Difference between Tor and VPN connections. Which one is the best for your requirements to get optimum security

When it comes to privacy on the internet you should use the internet very tactfully to keep yourself anonymous. However, depending upon the website you are visiting they might know your identity through the browser cookies and if not that, they will always know some basic information about you, like the country where you are from, the browser you are using, etc. Besides that, if you want to keep yourself away from different kinds of monitoring activities, you should either go for a reliable VPN or use the Tor network, to hide your real IP and location to keep yourself anonymous on the internet.

If you want to be anonymous online, you can either go with the Tor network or use a VPN, or you can even combine the power of two for getting the best level of privacy while you are using the internet. Now, if you are in a dilemma on which one you should go for, I am here to talk about the basic differences in how Tor and VPN work to offer you real private internet access so that you can take your decision. I will also talk about the pros and cons of them so that you can choose the best option for yourself, depending upon what you do and the performance that you are looking for, on top of getting the basic level of privacy on the internet. 

So without any further delay, let’s get started with how exactly each of them works and I will start with how a Tor network works.

How does Tor work?

Tor or The Onion Router is a network maintained by volunteers to help you get anonymous on the internet, basically by Bouncing your traffic through multiple nodes, before your request reaches the server which hence processes the request without exactly knowing where you are from and who exactly is sending that particular request. In the case of a Tor network, there are multiple nodes that are set up by the volunteers and a particular node will only know where from a packet is coming, and where exactly the packet will go next with the help of the IP address. It eventually ensures that the users who are maintaining the intermediate nodes will never know the source and the final destination of the packet.

When a request to send out of a computer, it is encrypted by the Tor client on your computer, and thus, the next node will never know about the information, the packet is carrying, other than your IP address and the IP address of the next node it will send the packet to. However, the only problem is that the final node or the exit node will decrypt the packet to send it outside the Tor network so that the request can be processed by the destination server. It means, if you are accessing some websites, that communicates through plain text or HTTP instead of HTTPS, the contents of the packet will be visible to the exit node.

Advantages of Tor network

That’s how it Tor network works. Let’s now find out the advantages of using a Tor network, or the reasons you should use it.

  • As the Tor network bounces your traffic through multiple nodes, it is really difficult to keep track of the websites you are visiting, by government agencies or by certain monitoring bodies.
  • Besides that, as the Tor network is operated by the volunteers, it eventually forms a distributed network, which virtually makes it impossible for the government or other agencies to shut down this network completely.
  • Tor can also be used to access geo-restricted contents, and as the packet sent, uses some form of encryption, and you can even access websites that are blocked in your country for any reason.
  • The intermediate nodes will never know about the external IP of your computer and also the IP address of the server that you are trying to access, as long as it is not the entry or the exit node.
  • Tor is completely free to use, and you can even use Tor on your mobile which makes Tor, a cross-platform client to go Anonymous on the internet.

Problems with a Tor network

Let’s now have a look at the cons or the problems you will face, with Tor.

  • The entry node will know your IP address, and the exit node will know the services that you are accessing, which means these two nodes can partially know your identity and your browsing habits. 
  • As the packets bounce through multiple nodes, the connection can be painfully slow, which means it isn’t a good choice for P2P file-sharing or activities, which require high speed and low latency internet connections.
  • As complicated encryption standards are followed, the speed can also become slow for the same reason.
  • As the individual nodes are maintained by volunteers, there isn’t any proper documentation about the accountability or the transparency of the volunteers.

See: How to install TOR browser on Linux platforms

How do VPN connections work?

VPN connections also work as an intermediary to send your packets to the internet, however, it works in a different way compared to that of Tor networks. In the case of a VPN network, the internet packets are first encrypted by the VPN client on the computer, which is eventually sent through the internet service provider’s ISP’s network to the VPN servers. After it reaches the VPN server, the packet is decrypted, after which it is sent to the server it is intended for. 

The VPN servers are located in multiple countries around the world, and once the data is routed through the service, the website you are trying to visit will intercept the data to be coming from that particular country. It means you can access geo-restricted contents quite easily. For example, you want to see the Netflix contents available in the US sitting in India. To do that, you simply need to use a VPN connection that has one of its servers in the US. After you connect to that particular VPN server, you can easily access the Netflix content available in the US. Just like the Tor network, there are both advantages as well as disadvantages of using a VPN connection.

Pros of a VPN connection

Let’s not talk about the pros of the advantages of using a VPN connection.

  • As the packets do not bounce through multiple nodes like that in a Tor network, VPN connections are faster and have lower latencies, which eventually makes it a good option for streaming content, and P2P file sharing, if that is supported on a particular VPN service.
  • Some VPN services provide 256-bit encryption, which is one of the best-in-class encryption standards that are almost impossible to break, using brute force techniques by any of the available devices of the era.
  • As you know about the VPN service that you are using, either free or paid, they are, in some way, accountable for any kind of data leaks, or logs they keep, and they should always abide by the terms and conditions for Offering services to you.
  • VPN services are quite easy to use unlike Tor, and you can simply connect to the VPN Service and start being anonymous on the internet with just a single click. You can even find VPN add-ons available for multiple browsers, which can help you encrypt traffic only from a particular Browser instead of the traffic from the complete system.
  • If you’re looking for the best performance of using a VPN, it is worth paying for. However, you can even find some free at supported VPN services, and there are even some, which offers you limited bandwidth at good speeds or unlimited bandwidth at reduced speeds.

So, those were the advantages of using a VPN Service.

Cons of VPN services

Let’s now have a look at the cons of the problem of using a VPN Service.

  • Most VPN services will keep logs that can later be displayed to government agencies, and there are even some VPN services, which can use your browsing habits to show you targeted advertisements, which means privacy is guaranteed unless you look at the terms and conditions of the VPN service properly.

This is the only con of using a VPN Service. However, if you compare it with the Tor network, you can get better performance, which is not the case for Tor networks. By reading the terms and conditions, and privacy policy of the service provider before getting your subscription, you can always be in a safe zone.

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Using Tor in connection with VPN

If you are looking for the best possible security, and want to be completely anonymous on the internet, you can use the powers of both Tor and VPN to get the best possible privacy on the internet. Using Tor and VPN at the same time can be done through Tor over VPN, or VPN over Tor.

Using the powers of both Tor and VPN at the same time, you can undoubtedly get the best level of privacy. However, using Tor and VPN at the same time can drastically affect the performance of your network, and it will lead to high latency, which will eventually make the internet connection painfully slow. But, if you are looking for the best possible privacy and you do not have reasons to get that privacy, I will not recommend you to combine VPN and tor for accessing the internet.

Which is better between Tor and VPN?

Both Tor and VPN have advantages as well as disadvantages. Thus, you should choose the best one, depending upon your own set of requirements. It is recommended that you keep both Tor and VPN, in handy, so that you can choose the best connection for your individual set of tasks.

If you are into P2P file-sharing or want to watch any kind of shows and access geo-blocked content, I recommend you to go for a VPN connection, as it will offer you better performance for such requirements. Even if you are into gaming, there are some VPN connections, which are optimized for the purpose of gaming.

If you are looking for the best possible privacy, and you can’t find a VPN service that will completely respect your privacy as per your terms, you should better go for a Tor network. Even if you don’t want to compromise on speeds by going for a free ad-supported VPN service, going for the Tor network can be the best decision from your side. Besides that, if you are working on secret projects, where high-speed internet access is not important for you, but better privacy is the one that you are looking for, Tor network can be your slice of bread with a cherry on it. You can even choose VPN over Tor, which can offer you a better level of privacy. 

Thus, there are a number of factors responsible for choosing the one between a Tor network or a VPN connection. If you understood how exactly a VPN connection or a Tor network works, you could easily take your decision about which one is the best option for you.

Hope the information about VPN connections and Tor networks was useful for you. Do you have any questions in mind? Feel free to comment on the same below.

See: The different types of firewalls available that you should know