How to Use Tor Browser Safely in 2022: A Beginner's Guide
- Quick Guide: How to Use Tor Safely in 3 Easy Steps
- What is the Tor Browser Used For?
- How Does Tor Work?
- Is Tor Browser Safe?
- Best VPNs to Stay Safe on Tor in July 2022
- ExpressVPN – Enhanced Security Features for Safe Tor Browsing
- CyberGhost — NoSpy Servers Keep Your Tor Traffic Private
- Private Internet Access — MACE Blocks Ads, Trackers, and Malware
- How to Use Tor With a VPN
- Additional Tips for Staying Safe on Tor
- How to Install Tor Browser on Your Devices
- How to Set Tor Up Tor For Safe Use
- FAQs on Using Tor Safely
- Use Tor Safely Today
Although Tor offers a degree of privacy, it's not enough to keep you safe on the dark web. Even though there are plenty of good reasons to use Tor, it is also a hub for cybercriminals and malware. Even accidentally clicking the wrong link can put your device and personal data at risk.
This is why it's crucial to use Tor in conjunction with other safety measures. One of the easiest ways to enhance your safety on Tor is to use a VPN when you access the dark web. When you connect to a VPN, it encrypts your traffic from end to end. By doing so, it prevents hackers, prying eyes — and even your ISP — from intercepting your online activity.
My team and I tested 90+ VPNs. For robust security and privacy protection, I recommend ExpressVPN. It offers military-grade encryption and a strict no-logs policy to keep you safe. Plus, its lightning-fast protocol (Lightway) minimizes speed loss while you use Tor. You can even try it out risk-free since it offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. If it doesn't suit you, it's easy to claim a refund.
- Get a VPN. I recommend ExpressVPN because it’s highly secure and offers a combination of privacy features to keep your Tor activity private.
- Download Tor. For security purposes, be sure to get it from Tor's official download site and not a third party. You will have the option to configure it or connect right away.
- Use Tor Browser. Connect your VPN before you open Tor to ensure the highest level of security while browsing.
What is the Tor Browser Used For?
Tor Browser is used to access every layer of the internet, including the dark web. Its many layers are the reason why it’s also known as Tor Browser or The Onion Router. Tor is based on Firefox, so you can still visit common sites from the surface web — like YouTube and Wikipedia. However, unlike other browsers, Tor can also access.onion sites found on the dark web.
The dark web is the most controversial and dangerous part of the internet. Since it's not regulated, you risk accidentally coming across disturbing or illegal content, such as human trafficking, drug or weapon deals, and more.
This is why there is a bad reputation surrounding the use of The Onion Router and accessing the dark web. It's generally portrayed as a place for criminals to gather and communicate away from the law. Although that’s partially true, there are plenty of good reasons to access the dark web with Tor, such as:
- Communicating anonymously. Activists and even ordinary people turn to The Onion Router to keep their communications private from prying eyes and third parties.
- Overcome censorship. Tor gives people living in countries under heavy censorship a chance to communicate freely without risk of exposure. It also allows users to access geo-restricted content that otherwise would not be available in their region.
- Exposing criminals or corrupt public figures. Journalists and whistleblowers use Tor and the dark web as a safe way to share/receive anonymous tips online or investigate controversial situations.
- Research material. On the dark web, you can find free resources such as digital books and research papers.
- Security testing. Tor Browser gives IT workers and security engineers the opportunity to conduct security tests on the dark web.
- Get medical advice. If you’re experiencing symptoms or have a health concern, doctors are available on the dark web that can offer you their expertise. This is especially helpful for those who want to keep their health concerns personal or simply don’t have the funds to visit a clinic.
How Does Tor Work?
When you use Tor, it encrypts your traffic and sends it through stopping points (nodes) before reaching its final destination — the site you visit. Any Tor user can volunteer their network to be used as a node. There are 3 layers of nodes through which your traffic travels: an entry, relay, and exit.
Nodes are scattered globally, and each time one is reached, it's given just enough information to reveal the next destination. None of the nodes can see the entire route your traffic takes, which is how Tor gives its users a layer of privacy. That being said, Tor's entry and exit nodes are vulnerable points since these can see certain parts of your data.
The entry node can identify you while the exit node sees which sites you send requests to. However, neither can see the reverse information. This means that your data will always be partially exposed in either the entry or exit node when you use The Onion Router. Due to this, I recommend using a VPN in conjunction with Tor to encrypt your traffic end to end.
Is Tor a VPN?
Tor is a browser, not a VPN. Its main function is to give you access to sites on the dark web. Like a VPN, it uses encryption to give you some security during your online activities. However, VPNs offer several security and privacy features The Onion Router doesn't provide, such as:
- A new IP address — connecting to a different location makes it difficult for prying eyes to use your location to trace your online activity back to you.
- DNS/IP leak protection — as added assurance, your real DNS and IP address will be safeguarded by the VPN so it doesn't accidentally get exposed.
- A strict no-logs policy — the most reputable VPNs will adhere to a no-logs policy to ensure that they will never record your data.
- Built-in ad and malware blockers — not all, but some VPNs offer this feature as an added bonus. This can be helpful in case you accidentally click a malicious link while using Tor Browser.
Is Tor Browser Safe?
Using Tor Browser certainly gives you a degree of security, but this only extends so far. The websites you visit can't see your IP address, and your ISP can't see the specific sites you visit. However, your ISP can still see if you use Tor, which can flag suspicions — even if you're not doing anything illegal. Plus, you're not protected from malware, so downloading anything with Tor alone can be dangerous.
On top of this, there's no way of telling who's behind exit nodes or their intentions. Exit nodes can read, intercept, or alter your data. Even worse is the possibility that a malicious exit node forms an encrypted connection with your server. In this case, they could be spying on all of your online activity.
For these reasons, I strongly advise that you use The Onion Router along with a VPN. Reputable VPNs use powerful encryption to protect your personal data when you use Tor. Plus, they hide your IP address while providing you with a new one through one of their private servers. As a result, your real location will be hidden from Tor's nodes, and your browsing sessions kept private.
- Robust security features including private DNS servers
- Advanced protocols including OpenVPN and ExpressVPN's proprietary Lightway
- 3,000+ servers 94 countries
- 5 simultaneous device connections
- Compatible with: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, routers, and more
ExpressVPN provides top-notch security to protect you from cyberthreats when you use Tor. This includes 256-bit encryption, DNS/IP leak protection, and a kill switch (Network Lock) to prevent your data from being leaked. I used an independent tool to test for leaks and found none whatsoever. On top of this, it routes all of your Tor traffic safely through its own Private DNS servers. Many VPNs don't offer this feature, which can put you at risk of DNS request exposure.
You can depend on it to keep your personal data and Tor activity private. ExpressVPN promises this by adhering to a strict no-logs policy — this has been independently audited to prove that it's trustworthy. It's also based in the British Virgin Islands, which is outside of the 5, 9, and 14 Eyes jurisdiction. This means that it's not obligated (even legally) to hand over your information to third parties. What's more, it uses TrustedServer technology — these are RAM-only servers that wipe your data whenever the server is rebooted.
To help you download ExpressVPN safely and easily, it even has its own dedicated.onion site. This gives you privacy protection from the moment you sign up and install the VPN app — especially helpful if you're in a strictly-censored country. I used this site to set it up and found the process to be fast and secure. Within a few minutes, I could connect to the VPN and use it with The Onion Router.
On top of ExpressVPN's security benefits, it also gives you lightning-fast speeds. Tor is already super slow, so it's crucial to use a VPN that won't cause any major additional speed loss. During my tests, my base speed with The Onion Router was 21 Mbps. Using ExpressVPN's "Smart Location" feature and superfast Lightway protocol, I connected to Miami — this gave me 19 Mbps. I didn't notice any slowdowns and could use Tor smoothly.
One downfall is that it's a bit pricier than some VPNs — plans start at $6.67/month. Luckily, ExpressVPN offers discounts and coupons; when I signed up, I got it for 49% off plus 3 free months of service. Short-term plans are also available, offering the same features. However, you'll end up paying more for this option, so the best deal is its long-term subscription.
You can test ExpressVPN with Tor completely risk-free since it offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. This way, if you're not impressed, it's easy to claim a refund. I requested my refund after 27 days of testing using its 24/7 live chat feature — the process was pretty simple. The agent asked me a few user-experience questions, then instantly approved the return. I saw the money back in my account after just 2 days.
- NoSpy Servers and regular transparency reports
- Superfast speeds
- 8,914+ servers 91 countries
- 7 simultaneous device connections
- Compatible with: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, routers, and more
CyberGhost takes your privacy seriously by offering its own NoSpy servers. These are located in privacy-friendly Romania and are only accessible by CyberGhost employees. This significantly reduces the risk of third-party intervention. It also follows a strict no-logs policy and provides transparency reports every 3 months. The reports show users how many legal requests, malware flags, and DMCA complaints it's had over the year.
It pairs 256-bit encryption with industry-leading protocols to guard your data when you access Tor. You can choose between IKEv2, OpenVPN, and WireGuard. My recommendation for browsing Tor safely is to use OpenVPN. It's open-source and is continuously being scrutinized and updated to fix bugs and vulnerabilities. However, during my tests, I found that WireGuard offers almost as strong of security but with less speed loss.
In addition, it provides strong security features, including DNS/IP leak protection and a kill switch. To test the effectiveness of this, I suddenly switched server locations while browsing with Tor. Immediately, I received a notification that the app's kill switch was temporarily blocking my traffic. This assured me that your data won't be leaked — even if your VPN connection suddenly drops.
With its superfast connection speeds, it helps minimize slowdowns while you use The Onion Router. I tested 3 nearby servers (Miami, Atlanta, and Washington D.C.), and found an average of 17 Mbps — only 4 Mbps less than my base speed. While connected to Miami, I watched a short video. It took a second to load but played without interruptions.
When I tested its long-distance speeds, I found some connections to be a bit slower. For example, its Berlin server produced just 9 Mbps. Luckily, CyberGhost has a massive server network. With 2 alternative German servers to choose from, it was easy to find a faster connection — which gave me 14 Mbps.
You can get started with CyberGhost for just $2.29/month with its long-term plan, which is its best value. When I signed up for its 2-year plan, I even got 2 free months included. There are also monthly plans which offer the same features, although they will end up costing you more overall.
The long-term plan also comes with a trustworthy 45-day money-back guarantee. When I requested my refund (after 28 days), I used the 24/7 live chat option. The agent wasn't pushy, and only asked why I wanted to cancel. Then, they issued the refund, which I saw in my bank account after 3 days.
- Built-in ad, malware, and tracker blocker (MACE)
- 29,650+ servers 84 countries
- Consistently fast speeds
- 10 simultaneous device connections
- Compatible with: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, routers, and more
You can browse Tor with confidence — Private Internet Access (PIA) has a built-in ad/tracker/malware blocker. During my tests, I found this setting (called MACE) easily in the app, and could enable it with one click. Not only does it prevent annoying pop ups from interrupting you, but it prevents malicious files from compromising your device.
Private Internet Access provides tons of options to help you customize your security. It lets you choose which protocol you use, between OpenVPN and WireGuard — plus, your level of encryption (128-bit or 256-bit). This way, you can balance security and speeds. On top of this, there are two kill switch options. The "Advanced Kill Switch" prevents traffic from leaking, even when the VPN is turned off.
When I tested it for speeds, I found PIA to be reliably fast with Tor. The closest 2 servers to me (Florida and Atlanta) both delivered over 15 Mbps. Although this is not as fast as ExpressVPN, I could still browse Tor without any noticeable slowdowns.
PIA offers a multi-hop and obfuscation setting in the app to help hide your VPN use. This adds an extra layer of encryption by also sending your traffic through a proxy server. However, when I tested it, I noticed a major impact on speeds. Tor Browser is already very slow, so I advise only using this option if you’re trying to bypass a tough firewall.
One minor con is that PIA is based in the US, which is part of the 5 eyes alliance. That being said, it adheres to a strict no-logs policy. So even if authorities ask for user data, there won't be any to share.
You can sign up for just $2.19/month with a long-term subscription; sometimes it even includes some additional months for free. My advice is to go with a long-term plan — the short-term options offer the same features, but at a higher monthly cost.
Included with the plans is PIA's 30-day money-back guarantee. This policy is one you can count on — I tested it myself after 25 days and had no issue getting my refund. Using its 24/7 live chat, I made my request and answered a couple of questions. I received the money in my account within 4 days.
Using a highly secure VPN can enhance your safety when you use The Onion Router. There are 2 different ways you can use a VPN with Tor — each offering different security benefits. The following information explains the 2 methods for using a VPN with The Onion Router.
Tor Over VPN
The safest method is performed by connecting to your VPN before accessing The Onion Router. It protects your data as it travels through each node — most importantly, the entry and exit nodes. What's more, your real IP address is hidden from Tor and it prevents your ISP from seeing your Tor activity.
However, if your VPN lacks key security features, this method is not as effective. For instance, a kill switch is necessary as it ensures that your data won't leak in case your connection fails. This protection is vital if you happen to be connected to a malicious exit node. In addition, your VPN should also follow a strict no-logs policy so you can be sure that your browsing activity is truly kept private.
VPN Over Tor
The second method is performed in the opposite order — by connecting to Tor before your VPN. This option is a bit more complicated since it requires that you manually configure your VPN to connect it to Tor. Using this method offers you some security by concealing your traffic from Tor's exit nodes.
That being said, using a VPN over Tor does present some vulnerabilities and limitations. For instance, your ISP can still see you're using Tor. And while using a VPN over Tor allows you to access clear sites, it won't let you visit.onion sites.
For this method to work, the VPN must support Tor — and just as importantly, follow a strict no-logs policy. Since this method is not as secure, most VPNs (including those listed) do not support VPN over Tor.
Although The Onion Router is designed to offer you some privacy, it does have its vulnerabilities. This is why I recommend taking the following precautions to give you maximum security while you browse with The Onion Router.
- Get an antivirus and antimalware software. This will add a layer of security to keep you and your devices safe from viruses, malware, and cyberattacks. Keep up with the software updates — if a newer version comes out and you’re still running an old version, it won’t be equipped for blocking the latest cyberthreats.
- Keep your personal identity private. Don’t give away any identifiable information to the sites you visit. For instance, photos, your phone number, name, or email address. Even accessing your personal accounts (like Gmail, Drive, or Hangouts) can leave you exposed. You can easily get an encrypted email address to use solely with Tor Browser — for example, through ProtonMail.
- Use a security-focused OS. TAILS is one example — I also recommend that you run it from a removable drive. This way, hackers will have a hard time identifying your computer on the Tor network.
- Use a reputable dark web search engine. Some search engines index.onion sites, so you can use these to find and research dark web sites before actually visiting them. Some reputable search engines include: DuckDuckGo and Ahmia. That being said, I recommend against using surface web search engines, like Google, as these collect tons of data from you.
- Update your device and browser. Running the most up-to-date software available helps prevent bugs and vulnerabilities from compromising your online safety.
- Avoid add-ons. Tor automatically blocks some plug-ins (like Flash, RealPlayer, and Quicktime) — hackers have manipulated these to get users’ real IP addresses in the past since they are out of Tor developers’ control. Add-ons and browser extensions can also lead to tracking through browser fingerprinting.
- Don’t change the size of your Tor window. This can lead to someone tracking you through browser fingerprinting.
- Cover your camera and your speaker. You can do this with a bit of opaque tape. This protects you from cybercriminals attempting to hijack your device for collecting unsolicited recordings of you.
- Take note of trusted sites. You should only access links and websites you can trust, especially when making online purchases. An easy way to organize your trusted sites is by using an encrypted notebook (for example, Turtl). There, you can store the specific Onion URLs you have researched and used.
- Be mindful of what you open. Don’t click on pop-ups, ads, or any suspicious requests. If you download a file from the dark web, disable the internet before opening it. Opening it while you're connected could potentially leak your real IP address.
- Use cryptocurrency. Instead of using your personal credit cards, use cryptocurrency — this offers an extra layer of anonymity when you make purchases on the dark web and protects you from having your financial information stolen.
- Close all apps on your device. For example — banking or streaming apps. This way, there’s no chance of prying eyes getting ahold of your personal information through these sources.
How to Install Tor Browser on Your Devices
For safety purposes, I recommend that you only install Tor Browser from its official website. I also strongly advise against changing the size of your window while you browse. It can lead to browser fingerprinting, which is a method used by the FBI, advertisers, and other prying eyes to track your online behavior.
Tor isn’t available for iOS, but the Onion Browser (powered by Tor) is. This app is available in the Apple store, is open-source, and is recommended by Tor. Here is how to install Tor on the devices which it's available:
Download Tor on Windows & Mac
The process for installing Tor on Windows and Mac is very similar — the differences are only in how you navigate the operating system. The following steps show how to install it on Windows.
- Connect to any server. A local server will provide you with the fastest connection.
- Download Tor. Go to its download page and select the appropriate installer (Windows or Mac).
- Open the installation file. Pick a language and go through the installation wizard.
- Finish the installation. Once it’s finished installing, you’ll have a couple of options for how to proceed. If you're using Mac, you'll be automatically instructed to drag the Tor icon into your "Applications" folder at this point.
- Connect or configure Tor. Once Tor is installed, you have the option to “Connect” or “Configure”. If you’re browsing in a restrictive network or location, click “Configure”. When you click “Configure”, it will ask you if Tor is censored in your location, or if you’re using a proxy — then it will help you configure a pluggable transport. Otherwise, you can click “Connect” to begin browsing Tor immediately.
Download Tor on Android
- Connect to your VPN. Choose a server, I recommend using one nearby for the best speeds.
- Visit Tor's official site. Using your Android device, navigate to Tor's official site.
- Follow the prompts to install. First, click "Go to Google Play" then "Install" to begin downloading the app to your device.
- Connect to Tor. Start browsing The Onion Router safely.
Download Tor on Linux
- Connect the VPN. Open up a new terminal, then run this command: expressvpn connect. Or, to automatically connect to the “Smart Location”, use the command expressvpn connect smart.
- Download Tor launcher. Navigate to the Tor download page on FlatHub — download the launcher for Linux.
- Install the file. Find the downloads folder (or whichever location you downloaded the Tor Launcher to) and open the file.
- Connect or configure Tor. Click “Launch” to start Tor. Then you have the option to “Connect” or “Configure”. If you’re browsing from a network that blocks Tor, choose “Configure”. When you click “Configure”, it will ask you if Tor is censored in your location, or if you’re using a proxy — then it will help you configure a pluggable transport. If not, you can select “Connect” to begin browsing the dark web immediately.
How to Set Tor Up Tor For Safe Use
- Set the security level. For additional security, set The Onion Router’s security level to “Safest”. To do this, click the shield button at the top right corner of the browser. Then click “Advanced Security Settings”.
- Enjoy accessing the dark web safely! Remember to connect your VPN before opening Tor for the highest level of security.
FAQs on Using Tor Safely
Is it safe to download Tor?
Yes, Tor Browser is safe to download. However, it's not completely private — your ISP can still see that you've visited Tor's site. So I recommend downloading Tor while connected to a VPN to give you more privacy.
That being said, you should never download it from a third-party site. There have been instances of fake sites with malicious links that can compromise your device and the data on it. The only source you should download The Onion Router from is its official site.
Can Tor be traced?
It's difficult, but it is possible. To ensure your safety, you should take additional precautions (like using a VPN) while browsing with Tor. Some of Tor's nodes have been compromised in the past and used to expose users and even intercept their traffic. On top of this, if a hacker ever gains control over a portion of Tor, they could find out which users are viewing what content.
Does Tor hide my IP?
Mostly, but not entirely. Tor's entry nodes can still see your real IP address, but this can be easily prevented by using Tor over a VPN. Using a VPN ensures that your IP address is hidden from all of the nodes. This way, your Tor activity won't be traced back to your location. In addition, it encrypts your traffic from the beginning to the end of your online sessions to prevent your ISP from seeing that you are using The Onion Router.
Is Tor illegal?
Tor Browser is legal in most countries, but using it could put you under surveillance. Your ISP can see that you're accessing it, which could appear suspicious. As long as you don’t engage in illegal activities, you shouldn’t have any problems. However, you can protect your privacy by using a VPN with a no-logs policy, DNS/IP leak protection, and a kill switch.
On the other hand, in strictly-censored countries (like China or the UAE), using Tor is completely illegal. I strongly advise that you abide by the law of your country to avoid facing legal consequences.
Should I use a VPN with Tor?
Using a VPN with Tor is a safety measure I highly recommend. Tor provides you with anonymity inside the network, but your ISP can still see you’re accessing it. Even if you’re not doing anything illegal, The Onion Router is often associated with criminal activities.
Not only this, but any time you visit the dark web, you’re vulnerable to a number of cyber threats — such as hackers trying to steal your data, malware, viruses, and more. A VPN keeps you anonymous and protects your personal information so you can browse the dark web safely.
Is Tor Browser free?
Yes, Tor is free. All you have to do is download it from the official site. However, free products usually come with limitations — with Tor, you get limited privacy protection. This is why it's best to use Tor Browser in conjunction with some other online safety measures to ensure you're browsing safely and privately.
Can I use Tor Browser on Android or iOS?
You can use it on Android, but not on iOS. As an alternative for iOS users, Onion Browser (a similar dark web browser) is available via the Apple store. Onion Browser is a third-party app that uses Tor's routing — its developer works closely with the Tor Project, and the app is even recommended on Tor's official site.
For Android, the Tor app is downloadable via the Google Play Store or as an APK file, which you can get from Tor's official site. The safest method to get Tor on Android is to download Tor's APK file while connected to a VPN. This way, the fact that you're downloading Tor Browser will be hidden from prying eyes, including your ISP. In addition, this method prevents you from accidentally downloading a malicious app from the Google Play Store — which has happened to users in the past.
Why is Tor so slow?
Tor sends your traffic through a series of nodes, which can cause major slowdowns within the browser itself. This is why, if you're using a VPN for added protection, it's best to go with one that's superfast to minimize additional slowdowns.
Nodes work like "pit stops" during a journey. Each time your traffic passes through a node, it takes longer for it to reach the final destination — the sites you visit.
Use Tor Safely Today
Even though The Onion Router provides you with a decent level of privacy, you're still at risk whenever you access the dark web using it. To keep you safe from various cyberthreats, I strongly recommend using a VPN with the Tor Browser. This ensures that your traffic is encrypted from the beginning to the end of your browsing sessions. Plus, it hides your Tor activity and IP from any third parties that may try to spy on you.
My favorite VPN for Tor is ExpressVPN. Not only does it protect you with a combination of top-notch security features — but it's also superfast. This allows you to browse with Tor safely and with minimal slowdowns. You can even try ExpressVPN out with Tor risk-free since it offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. If you find it's not for you, it's easy to get a refund.
To summarize, the fastest VPNs are……
Your data is exposed to the websites you visit!
Your IP Address:
Your Internet Provider:
The information above can be used to track you, target you for ads, and monitor what you do online.
VPNs can help you hide this information from websites so that you are protected at all times. We recommend ExpressVPN — the #1 VPN out of over 350 providers we've tested. It has military-grade encryption and privacy features that will ensure your digital security, plus — it's currently offering 49% off.