• Welcome screen of the Tor Browser v3.5.3. Source: Tor Project 2019.
    Welcome screen of the Tor Browser v3.5.3. Source: Tor Project 2019.
  • Screenshots from Tor Browser for Android. Source: sysrqb 2018.
    Screenshots from Tor Browser for Android. Source: sysrqb 2018.
  • New Tor Browser logos for desktop and Android. Source: boklm 2019.
    New Tor Browser logos for desktop and Android. Source: boklm 2019.
  • Tor Browser allows us to inspect the current circuit. Source: Cimpanu 2018.
    Tor Browser allows us to inspect the current circuit. Source: Cimpanu 2018.
  • A study from 2010 shows what information leak from browser's public mode to private mode. Source: Aggarwal et al. 2010, table 1.
    A study from 2010 shows what information leak from browser

Tor Browser

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Summary

Welcome screen of the Tor Browser v3.5.3. Source: Tor Project 2019.
Welcome screen of the Tor Browser v3.5.3. Source: Tor Project 2019.

Tor Browser is a standalone desktop application that helps users browse the web safely and anonymously. Since many users use the Internet via a web browser, Tor Browser is a useful application for anonymity. It hides your device's IP address and its location. It prevents third parties from snooping into your online activities or even tracking you.

Tor Browser is based on the open sourced code of Firefox browser. It adds further privacy and security settings.

Underneath, Tor Browser relies on the Tor network of relay nodes. In the past, it was difficult to use Tor since one had to install a number of tools separately. Today, Tor Browser bundles all the necessary tools into a single archive of files, thus making it easier for users to adopt Tor.

Milestones

Oct
2003

Tor network is deployed. Tor code is open sourced under MIT license. Tor itself is an improvement over Onion Routing that started as a research project in 1995.

Mar
2008

Version 1.0.0 of Tor Browser Bundle is released.

Jun
2017

Tor Browser 7.0 is released with multiprocess mode and content sandbox as two major features. Sandboxing is not yet available on Windows. Until this release, lack of sandboxing was a problem and was exploited by the FBI. This version is based on Firefox 52 Extended Support Release (ESR). ESR is meant to help organizations to mass deploy the browser.

Sep
2018
Screenshots from Tor Browser for Android. Source: sysrqb 2018.

Tor Browser version 8 is released based on Firefox Quantum codebase that came out in November 2017. User interface is Photon UI that Firefox Quantum uses. Also in September, alpha release of Tor Browser for Android happens.

May
2019
New Tor Browser logos for desktop and Android. Source: boklm 2019.

Tor Browser version 8.5 becomes the first stable release for Android. Tor Browser also gets newly designed logos compatible with Firefox's Photon UI.

Discussion

  • What are the features of the Tor Browser?
    Tor Browser allows us to inspect the current circuit. Source: Cimpanu 2018.
    Tor Browser allows us to inspect the current circuit. Source: Cimpanu 2018.

    Tor Browser is cross-platform and available for x86 and x86_64 architectures. Encryption and decryption are done automatically. It can update itself to latest version. What previously required separate installations of Tor, Firefox browser, Torbutton (Firefox add-on) and Polipo (HTTP proxy), are now conveniently bundled within the Tor Browser.

    A new separate circuit is automatically created for each domain though they share a common guard node. This process is transparent to users but Tor Browser allows users to inspect the current circuit and request a new circuit if so desired. From within the browser, users can also request Tor bridges by solving a captcha. Each circuit lives for only ten minutes.

    Since each website is isolated from another, this prevents tracking from third parties. Tor Browser resists browser fingerprinting. To prevent cookie-based tracking, cookies and browsing history are cleared when the browser is closed. It also prefers DuckDuckGo over Google as the search engine, since Google tracks you and logs your search queries.

  • What are the variants of Tor Browser for different platforms?

    Tor Browser is available for Microsoft Windows, Apple MacOS and GNU/Linux. As of March 2019, an experimental version 8.5a8 is also available for Android.

    Two popular add-ons that come with Tor Browser by default are NoScript and HTTPS Everywhere.

    For Android, there's also Orbot, a proxy that enables Tor access for any mobile app. Orfox is a browser for Android that was developed as part of the Guardian Project. This is likely to be discontinued when a stable version of Tor Browser for Android is released.

    Third-party Onion Browser is the one to use for iOS.

  • I already use private/incognito mode in Firefox/Chrome. Why do I need Tor Browser?
    A study from 2010 shows what information leak from browser's public mode to private mode. Source: Aggarwal et al. 2010, table 1.
    A study from 2010 shows what information leak from browser's public mode to private mode. Source: Aggarwal et al. 2010, table 1.

    Private modes avoid saving your browsing history and cookies. Otherwise, they are vulnerable to fingerprinting and network adversaries. Shortcomings are plugins, fingerprinting, DNS leaks, SSL state leaks, autofill and site-specific zoom. This is where Tor Browser becomes useful.

    On a related note, Tor provides anonymity at the routing layer. However, Tor can't protect you if your hardware is compromised, such as a key logger. Tor doesn't encrypt traffic between the exit node and final destination, for which you should use app-level encryption, such as SSL for HTTPS traffic. In fact, an add-on such as HTTPS Everywhere can help in enforcing security for sites that support it. Electronic Frontier Foundation has a nice animation to show how HTTPS works alongside Tor.

    Tor will also not protect you from improper usage. For example, BitTorrent over Tor is not anonymous.

  • What are some alternatives to the Tor Browser for anonymous web browsing?

    Tor Browser is not the only way to achieve anonymity while browsing the web. I2P provides a peer-to-peer distributed communications layer. It's suited for hidden services. Freenet uses a similar P2P technology. Linux-based distributions that focus on privacy and anonymity (some of which use Tor underneath) include Tails, Subgraph and Freepto.

    Qubes OS is a desktop OS focused on security. It uses virtualization to give users any OS of their choice. Whonix OS is integrated into Qubes. With Whonix, we can connect to Tor from inside a VM.

    Epic Browser doesn't use any special networking architecture. However, it disables history, third-party cookies, DNS pre-fetching, and autofill in forms. These are common ways in which privacy can be compromised.

    Brave browser integrates Tor. Users can open a private tab with Tor.

    Other alternatives are listed at alternative.me.

References

  1. Aggarwal, G., E. Bursztein, C. Jackson, and D. Boneh. 2010. "An analysis of private browsing modes in modern browsers." Proc. of 19th Usenix Security Symposium. Accessed 2019-03-22.
  2. Brave. 2018. "Brave Introduces Beta of Private Tabs with Tor for Enhanced Privacy while Browsing." Brave, June 28. Accessed 2019-03-21.
  3. Cimpanu, Catalin. 2016. "First Version of Sandboxed Tor Browser Available." Bleeping Computer, December 12. Accessed 2019-03-22.
  4. Cimpanu, Catalin. 2018. "Tor Browser gets a redesign, switches to new Firefox Quantum engine." ZDNet, September 06. Accessed 2019-03-21.
  5. Fleishman, Glenn. 2017. "Anonymous browsing with Tor reduces exposure but still has risks." Macworld, IDG, January 17. Accessed 2019-03-22.
  6. Orgera, Scott. 2018. "How to Use Tor Browser for Anonymous Web Browsing." Lifewire, November 21. Accessed 2019-03-21.
  7. Perry, Mike. 2010. "Google Chrome Incognito Mode, Tor, and Fingerprinting." Blog, Tor Project, September 14. Accessed 2019-03-22.
  8. Phillips, Gavin. 2017. "Really Private Browsing: An Unofficial User’s Guide to Tor." MakeUseOf, July 31. Accessed 2019-03-21.
  9. Price, Dan. 2018. "4 Anonymous Web Browsers That Are Completely Private." MakeUseOf, October 25. Accessed 2019-03-21.
  10. Protalinski, Emil. 2017. "Tor Browser 7.0 arrives with multiprocess mode, content sandbox, and Unix domain sockets." VentureBeat, June 07. Accessed 2019-03-22.
  11. Qubes. 2019. "Homepage." Qubes OS. Accessed 2019-03-22.
  12. Syverson, Paul. 2005. "Brief Selected History." Onion Router. Accessed 2019-03-21.
  13. TOR Reddit. 2018. "How to get TorBrowser to auto update upon starting the browser?" r/TOR, March 17. Accessed 2019-03-22.
  14. TecMint. 2018. "Tor Browser: An Ultimate Web Browser for Anonymous Web Browsing in Linux." TecMint, December 07. Accessed 2019-03-21.
  15. Tiwari, Aditya. 2017. "Everything About Tor: What is Tor? How Tor Works?" Fossbytes, May 22. Accessed 2019-03-21.
  16. Tor Project. 2019. "What is Tor Browser?" Accessed 2019-03-21.
  17. Tor Project Docs. 2019. "Tor: Bridges." Accessed 2019-03-21.
  18. Verma, Adarsh. 2015. "5 Best Alternatives to Tor Browser to Browse Anonymously." Fossbytes, March 22. Accessed 2019-03-22.
  19. Whonix. 2019. "Homepage." Whonix. Accessed 2019-03-22.
  20. boklm. 2019. "New Release: Tor Browser 8.5." Blog, Tor Project, May 21. Accessed 2019-05-23.
  21. photos. 2008. "TorBrowser 1.0.1!" Blog, Tor Project, April 11. Accessed 2019-03-22.
  22. sjmurdoch. 2012. "Top changes in Tor since the 2004 design paper (Part 3)." Blog, Tor Project, November 01. Accessed 2019-03-22.
  23. sysrqb. 2018. "New Alpha Release: Tor Browser for Android." Blog, Tor Project, September 07. Accessed 2019-03-22.

Milestones

Oct
2003

Tor network is deployed. Tor code is open sourced under MIT license. Tor itself is an improvement over Onion Routing that started as a research project in 1995.

Mar
2008

Version 1.0.0 of Tor Browser Bundle is released.

Jun
2017

Tor Browser 7.0 is released with multiprocess mode and content sandbox as two major features. Sandboxing is not yet available on Windows. Until this release, lack of sandboxing was a problem and was exploited by the FBI. This version is based on Firefox 52 Extended Support Release (ESR). ESR is meant to help organizations to mass deploy the browser.

Sep
2018
Screenshots from Tor Browser for Android. Source: sysrqb 2018.

Tor Browser version 8 is released based on Firefox Quantum codebase that came out in November 2017. User interface is Photon UI that Firefox Quantum uses. Also in September, alpha release of Tor Browser for Android happens.

May
2019
New Tor Browser logos for desktop and Android. Source: boklm 2019.

Tor Browser version 8.5 becomes the first stable release for Android. Tor Browser also gets newly designed logos compatible with Firefox's Photon UI.

Tags

See Also

  • Tor Network
  • Traffic Analysis
  • IP Tunneling
  • Onion Routing
  • Virtual Private Network
  • Browser Fingerprinting

Further Reading

  1. Perry, Mike Perry, Erinn Clark, Steven Murdoch, and Georg Koppen. 2018. "The Design and Implementation of the Tor Browser [DRAFT]." Tor Project, June 15. Accessed 2019-03-21.
  2. Porup, J.M. 2018. "What is the Tor Browser? How it works and how it can help you protect your identity online." CSO, July 12. Accessed 2019-03-21.
  3. Shavers, Brett and John Bair. 2016. "The Tor Browser." Chapter 2 in Hiding Behind the Keyboard, pp. 11-34, Elsevier. Accessed 2019-03-21.

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Cite As

Devopedia. 2019. "Tor Browser." Version 4, May 23. Accessed 2019-11-21. https://devopedia.org/tor-browser