Is the Tor Browser Illegal?

The Tor browser is a popular online privacy tool that many use to keep their browsing private. But is it illegal to use?
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The Tor project, commonly called “The Onion Router,” is a privacy tool that helps keep your online activity anonymous and secure. Some may ask if Tor is illegal, but the answer isn't straightforward. As long as you're using Tor with good intentions, it's legal in many places. But misusing Tor could lead to problems.

This piece dives into the legality of Tor, its benefits, and the ins and outs of using it safely, specifically when you pair it with the best virtual private networks (VPNs).

In this article
Is Tor legal?
Countries that have banned Tor
Legal uses of Tor
Consequences of using Tor
How to use Tor securely
Tor browser FAQs
Bottom line

Good news! The Tor browser is allowed in most countries, which should put your mind at ease. However, it's essential to remember a few things. While Tor provides essential privacy features for legitimate users, it's also drawn the attention of individuals engaged in illicit activities.

Here are some illegal activities commonly associated with Tor:

  • Dark web marketplaces: The dark web, accessed through Tor, hosts marketplaces that facilitate the illegal sale of drugs, firearms, and other prohibited goods. The Silk Road was an online black market that was also one of the most infamous uses of Tor.
  • Hacking and cyberattacks: Some individuals use Tor to launch cyberattacks, hack websites, and compromise computer systems, hiding their tracks.
  • Child exploitation: Unfortunately, criminals have exploited Tor to share and distribute illegal content, including child pornography.
  • Illegal forums: Tor forums have been used for discussions and planning criminal activities, such as hacking, fraud, and other illegal schemes.

Countries that have banned Tor

Many nations regularly limit internet access for several reasons. They commonly do this to monitor their citizens' online activities and control the content people can access. These countries will block Tor because it enables users to evade traditional online tracking and surveillance mechanisms.

Take the case of China. In the early 2000s, the country established the “Great Firewall” to have comprehensive control over internet usage. This system filters content, enforces censorship, and blocks tools like Tor. The Chinese government drove the development of the Firewall to strictly monitor the flow of information and ideas, ensuring all information aligns with its political ideologies and objectives.

Iran has also historically exerted tight control over internet usage, triggered primarily by the government's desire to regulate information flow and communication methods. Over time, Iran has enacted several techniques to reduce online freedom, including restricting access to social media and applying filters to internet content. To maintain its control, Iran proactively blocks Tor.

By curbing access to such tools, China and Iran maintain a firm grasp on their citizens' online interactions and the information they can access. Other nations that prohibit Tor are Russia, Belarus, and Turkmenistan. If you want to use Tor when traveling to or living in another country, make sure you know the local rules and what could happen if you break them.

Tor does many good things that help internet privacy. It allows people to talk openly and ensures everyone can access the information they need. The very mission of Tor is “to advance human rights and freedoms by creating and deploying free and open source anonymity and privacy technologies, supporting their unrestricted availability and use, and furthering their scientific and popular understanding.”

Here's a closer look at the legal uses of Tor:

  • Whistleblowers and journalists: For whistleblowers and journalists who want to expose corruption or wrongdoing, Tor provides a safe channel to communicate anonymously. By protecting their identities, Tor allows them to share vital information without fear of retaliation.
  • Circumventing censorship: In places where the government controls what you can see on the internet, Tor is important. It helps people get past the government's blocks so they can reach the whole internet and get the information they have the right to see.
  • Supporting activists and dissidents: In places where people can't safely speak up or fight for change, Tor gives people a safe way to plan, talk to each other, and share important information. That way, they can ensure their opinions and ideas are heard without worrying about being spied on or getting into trouble.
  • Online privacy for everyday users: Even for ordinary internet users, Tor protects against invasive data collection by advertisers and prevents third parties from tracking your online behavior. Users can enjoy more online privacy and security by using Tor.

Tor's legitimate uses revolve around online anonymity, freedom of expression, and access to information.

Consequences of using Tor

Like any other tech, Tor has vulnerabilities and potential negative outcomes. Knowing these aspects can help you decide whether and how to use Tor.

Here are some potential consequences of using Tor:

  • Increased vulnerability: Due to Tor’s nature, it’s a hotbed for malware, viruses, hackers, webcam hijacking, and criminals looking to sell illegal goods and exploit. Unlike the internet, we see and interact with daily, the dark web is a free-for-all. Exercise caution when browsing to avoid clicking or stumbling upon something unwanted.
  • Slower internet speeds: Reduced speed can occur due to Tor's multi-layered routing process, which involves an entry node, a layer of encryption, and Tor exit nodes, all working to ensure user anonymity. While this can lead to slightly slower browsing speeds compared to regular web browsers, the added security and privacy can be worth it.
  • Social stigma: Some folks think badly about Tor users because they believe Tor is mostly used for criminal activity (and for a good reason). Research shows that people in the most politically free areas of the world are more likely to use Tor for illegal activity.[1] But, we must remember that many people — whistleblowers, journalists, or someone under an authoritarian regime — often use Tor for good reasons.

Always assess your risk tolerance and weigh the pros and cons of using Tor. If you are simply looking to evade annoying ads or get around sites storing your personal data, you may not need Tor and instead may be satisfied with a privacy-forward search engine like DuckDuckGo. DuckDuckGo doesn't keep, gather, or give out your personal info or what you've searched for, so it's good at keeping your privacy (unlike Google).

If you need more cybersecurity, we recommend the Tor Browser to stay safe online. Just remember the consequences that come with Tor.

How to use Tor securely

You should combine the use of Tor with a reputable VPN. A VPN encrypts your internet traffic and reroutes it to a secure server in another location. This encryption shields your online activities from your internet service provider (ISP), government agencies, and potential eavesdroppers, safeguarding your information.

Combining Tor with a VPN adds an extra layer of privacy and security. By connecting to a VPN before accessing the Tor network, your ISP or others won't know you're using Tor, enhancing your anonymity and making it even harder for anyone to monitor your online activities.

When choosing the best VPN services for Tor usage, consider these factors:

  • No-logs policy: Opt for a VPN that follows a strict no-logs policy, ensuring they don't keep records of your online activities, and safeguarding your privacy.
  • Strong encryption: Look for a VPN that employs end-to-end encryption protocols, such as AES-256, to protect your data from potential hackers.
  • Fast and stable VPN servers: Choose a global VPN with a wide range of fast and stable servers to ensure optimal browsing speed and performance.
  • Onion Over VPN: Some VPN providers offer a specialized function called "Onion Over VPN." This seamlessly integrates with Tor, providing your connection with an additional layer of security.

Here are some noteworthy VPNs suitable for Tor usage:

  • NordVPN: NordVPN offers Onion Over VPN, a strict no-logs policy, and a vast server network for reliable performance.
    Get NordVPN | Read Our NordVPN Review
  • ExpressVPN: Known for its high-speed servers and top-notch security, ExpressVPN is a solid choice for Tor users seeking optimal privacy. It also offers “Tor Over VPN,” its version of Onion Over VPN.
    Get ExpressVPN | Read Our ExpressVPN Review
  • CyberGhost: CyberGhost provides a user-friendly interface, strong encryption, and a range of servers optimized for Tor usage. It offers Onion Over VPN as well.
    Get CyberGhost | Read Our CyberGhost Review

You can ensure a more secure and private online experience by combining Tor with a reliable VPN.

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On NordVPN's website

NordVPN
  • High-quality VPN offering safety and speed
  • Loads of servers for multiple connection options
  • Works with popular streaming services, including Netflix
  • Too many confusing plans

Tor browser FAQs


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What is Tor browser?

The Tor browser is a free and open-source tool that allows you to browse the internet anonymously. It achieves this by routing internet traffic through a network of volunteer-operated servers, making it difficult to trace your real IP address and web browsing activities.


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Is it safe to use Tor without a VPN?

Depends on your needs. Tor is safe to use without a VPN and offers a decent security foundation. But if you're concerned about people knowing your activities, you should pair Tor with a reputable VPN.


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Can police track Tor?

When you use Tor, it doesn't guard all the things your computer does online. Tor just secures programs set up correctly to use Tor for their web activities. If you are engaging in illegal activity, this is more likely to draw attention from law enforcement. Authorities have their methods of tracking users.[2] This won't be a concern as long as you’re not breaking the law in your local jurisdiction.


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Can hackers track you on Tor?

Yes, hackers can track you on Tor. Being tracked and hacked is a reality of using Tor. It's usually because the person's device isn't well protected. If you use Tor, know that bad people, viruses, and other harmful things could be hiding on the pages you visit, especially on the dark web. So, remember to think carefully before you click anything.

Bottom line

You can't be totally hidden on the web, but one method to increase privacy is using the Tor browser. The Tor browser is perfectly legal to use on its own. It’s really about whether you are living in a country where accessing Tor is illegal or if you are engaging in criminal activity using Tor. Breaking the law using Tor is illegal everywhere, so browse with good intentions.

You can also do things to enhance your safety while using Tor. Adding a VPN can add an extra layer of protection at the starting and ending points. We’ve compiled a list of the best no-log VPNs for the most secure Tor browsing experience.

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Learn More
On NordVPN's website

NordVPN
  • High-quality VPN offering safety and speed
  • Loads of servers for multiple connection options
  • Works with popular streaming services, including Netflix
  • Too many confusing plans

Author Details
Cheyenne Lightfoot is a freelance content writer specializing in the intersection between identity and access management and user privacy. As an account executive, she has helped small-to-medium-sized businesses prevent data breaches, safeguard sensitive information, and achieve compliance with passwordless multi-factor authentication software.

Citations

[1] The potential harms of the Tor anonymity network cluster disproportionately in free countries

[2] Hacking the Tor network: Follow up