The Tor Network: Tools for private and secure browsing

The Tor project supports a formidable collection of tools for protecting your privacy on the Internet. We’ll give you some background on Tor and help you get started with the Tor Browser.

Computer users leave broad trails across the Internet. The websites you visit, your interactions, your purchases, your common passwords if you are careless – everything you do online – can be noted and used against you for purposes that range from the annoying to the dangerous, depending on your circumstances. Fortunately, a growing number of applications exist to restore your privacy and security, and the most mature of these is the Tor Browser [1] (Figure 1).

Tor (short for The Onion Router) is a modified version of Firefox designed to hide your trails on the Internet. Tor obscures your electronic trail by routing your interactions through several servers and encrypting your actions each step of the way. Tor’s network of servers is decentralized, making your communications even harder to track down. Over the last two decades, several features have been added to the basic browser, providing a defense in depth against privacy and security intruders.

The concept of onion routing was originally developed by the US Navy in the 1990s as a way of securing communication over the Internet. The Tor project was launched in 2002. In 2004, the Navy released the code under a free license, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) became an early financial supporter of the project. In today’s world, users in the great western democracies think of privacy as protection from ad trackers and big data aggregation, but the original vision for Tor was very much tied to the idea of providing safe communication for dissidents in authoritarian countries. The Tor project is proud of its contribution and support for the Arab Spring movement in 2010, and Tor has also supported several high-profile whistle blowers, including the famous Eric Snowden. Other humanitarian groups have backed the Tor project for its potential for bringing free speech to users in repressive countries, including Human Rights Watch and the US government’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.


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