Using Tor and VPN at the same time brings maximum security for those focused on maintaining their online privacy when browsing the Internet. In this article, we are showing you how to configure the anonymous network and virtual private network services to use them together.
A VPN service works by sending your data traffic to its servers and encrypting it until it reaches the intended destination. On the other hand, Tor encrypts your data three times and passes it through multiple servers. Click the links to learn more about how each one works, as well as which is better between VPN and Tor.
However, the two types of anonymizers have two things in common: they both hide your IP address and encrypt your data traffic. In turn, this offers significant advantages that unlock many possibilities: concealing your browsing activity from your ISP, stopping marketing sites from selling your data, unblocking social networks and streaming services, or getting better deals for airplane tickets and booking.
Let us review today’s topics (click to jump):
- The vulnerabilities of separately using Tor and VPN
- Using Tor and VPN together to eliminate those weaknesses
- Why you should use Tor and VPN together
- Why you should not use Tor and VPN together
- How to use Tor over VPN
- How to use VPN over Tor
- Our VPN recommendations
- In conclusion
The vulnerabilities of separately using Tor and VPN
Learning how VPN works and how TOR works reveal not only the strengths of each mode of operation but also their weaknesses. A virtual private network service reroutes your web traffic through its own servers to encrypt your connection and keep you anonymous.
When it comes to online privacy, you must trust that your VPN provider does not collect logs about your activity that can be shared with third parties, like ad agencies or law firms.
On the other hand, Tor passes data through many servers and applies multiple rounds of encryption. None of the servers hold both your unencrypted data and home IP address simultaneously.
In this respect, you do not have to put your faith in Tor the same as you would in a virtual private network service. However, there is a minimal risk that the last node in the Tor circuit can be monitored with surveillance software to pinpoint your IP address and decipher contents.
Using Tor and VPN together to eliminate those weaknesses
We have established that using Tor separately from VPN, or VPN separately from Tor comes with some privacy risks. But you can set aside those vulnerabilities by combining VPN and Tor to use them together. And there are two ways to do this: Tor over VPN, and VPN over Tor. This combination is an excellent solution for increasing the level of privacy. Let us find out why.
About using Tor over VPN
Typically, if someone installed surveillance software on the Tor exit relay, they could acquire not only your decrypted messages but also your IP address. You are subjected to the same risks if there is a bug in the anonymous network.
However, Tor over VPN creates a diversion, ensuring that the attackers obtain a fake IP address instead of your real one. All you have to do is connect to a VPN server before joining the Tor network.
Another advantage of Tor over VPN is that your VPN provider cannot see what you are doing online, thanks to the multiple layers of encryption facilitated by onion routing. Therefore, there is no need to believe your VPN provider when it says it is not snooping around your data although it can.
This power does not exist anymore, thanks to Tor. Besides, this mode of configuration of Tor over VPN is incredibly simple to set up.
About using VPN over Tor
To use VPN over Tor, you must join the anonymous network before connecting to a VPN server. Unfortunately, there are more disadvantages than advantages to this. The only perk is that you can access Tor in countries where it is blocked. But connecting to a Tor bridge delivers the same effect.
On the other hand, your VPN provider will still be able to monitor your online activity because it will not be stopped by onion routing like in the case of the Tor over VPN method. Also, the Tor exit node can still obtain your home IP address. Subsequently, you do not get any extra anonymity points when using VPN over Tor, unless you want to protect your identity from your VPN provider.
Why you should use Tor and VPN together
Boosting your online privacy is the main goal of using VPN and Tor together. In turn, this gives you many perks, such as:
- The Tor exit relay will not be able to trace your IP address, so your identity will not be compromised.
- Your VPN provider cannot see what you do over Tor, so it cannot monitor and log your activity.
- Sign up to a VPN service anonymously and keep your identity private every time you connect to a VPN server.
- Protect your anonymity from both the VPN provider and the exit node controlled by a Tor operator.
- Bypass government censorship and gain access to sites with forbidden content.
- Have truly private conversations with friends, family, your boss, or co-workers.
- Send and receive confidential files safely.
- Log into your banking account and make online payments without worrying that hackers might intercept your data.
- Hide your identity from your VPN provider if you do not trust its no-logging policy.
Why you should not use Tor and VPN together
By design, the anonymous network is slower than VPN services because it applies multiple rounds of encryption. When you also throw a virtual private network app into the mix to use both, you can expect your Internet speed to decrease dramatically. It is normal.
But this comes with many drawbacks, such as:
- Painfully slow or ineffective over unreliable Internet connections: at home, at the office, and especially when using an open hotspot. Unsteady connections can make it impossible to surf the web.
- Ineffective for engaging in resource-demanding tasks on the web like watching videos on YouTube, Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime, and other video streaming services.
- Using VPN over Tor is difficult to set up with the Tor Browser. You are better off installing the Tails live operating system (more on this later).
- Further, when using VPN over Tor, you cannot hide your browsing activity from the VPN provider, and you cannot prevent the Tor exit node from finding out your home IP address.
How to use Tor over VPN
Here are the steps you need to take to set up the anonymous network over VPN:
- Purchase and download a VPN service. If you are unsure about what to choose, please do not hesitate to check out our VPN recommendations.
- Install and launch the VPN application
- Log in with your credentials
- Configure program settings
- Connect to a VPN server
- Download and install the Tor Browser
- Launch Tor Browser
- You are all set. Enjoy secure browsing with Tor over VPN
How to use VPN over Tor
Configuring the VPN application to work over the Tor Browser is a complicated task because it means binding the VPN traffic to the Internet navigator. But if you really want to use VPN over Tor, the more straightforward solution is to install Tails. It is a live operating system made by the Tor Project, which secures all installed applications, not just the Tor Browser.
- Download and install Tails
- Pick a trustworthy VPN service
- Make sure the company is located in a country that is not subjected to data retention laws
- Purchase a VPN subscription using a fake name, an email address that cannot be traced back to you, along with an anonymous payment method (cash, crypto).
- Download, install and launch the VPN client
- Change application settings
- Switch to the OpenVPN protocol
- Activate the kill switch and IP/DNS leak protection
- Use the proprietary DNS servers of the VPN client
- Always connect to the VPN service from Tails
Our VPN recommendations
If you are not sure about which VPN to choose and use with Tor side by side, allow us to make a few recommendations. Our three top-ranked VPN applications are perfect for the job: ExpressVPN, NordVPN, CyberGhost VPN. Make sure to check out their reviews and ratings to get more info.
Having thousands of servers in most countries of the world, ExpressVPN encourages you to use its client and Tor for enhancing your online privacy. All you have to do is connect to a server supported by ExpressVPN, then connect to Tor and enjoy secure browsing. However, the team behind the VPN service does not endorse connecting to the VPN through Tor.
ExpressVPN supports the OpenVPN protocol, a kill switch, and DNS leak protection. It comes with proprietary DNS and a strict no-logs policy. Plus, the company is based in the British Virgin Islands, a region that does not retain citizen data.
NordVPN also has numerous servers spread across the globe. It has a unique feature dedicated to VPN and Tor usage, called Onion Over VPN. It is visible in the main window and requires one click for you to connect to the anonymous network over VPN immediately. But there is only one server for Onion Over VPN: Netherlands.
It is also possible to connect to a regular OpenVPN server and then separately connect to the Tor Browser. NordVPN has an Internet kill switch and custom DNS. You can even instruct it to automatically terminate Tor Browser in case of unexpected connection drops through the virtual private network (using the App Kill Switch feature).
NordVPN promotes a no-logging policy, and the company is located in Panama, a country that does not gather information about your browsing activity.
CyberGhost VPN has a wide range of servers cleverly organized in different groups, such as torrenting and streaming. When it comes to Tor, you can pick any server supported by the OpenVPN protocol. The virtual private network service has an integrated kill switch that cannot be turned off.
It also has proprietary DNS servers, together with a DNS leak protection module. The company is based in Romania, a country safe from data retention laws. It also adopts a no-logs policy. Further, you can configure CyberGhost to auto-connect to a server when launching the Tor Browser. The feature comes in handy if you forget to do this on your own.
Using a reliable virtual private network service or the Tor anonymous network as standalone products should be enough to ensure your privacy when going online. However, you can combine the two services successfully to guarantee your anonymity.