons of using Tor
Two and a half million people use Tor for its decentralization and open-source structure. But its complexity and slow speeds have stopped it from reaching a wider audience.
Pro: Tor is open-source
Tor is open-source, meaning you can look through the code used to make it. Anyone can check the code for security vulnerabilities or government backdoors (like the infamous _NSAKEY in Windows).
Pro: Tor is decentralized
Most things on the internet are centralized: they exist on a single set of servers. If all of Google’s servers go down, say goodbye to Google.
Tor, however, works by connecting you with other individual users, not a single central server. This makes it almost impossible for the service to crash or be taken down.
Con: Tor is slow
The creators of To Freely admit that it is slow to use.
By routing your traffic through multiple servers, you have to rely on other people’s internet connections, which are often slow and unreliable. As a result, Tor can make watching YouTube videos or online gaming next to impossible.
Pros and cons of using a VPN
By 2027, the VPN market will reach over $100 billion— higher than ever before. While many people appreciate the simplicity and speed of VPNs, there are concerns about their openness and legality.
VPNs are easier to use than Tor, which requires technical knowledge to set up and troubleshoot. VPNs also work out-of-the-box on more devices than Tor. VPNs are with the everyday user in mind and thus offer a good degree of protection without sacrificing everyday utility.
Finally, VPNs are better at accessing region-locked content. With Tor, the country of the servers you use are randomized, and so is your online location. But with VPNs, you can simply choose a server in Japan, for example, for easy access to the Japanese Netflix.
VPNs are much faster than the Tor network.
Because most only pass your internet traffic through one encrypted server, your internet speeds usually only drop by 5%-10%. As a result, it is nowhere near as frustrating to stream HD videos or play online games with a VPN.
Pro: VPN effectively solve throttling issues
If you wish to make data throttling a problem of the past, get a VPN. Not only will it stop your ISP from cherry-picking websites and activities to slow down, but it will also solve privacy and security issues. Let’s be real, it’s concerning that your ISP can legally snoop on your online habits regardless of whether they throttle internet connection or not.
Unlike Tor, few VPNs are open-source. You cannot see how they are built, or if they have any security flaws. Because they are run by private companies, VPNs can also be raided by the government or hacked.
On the upside, most VPNs have a no-logs policy: they don’t store any of your personal data. This removes the risk of your privacy being compromised.
Why a VPN is better for staying private online
The best form of security is the one you actually use.
While Tor is an impressive feat of engineering, its security benefits over a VPN are negligible for most users. In turn, its slow speeds mean you are less likely to activate it when you go online — in which case, you might as well not use it at all.
Staying anonymous online is harder today than ever before. Keeping your web activity truly private is nearly impossible without using a third-party tool.
VPNs and Tor are both impressive and have their place. Tor is open-source and decentralized, making its trustworthiness easy to verify. But for most people, VPNs are superior — they’re easy to use and offer plenty of security for most internet activity.