How to Use Tor Browser

We live in the era of the data gold rush. Governments tracking your movements, corporations keeping a tab on your digital footprints to give you targeted ads, desktop programs and smartphone apps using clauses in user license agreements to record and sell data like your browsing habits and shopping preferences—no one likes that feeling of constantly being watched. While common forms of private web browsing like using Chrome’s Incognito mode, or Microsoft Edge’s InPrivate mode will prevent others who use the PC or smartphone from going through your browsing history, their degree of “privacy” is limited. You’re not really anonymous, since your ISP can still monitor the sites you visit. The Tor Project comes in for complete anonymity. 

Short for “The Onion Router”, Tor has been developed to keep you anonymous while browsing, ensuring that your location and identity are always private, and that there won’t be any tracks of your online activities. This software was initially developed in the 90s by the United States Naval Research Lab to cloak their activities and ensure that they wouldn’t be traced back to them.  It uses an onion-like layering technique—hence the name, concealing information on location and user activity. While it has its roots in military use, it is now free and open-source, and used all over the world—from fostering democracy and dissemination of information within authoritarian states, to the average internet Joe simply looking to surf the web without feeling that they are under a microscope.  Here is how you can use it:

Installing Tor Browser

  1. Head on over to Tor Project and download the software version that suits your operating system. 
  2. Run the installer, and once it’s complete click “Finish” to launch it. 
  3. A settings dialog will pop up, with settings to connect to the Tor network. Simply click the “Connect” button. However, if you’re connecting to the internet via proxy, click the “Configure” button and key in the settings.
Tor Browser - Connect

For the initial connection, the program may take several minutes—and it warns of this, since it is making the connection through relays. However, after this is done, the Tor browser launches, ready to be used.

Tor - establish connection
Tor - establish connection

If you’ve surfed with Mozilla Firefox, then you’ll find Tor to be familiar, since they are based on the same code. You don’t have to have used Firefox before to get a hang of Tor though. There are similarities to Chrome, Microsoft Edge and Safari, so you will get used to it really quickly. 

Tor - explore privately

Setting the security levels

With the default security settings, they are set to “Standard”. This alone is still far more secure compared to the conventional web browsers. However, you can increase this further, selecting the preferred security level—but keep in mind that some functionalities on the sites you visit will be disrupted.

Tor-Security Privacy Settings

The goal here to achieve a balance between the desired level of privacy, security and web usability.

Understanding How Tor Works

How does Tor work to keep your connection private and anonymous? It avoids direct connection to websites. Instead, the connection gets passed through multiple nodes on the network. These nodes are servers operated by volunteers. As it bounces around the different nodes, these intermediaries won’t know the source of the connection (you) or the target destination (the website you visit). This makes it impossible for the website to determine who you are and track you. For example:


Here’s what happens: The data leaving your computer or smartphone is encrypted, then sent into the Tor network. As it passes each individual node, a layer of encryption gets removed, revealing the location of the next node. When it gets to the last exit node, the final encryption later is removed, for the data to be sent to its destination. The path is randomly generated, the relays do not keep records, and each node just decrypts enough information to know the previous and next node on the path. This mode of operation will be why you’ll notice the slightly lower surfing speed when using Tor compared to other browsers. However, on a good internet connection, the difference in site loading speeds will be minimal. 

In case the performance gets unusually slow, or pages become unresponsive, you can launch a new Tor circuit. This option is on the drop-down menu, shown below:

Tor - Explore Privately

The “New Tor Circuit for this Site” option only applies for that active tab. You may want to go the extra set of acquiring a whole new identity, and that option is also available. Note that selecting this closes and restarts Tor, in order to give you a new IP address and set up a different connection.

Changing your modus operandi

There are some surfing activities that you’re probably used to, which you should change when using Tor browser. These include:

  • Using Google or Bing to make your searches online. It’s recommended that you switch to privacy-focused search engines like DuckDuckGo. 
  • Browser extensions are ill-advised. These can leak out your private information—beating the purpose of using this mode of browsing in the first place. As such, you should avoid installing them.
  • As you browse through the different sites, popups may show up, giving you different warnings- especially when there are items on that site that can be potentially used to track you. These popups will depend on the privacy settings you selected, and the sites you visit. 
  • You should also ensure that you use the HTTPS version of sites, rather than the less secure HTTP. Don’t fret—you don’t have to keep remembering this. Tor Browser by default automatically tries to direct you to the HTTPS version of the site being visited if it is available. Keep your eye on the URL bar just in case. 
  • If you’re keen on staying anonymous, it is recommended that you turn off the plugins and scripts. This is because, just as is with any other browser, plugins and scripts can be exploited to reveal data like your IP address. 
  • Torrenting is also discouraged on Tor. The torrent traffic is not protected, and this can be used to reveal your IP address. It will also be slower, given the number of relays that the data is passed through.
  • Visiting .onion sites gives you more privacy. These are the “deep web” or “hidden Tor services”, which can’t actually be accessed by search engines. You’ll need to get the direct links to them. Sounds like a lot of work, right? It’s not like you’re walking around with a list of preferred sites, and you don’t always know the particular onion site which has what you need. Onion directories come in to help you out.
Tor - OnionDir

Crank things up a notch with a VPN

Surfing the net with a Tor browser also draws attention to you. While the ISP cannot exactly know what you’re doing, it can still see that you’ve been connected to the Tor network, thus raising suspicion about your activities. Using it together with a VPN maximizes your privacy. Here, three things will happen when you connect to your VPN before launching the Tor browser:

  • No Tor relay/node sees your IP address
  • The VPN doesn’t see your activity in the Tor browser
  • Network operators won’t know you’re using Tor

Best VPNs for Smartphones

VPNs are used particularly on computers/laptops to create a secure connection to another network over the internet. While it is less common to use VPN services in smartphones, it is recommended that you do so to ensure anonymity. When on the move, people tend to use the available free Wi-Fi. Because free Wi-Fi services have no encryption, it can be monitored by anyone. You are much safer when using a VPN service in your smartphone to remain safe from prying eyes and Wi-Fi sniffers.

How to choose the best VPN application for smartphones?

Choosing the best VPN application can be a matter of personal preferences and price requirements. There are, however, some basic things you need to look out when choosing the best VPN application for your smartphone:

  1. Smartphone support

Any VPN application that has a dedicated application for Android/iOS/Windows is preferable over a VPN application that focuses more on offering services for computer/laptops.

  1. User-friendly

A proper smartphone VPN application should be user-friendly, easy to use, and should have an excellent user interface.

  1. Features

Features like kill switch are desirable in a VPN application. Look out for a VPN service that offers multiple simultaneous sessions, and more than one supported protocols.

  1. Security

One of the main reasons to use a VPN in your smartphone is to ensure security. Tight security, support of different protocols, privacy policy, and compliant terms of service are hence essential when looking for the best VPNs for smartphones.

  1. Pricing

Another important consideration when selecting a good VPN for smartphones is pricing. Some vendors have double pricing than the others but are limited in terms of features. Some, however, have the best value for money. Money back guarantees and longer trial periods also add points to the suitability of VPN applications for smartphones.

Best VPNs for smartphones


Guarantee offered: 30-day money back guarantee.

NordVPN supports a huge number of platforms and has a strict no-logging policy. You can connect up to six devices simultaneously on one account. It also offers a selection of protocols and security features. You can stream content across national boundaries with ease using NordVPN.

This application has a double VPN policy, which means that your connection passes through two separate VPN servers for additional security. The app is basic, easy to use, and has the ability to connect whenever you join a Wi-Fi network. It is reasonably priced, and the 3-year offer is clearly the best choice in terms of value.

Private Internet Access

Guarantee offered: 7-day trial.

Private Internet Access has a low per year price and is a VPN application which does not log any data. It is a perfect combination of performance and economic value. It actively supports open source projects, and you can pay for services anonymously. Another awesome fact that makes this VPN service worth using is that you can utilise a variety of gift cards to pay for the subscription.

PIA app is easy to use and has an abundance of options and settings that can be tweaked. It supports port forwarding, UDP and TCP protocol settings, local and remote port settings, proxy support, and custom encryption mechanisms. It has a favorable privacy policy, and the 2-year plan gives you the best savings with three additional months for free.


Guarantee offered: 30-day money back guarantee, 7-day free trial.

TorGuard uses strong and fast protocols to secure smartphones. It does not keep any logs, and the company offers a wide range of security protocols. TorGuard is a boon for travelers who want to protect their communications fully. It offers support in more than 50 countries, and the company accepts payment in bitcoin.


Guarantee offered: 30-day money back guarantee, 7-day free trial.

ExpressVPN is also one of the all-rounder VPNs for smartphones. It has a well designed Android app which is user-friendly and straightforward. It has an excellent location picker and boasts AES 256-bit encryption. The application, however, is devoid of a kill switch. It offers quality apps for a wide range of devices, and its website features an array of content and videos that help you use their apps.

ExpressVPN is not the cheapest VPN out there, but its 24/7 support is well worth the money paid. It has a 30-day money back guarantee and a free 7-day trial. Of the different payment options available, the 12-month plan is the most economical one, as it gives you an additional of three months free.


Guarantee offered: 7-day money back guarantee

IPVanish has to be one of the fastest VPN applications for smartphones. It has some unusual yet great options like split tunneling but is devoid of a kill switch.

This VPN application has impressive download speeds, and it does not log user activity. It offers exceptional 24/7 support and 256-bit AES encryption with OpenVPN protocol. IPVanish is a little pricey, but the 1-year subscription is the best choice available.


Guarantee offered: No free trials.

VyprVPN is a good mix of speed and security. It offers excellent services for smartphones and is dedicated, well optimised, and has a speedy performance. It supports multiple protocols such as PPTP, Chameleon, L2TP/IPsec, and OpenVPN.

VyprVPN has a clear interface, auto-connect option for untrusted networks, kill switch, protocol switching, DNS options, URL filtering, and fast connectivity. While other VPN applications focus on smartphones as an afterthought, VyprVPN has put its focus on creating a world-class smartphone app. It has both basic and premium payment options.

Buffered VPN

Guarantee offered: 30-day money back guarantee.

Buffered VPN keeps some connection information, but is exceptional when it comes to the generous amount of simultaneous sessions, unlimited bandwidth, and client support it offers. You can try out their application for a 30-day test drive and assess its easy to use interface.

The VPN service is relatively new, but it is committed to providing quality support, and to support Internet freedom. They do not offer the least expensive plan, but it is worth giving them a try.

CyberGhost VPN

Guarantee offered: 30-day money back guarantee.

CyberGhost’s three-year subscription comes with a free McAfee subscription. The application supports IPSec, L2TP, and OpenVPN protocols. It comes with a connection kill switch feature.

CyberGhost has servers located in 115 locations all over the globe. Hence you can use any of the 1400 individual IP addresses when on the road. The company does not log connection data, has custom app protection, and offers IPV5 support. CyberGhost is hence one of the best VPNs that offer great value for money.


Guarantee offered: 30-day trial.

Unlimited device policy is one of the best features of GooseVPN that makes it stand out in this list of best smartphone VPN’s. The application indicates the servers that are best for media streaming and has one of the lowest per-month prices. It, however, has bandwidth constrained to 50GB or less per month in the basic version. You can amp it up by using the premium version of the app.

The new version of GooseVPN also has a kill switch but only for the Windows version. In the upcoming versions, it is expected that the kill switch feature will be there for other platforms too.


Guarantee offered: 7-day money back guarantee.

PureVPN offers excellent support. It logs some technical information but has a strict no-browsing log policy. The most intriguing part of PureVPN is its advanced protection, antivirus protection, and real-time malware detection. The application also offers all the usual protocols, a kill switch, app filtering, web filtering, and firewall style function.

The price range of PureVPN is not the cheapest, but its support, its security features, and ease of use make it worth the money paid.