Web browsers are usually the same as their counterparts in terms of appearance and functionality. However, Tor Browser is one such browser that is different from your normal everyday web browser. Although it is usually associated with the deep or dark web, there is more to it than what appears at first glance.

How is the Tor browser different and should you use it? If so, then how can you safely use it on Linux? Let's find out.

An introduction to the Tor browser

In short, Tor Browser is a free, open source web browser that allows you to browse the internet anonymously. Unlike regular browsers as you currently use them, all traffic through the Tor browser is securely routed through multiple nodes that provide a layer of encryption and hide your IP address.

More information: Understanding IP and MAC Addresses: What Are They Good For?

This gives you anonymity on the web and helps you protect your privacy. This is very useful if you live in an area with significant internet censorship and surveillance. Tor is mainly known for accessing the dark web, but you shouldn't discredit this browser just for some nefarious users.

But why can only the Tor browser open such websites while other browsers cannot? To answer this question, you need to understand the routing mechanism used.

Achieve anonymity with onion routing

Tor stands for The Onion Router. But what does a vegetable have to do with a networking system? Similar to how an onion is made up of layers, the Tor network uses a nested network of private computers called nodes that route and encrypt your Internet traffic.

These nodes can be an input node, a relay node, or an output node. The entry node is the first node your device uses to connect to the Tor network. Except for this node, none of the other nodes know your real IP address. Your connection is then forwarded to a number of relay nodes and finally to the exit node.

This exit node is the node that will eventually connect to the website you originally wanted to visit. That way, even if you were the one trying to visit a website, the website server will get the request from the exit node's IP and not yours. This is how Onion Routing helps you to remain anonymous on the Internet.

Why not just use a VPN?

When you visit a website with a normal browser, the source IP address and the destination IP address are not hidden. The destination IP address is the IP address of the website you want to visit. Companies can use this information to deliver targeted advertising to their devices.

You can overcome this by using a Virtual Private Network, or VPN for short. So why not use a VPN instead of Tor? Because the VPN company still knows who you are even if the sniffers don't know.

In addition, there is no way of knowing whether or not a VPN is logging your data. Hence, anonymity or privacy is not guaranteed, which is one of the main reasons people use Tor in the first place.

In simpler terms, connecting to the Tor network is similar to connecting to a chain of multiple VPNs at the same time.

How to install the Tor browser on Linux

Installing Tor Browser on Linux is a straightforward process and is similar to installing other software. Go to the official downloads page on the Tor browser website and click the Download for Linux Button to get the latest version.

Download: Tor Browser

The Tor browser is also available for other operating systems such as Windows and OS X. You can also use the Tor browser on Android for your mobile browsing needs.

Once you've downloaded the TAR unzip it with an archiving tool of your choice. After the extraction process is complete, you will notice the following: start-tor-browser.desktop File and a Browser Folder.

Just open the start-tor-browser.desktop File to start the Tor browser. The system will greet you with a screen asking you to connect to the Tor network. Click on that Connect Button and the browser will open shortly after a successful connection to the network.

And there you go, you have successfully installed Tor Browser on your Linux computer. As simple as that.

Access the web through the Tor browser

The Tor browser itself is very similar to the browsers you regularly use. It's just a modified version of Firefox. The connection protocols used are very different, however, as they contain several levels of encryption. Because of this, surfing on Tor is much slower than usual.

It is recommended that you use a search engine like DuckDuckGo instead of Google as the former won't track you and is more privacy conscious. Now that you're on the Tor network, you can also use the onion version of your favorite search engine.

Increased security with Tails OS

If you are serious about anonymity on the web, it pays to use a dedicated portable operating system for your browsing needs. The Tails OS is the most suitable candidate for this. It is a Debian based Linux distribution that focuses on the security, anonymity and privacy of its users.

The peculiarity of this Linux distribution lies in its amnesia, which means that every time you shut down the operating system, the system deletes all data and starts with a clean start the next time you start it. The hard drive or USB stick does not save any data either, apart from the files on the encrypted persistent storage.

All inbound and outbound traffic from Tails OS goes through Tor and all non-anonymous connections are automatically blocked. Tor Browser, Thunderbird, KeePassXC, LibreOffice, and OnionShare are some of the built-in applications you'll find in the operating system.

Safety precautions next to gate

Data protection and anonymity on the Internet are a legitimate concern. While the Tor browser gives you an unprecedented level of anonymity compared to other browsers, it doesn't make you invincible. There's no harm in going the extra mile and taking some precautions before you start using Tor.

There have been cases of IP and MAC address leaks in the past. To avoid this, in addition to Tor, you should use a VPN and a secure operating system like Tails. That is enough to keep your anonymity on the web while you surf the dark web.

This is how you access the dark web securely and anonymously

There are the critical steps you need to take in knowing how to access the dark web securely and anonymously.

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About the author

Nitin Ranganath
(14 articles published)

Nitin is an avid software developer and computer engineering student who develops web applications using JavaScript technologies. He works as a freelance web developer and enjoys writing for Linux and programming in his free time.

By Nitin Ranganath

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