The Tor browser bundle is a free tool for anonymous browsing. It is very useful and works extremely well to protect your identity, however, it is important to note that it is not without its own risks and should not be used without following a few precautions.
- Never use Tor without a VPN. This will protect you from rogue entry nodes.
- Use VPNCheck Pro to shutdown Tor, should your VPN connection drop.
- Do not log into any financial account or any other website that you want to remain secure while using the Tor Network.
- Do not purchase items or services from any e-commerce site while connected to the Tor network.
- Never give up any real-world information about yourself.
Some people may argue that my warnings are overly-paranoid and that you really just need to make sure that you are using an https-secured connection when logging into a personal account or conducting e-commerce transactions. However, there are multiple known ways to break Tor anonymity, and although https is much better than http, it is not always reliable.
Tor works by routing your encrypted browser traffic through multiple random computers in cyberspace, however, the final computer in the chain, known as an exit node, decrypts that traffic before routing it to its destination.
Since anyone can volunteer their computer as a Tor exit node, an individual could setup a packet sniffer and view everything you do as clear as day. I have found a discussion on Black hat world discussing how they monitor their Tor exit node to harvest e-mail addresses for spamming. This technique could easily be used to harvest phish accounts or even banking and credit card information from poorly coded shopping carts or financial institutions not using an https connection.
If you treat Tor as a tool for anonymous surfing and avoid using it when you need to log into an account or conduct personal business, the Tor Browser bundle can be a great resource. With a click of the button, you will have a new IP address and an encrypted tunnel through the Internet. And best of all, it is free!
Tor Hidden Services
People have the ability to setup websites and other services within the Tor network that are hidden to the rest of the internet. I had high hopes when I first heard about Tor hidden services. I spent days looking for the hidden-wiki thinking I would find a community of whistle blowers and free thinkers, but I should have known. Whenever you give the masses an outlet to act without any accountability, the criminals and low-lives will setup shop.
Don’t get me wrong. I found a little of what I was looking for, but the majority of the content are things I do not want to have anything to do with. From sites that will shoplift items for you at a fraction of the cost to sites selling assassination services, the onion is flooded with criminal activity. One popular site known as “silk road” offers an escrow-based black market where you can purchase just about any contraband you can imagine, ranging from narcotics to military firearms.
The deep web has the potential to be a great resource if extreme censorship ever spreads on the Internet, however, right now it appears to be nothing more than the Internet’s red light district. Explore with extreme caution.