Tor vs. VPN: Is One Better than the Other?

Secure Server Tor Vpn

Tor and VPN have unique ways to ensure user privacy on the Internet. They’re fundamentally very different yet have many similar aims. Due to the overlap in features, you may be weighing the pros and cons of using one over the other. Or maybe they can be treated equally but with separate purposes. This guide digs into everything you need to know about which software should be used for more Internet anonymity.

Tor vs. VPN: Examining the Differences

You could be confused by the terms Tor, VPN, and proxies, as all of them have a common purpose in protecting user privacy online. To know which is better, you have to look at their advantages and disadvantages. Considering the different end use objectives, it’s not going to be an apples to apples comparison.

Therefore, to answer the question about which is better, we have to address the following common concerns regarding Tor and VPN.

  • Tor vs. VPN: which is safer? Tor is the one mainly used as a dark web app, so it scores heavily when you want to keep the surveillance bots totally off your back.
  • Tor vs. VPN: which is faster? This one is a no-brainer. Because Tor uses onion routing with multiple layers to pass data traffic to a final destination, it is always slower than anything VPN has to offer.
  • Should Tor and VPN be used together or separately? The crux of the matteris to know whether one is better off without the other.

Other criteria is also considered, such as the cost factor. Using Tor doesn’t cost you a cent, unlike most commercial VPN solutions.

What Are Tor and VPN?

To know the key differences between Tor onion and VPN, it is important to gain an understanding of their definitions.

Tor is the short form of “The Onion Router,” which is a free multilayer network spread across thousands of relays worldwide, managed by volunteers. Instead of accessing Web traffic directly to your client device from a web server, you’ll find it channeled through various anonymous relay nodes on the Tor browser. User privacy and confidentiality are built into the Tor network as essential design components, as the source and destination have no visibility of the other.

Tor Vs Vpn Tor Slow Connect

Once you connect to a website using the Tor browser (available with Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android), you can visualize all the relays through which your data traffic passes while connecting you to the end node.

The entry relay through which you enter the Tor network is known as Guard node. There can also be one or more middle relays which divert the traffic to secure nodes. Finally, there is an exit relay at the website end.

You can easily change the permutations and combinations of these relays through a Tor feature called “New Circuit for this site.” It is virtually impossible for snoopers to keep track of where your data traffic disappeared to suddenly. While you can use Tor Network to access any website, its particular use lies in accessing .onion webpages that comprise the deep and dark web.

Tor Vs Vpn Opening Site Tor Browser

VPN (Virtual Private Network) was initially designed as an encrypted network to help companies connect to their remote office locations. Today its definition has changed. VPN is now a privacy tool that has the following core aims:

  • Masking your original IP address: don’t want your web traffic traced to you? Changing your IP address is the core requirement here.
  • Changing your Internet location: you could be in the U.S. but your main Internet location defaults to say, Romania.
  • Helping you access geo-restricted content: some websites and apps may restrict access to a particular country or location. A VPN helps you circumvent such bans. Think of accessing localized and specific versions of Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ from any location in the world and on any device. (Commercial VPNs support laptops, smartphones, tablets, set-top boxes, Android TV, and other gadgets.)
Tor Vs Vpn Decentralized Vpn Connected

Another important difference is that there is essentially only one Tor browser even though it may be available in the form of Tor browser Android or Tor browser iOS. On the other hand, there are thousands of VPN services you can find all over the Web and App/Play Stores. While using the Tor browser is always free, commercial VPNs that are reliable and safe to use require you to pay upfront.

Tor vs. VPN: Which Is Safer?

To remain incognito online, you can use both Tor and VPN. To determine which is the safest, we need to know what each brings to the table in terms of security.

There is a common misunderstanding that using a VPN can potentially put you at risk of exposing your IP address. That is certainly true for a plethora of poor-quality free VPNs found in the Google Play store. Use them at your own risk, as they are private in name only.

A good commercial VPN, on the other hand (NordVPN in this example), uses a “Kill Switch” that uses a system-wide network lock to prevent accidental IP address leakage. Also, before purchasing a VPN solution, you should always perform a free DNS leak test at this link.

Tor Vs Vpn Vpn Kill Switch

Many VPNs also use features like “secure download,” which is helpful in keeping the end device protected from malware. Whether you’re downloading streaming content, torrents, or games, a good VPN scans for all incoming files and keeps your device free from malware on the server end.

Tor Vs Vpn Secure Download 1

Clearly, there is an abundance of security features in many highly reputable commercial VPN providers. However, there is one reason Tor has an edge over VPN, and its in its insistence on using .onion links. The Tor browser has a superb built-in feature that allows it to only prioritize and open a website’s .onion link when it’s available. This setting can be easily allowed from “Browser Privacy.”

Tor Vs Vpn Decentralized Tor Privacy Features

Even if you don’t create this setting, every time you visit a website with an Onion available, you can gain access to a more private and secure version of the website via onion services. This way, even if the website has been banned in your home country, you can bypass the censorship restrictions using the Onions.

Tor Vs Vpn Tor Prioritizes Onions

Onion links are often used by whistleblower sites for safe communication with undercover reporters, dissidents, and political opponents. Clearly, a Tor browser with Onion links is one of the best ways to defeat censorship and government surveillance. Make no mistake: VPNs still offer a great deal of privacy for everyday Internet surfing, but the sheer ingeniousness of using Onion links makes Tor slightly safer for absolute, last-minute data transfer.

Tor Vs Vpn Onion Page Example

Tor vs. VPN: Which Is Faster?

There’s no contest when comparing VPN speeds with Tor. Because the latter routes the network through various relays, it makes the overall speed much slower than what you’re used to. While you can still watch a YouTube video on the Tor browser and download the contents, it’s not a recommended option for bandwidth-heavy files and videos.

VPNs, on the other hand, can nearly recreate the speed your ISP provides you. Many commercial VPN providers have a split tunneling feature where some highly specific applications are made to go through an encrypted VPN tunnel. For example, you can choose the browsers to use with a VPN while connecting. This leaves out the other applications for regular use; thus, you get faster speeds in your chosen applications.

Tor Vs Vpn Vpn Split Tunneling

Many commercial VPNs also support a dedicated IP option which is a static IP unique to your device. This is quite helpful in those scenarios in which a website or app blocks service access to you because the same IP address may be used many times by others. The problem is all too common with the Tor browser, and some websites frequently block the Tor network from connecting.

Tor Vs Vpn Dedicated Ip

In summary, if you want always-on connectivity with reliable speeds and no sudden bandwidth slowdown, a good VPN is a better choice. For the Tor network, speed isn’t its strong suit. However, there are some advanced tips and techniques that will improve speed in the Tor network. (It will still be nothing compared to what you can get with VPN.)

Should Tor and VPN Be Used Separately or Together?

The first question that really needs answering here is, can they be? Most definitely, yes. You can use both Tor over VPN and VPN over Tor in a dual configuration by setting each one separately.

From a privacy standpoint, it’s also a more secure arrangement for end users. If you route your Internet traffic through a VPN before starting the Tor browser, even with malicious exit nodes, your end traffic is protected from surveillance or malware. Likewise, if you download a VPN software over the Tor network, it prevents your ISP from keeping tabs on your VPN surfing habit.

Practically speaking, using Tor and VPN together can greatly cripple Internet speeds. The Tor Network isn’t really the fastest when it comes to downloads, so throwing another set of network connections is only going to slow the speeds further. However, there are workarounds to the problem.

Some commercial VPN providers have a dedicated “Onion over VPN” feature where just one click routes into the Onion network. You can now choose to use this unique connection with or without the Tor browser.

Tor Vs Vpn Onion Over Vpn

There is a new concept called decentralized VPN (dVPN) that tends to use the best of what Onion routing and VPN have to offer. Instead of a central VPN provider, you have peer-to-peer (p2p) nodes which provide the same access but with greater anonymity like Tor. Sentinel is one example of such an app available on Play Store. It can be used to circumvent VPN bans in some countries such as China.

Tor Vs Vpn Decentralized Vpn Sentinel

Do note there are certain VPN providers named like “TorVPN” which can cause confusion about the services offered. There is only one Tor Network used worldwide and thousands of commercial VPN providers.

Our Verdict: Which Is Better?

No clear winner here. Both Tor and VPN have their own major uses. If you want a good deal of network privacy without sacrificing data speeds or suffering network dropouts, then VPN is the more preferred solution. However, if you care more about avoiding censorship and surveillance and require activities involving access to dark web pages, Tor is a better option.

Seeing that nowadays some VPN providers are having Onion routing capabilities, if you had to pick just one solution, going with a commercial VPN provider having Onion services is the way to go.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Proxy vs. VPN: what are the main differences?

Anonymous proxies are also used to hide your IP address and circumvent any geo-blocking restrictions. However, they aren’t the same as VPNs, as VPNs always uses an encryption tunnel for greater security. A proxy, on the other hand, only works at the application level. A proxy may give you some degree of anonymity but cannot protect you against surveillance, device tracking, and other intrusions. As a result, they’re increasingly becoming out of fashion.

2. Is it more private to use VPN with DuckDuckGo?

While a no-logs VPN provider with “kill switch” can provide you all the security and privacy you need, using a private browser like DuckDuckGo with a VPN is going to help make your surfing more private.

3. What are the best VPN services for various platforms?

Some of the top and most secure VPN services that we recommend for all platforms – Windows, Linux, Mac, Mobile, and more – include ExpressVPN, NordVPN, SurfShark, Private Internet Access, Mullvad, Hotspot Shield, CyberGhost, and ProtonVPN.

Sayak Boral
Sayak Boral

Sayak Boral is a technology writer with over eleven years of experience working in different industries including semiconductors, IoT, enterprise IT, telecommunications OSS/BSS, and network security. He has been writing for MakeTechEasier on a wide range of technical topics including Windows, Android, Internet, Hardware Guides, Browsers, Software Tools, and Product Reviews.

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