This free software ensures that the sites you view online remain private
Wanting to remain anonymous online doesn’t necessarily mean you have something to hide. Visited websites can determine where you are in the world and track your internet habits.
If you want to use the internet for sensitive activities – such as looking for information about an illness, or turning whistleblower without fear of being identified – it is understandable that you would want to keep your tracks hidden from others.
Tor is a free program that ensures online privacy no matter what you do on the web and we will explain how it works in this workshop.
Visit Tor's website. Click the Download Tor button and click the orange Download Tor Browser Bundle button. Choose to save the file to a convenient location – a folder on the Windows Desktop is as good a place as any - and once the download is complete double-click the executable file to expand the program’s files. Then click the Extract button to continue.
Tor doesn’t need to be installed as such so, once the files have been decompressed, launch the application by opening the Tor Browser folder that has been created, and double-click the Start Tor Browser.exe file. When you do this, the Vidalia Control Panel will appear. This is the program interface. Behind the scenes, Tor is negotiating a path through multiple server computers to create a cloaked connection to the internet that will be used by the Tor browser (see the next step) – and this process can take some time. A progress bar shows you roughly how long you are going to have to wait.
When the progress bar reaches the end, the Status field will display the message ‘Connected to the Tor network!’ and a special ‘portable’ version of the Firefox web browser will launch. It doesn’t matter if you already have a copy of Firefox installed or not, as this is an entirely separate and self-contained version of the program that has been especially configured to work with the Tor application. Just to confirm that everything is working as expected, Firefox displays the message ‘Congratulations. Your browser is configured to use Tor’. It will also display an IP address that the browser will reveal to the outside world – but this is not your computer’s real IP address.
It is important to understand that Tor masks your identity and online activities only when you use the portable version of Firefox included with the software. This sits alongside any other browsers you may have installed – including any other copies of Firefox – but it has been preconfigured to make use of the Tor network’s method of random web-traffic routing. Any web surfing conducted in another browser, or emails sent from a program such as Outlook, for example, will not be protected by Tor. So, if you want to keep private, make sure you’re using the Tor browser: it looks just like Firefox (because it is Firefox) but with a few distinguishing features, most notably a Tor onion icon at the top left of the browser window.
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