Tor vs VPN: Which should you use and what’s the difference?

The use of proxies and encryption is common to both VPNs and the Tor network, as they both redirect internet connections and conceal the user’s true IP address and location, making it difficult for third parties to track them. However, VPNs emphasize privacy by encrypting and routing connections through an intermediary server chosen by the user’s VPN provider, while Tor emphasizes anonymity by encrypting and routing connections through a random sequence of volunteer-run servers. While the concepts of privacy and anonymity overlap, privacy hides the user’s actions, while anonymity hides their identity. As for their best uses, VPNs are suitable for privacy-focused needs, while Tor is best suited for anonymity-focused requirements.

What is Tor?

Tor is a network that facilitates anonymous communication by utilizing numerous servers located globally, all of which are maintained by volunteers. Here’s how it works:

  • This design makes it challenging to intercept Tor connections as they are not dependent on any single entity.
  • To achieve anonymity, Tor software encrypts a user’s request three times for three separate nodes: a guard node, a middle server, and an exit node.
  • The guard node receives the encrypted request, removes one layer of encryption, and forwards it to the middle server.
  • The middle node then peels off the second encryption layer and relays the message, along with its final encryption layer, to the exit node.
  • The exit node removes the final encryption layer, decrypting the message and sending it to the intended recipient. While the exit node can see the decrypted message, it cannot identify the original sender.

Is Tor Secure?

The fourth step of Tor’s process is the most crucial and sensitive, as the message being transmitted can be visible to the operator of the exit node. Since anyone can set up a node, the security of the node depends on its owner. To address this vulnerability, users can utilize an HTTPS connection, which is encrypted by the Transport Layer Security Protocol (TLS), or take advantage of the Onion Over VPN feature.

However, it is possible for someone who operates both guard and exit nodes to identify Tor users and their messages. Although it is unlikely that an individual could intercept Tor users, organizations like the National Security Agency (NSA) could potentially monitor the Tor network due to their vast resources and interest in such surveillance.

Tor pros

  • Tor’s complex encryption process provides almost complete anonymity for its users.
  • The software is free and easy to use.
  • Due to the distributed nature of the network, it is challenging to shut down or intercept the traffic as it passes through a large number of servers maintained by volunteers.

Tor cons

  • The use of multiple encryption layers can slow down your internet connection.
  • There is a risk of message interception by exit nodes.
  • Volunteers who maintain Tor nodes lack accountability and transparency.
  • To use a specific country’s IP address, users may have to configure their connection or reconnect to find a node in that country.
  • Tor is not available for all operating systems.

Is Tor a VPN?

Answer: No, Tor is not a VPN. Tor is a web browser that only encrypts data transmitted through the browser, whereas a VPN is a specific privacy protection software that encrypts all data from a device, including data from both browsers and apps. The main difference between Tor and a VPN is how they operate. While a VPN uses a centralized network of servers to encrypt and route traffic, Tor is a decentralized network run by volunteers. Tor is less user-friendly, transparent, slower, and more complex, but it is still a powerful tool. For accountability, safety, and privacy, it’s best to use a reliable VPN provider along with the Tor browser.

Is Tor illegal?

Answer: In most countries, using Tor for anonymous browsing and communication is legal, so there’s no need to worry about legal issues. However, if you’re involved in criminal activities, using Tor won’t protect you.

Is Tor illegal in any country?

Answer: There are some suppressive governments, such as China, that restrict the use of Tor and limit freedom of speech. For locals in such countries, using Tor or a VPN is often the only way to communicate with the outside world.

What does VPN software do?

VPN software stands for virtual private network software. It encrypts your data and sends it to an intermediary server. VPN service providers operate multiple servers located in different areas and offer various VPN protocols and features. This provides users with a range of options. In comparison, Tor encrypts your connection by routing it through a sequence of volunteer servers randomly.

VPNs also encrypt your internet traffic, making it invisible to hackers and snoopers. Premium VPNs use 256-bit encryption systems, which are impossible to brute-force with currently available technology. When you use a VPN on your device, you can hide your IP address and improve your online privacy.

VPN Pros

  • Accountability: It’s easy to identify the server owner.
  • User-friendly: VPN service providers offer an easy-to-use interface.
  • Online privacy: VPN encrypts your data and provides a new IP address.
  • Advanced encryption: Premium VPNs use top-grade next-generation encryption systems.
  • Faster than Tor: VPN has a simpler routing scheme.
  • Additional features: Premium VPNs offer specialized servers, P2P servers, double VPN, Kill Switch, Smart DNS services, and Threat Protection features.
  • Server selection: You can easily choose the specialized server or country you need.

VPN Cons

  • Trust: VPN relies on a single provider and fewer VPN servers, so it’s essential to trust your provider.
  • Cost: Premium VPNs can be expensive.
  • Logging policy: Some VPNs collect user and connection logs, so it’s important to choose a provider with a no-logs policy.

Can VPN and Tor be used together?

Yes, it is possible to use both VPN and Tor simultaneously. One way is to connect to a VPN server first and then access the Tor network. By doing this, the Tor entry node operator will not see your IP, and your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will not know that you are using Tor. Additionally, this method allows you to bypass any restrictions preventing you from accessing the Tor network. However, your traffic will be unencrypted when it reaches the exit nodes, leaving you vulnerable to malicious exit nodes.

Alternatively, you can use the Tor > VPN method where your traffic is encrypted when it enters and exits the Tor network. For this, you need a VPN provider that supports this type of connection. This method protects you from malicious exit nodes, but your ISP can still see that you are using Tor, and you get less anonymity. Both methods also slow down your internet more than Tor already does.

If you’re interested in using the first method, NordVPN offers a specialized and integrated Onion Over VPN feature you can check out.

Tor vs VPN: which one is better?

Tor and VPN are two distinct tools with different purposes. VPNs are offered by multiple service providers, while Tor has only one network. VPNs encrypt internet traffic within a protected tunnel, whereas Tor uses numerous independent nodes in multiple layers.

Despite some similarities between Tor and VPN, there are more differences than similarities. VPNs offer transparent services and privacy protection, while Tor is less transparent and may be a target of security agencies.

We recommend using a VPN due to its advanced features, greater transparency, and high-end encryption methods. Additionally, it does not slow down your internet connection. VPNs can offer more transparent protection for your traffic than Tor.

When should you use Tor?

Tor is a better option than a VPN for various purposes such as accessing the web anonymously, accessing the dark web, and having untraceable communication. With Tor, users can visit websites without leaving any identifiable evidence on their device or the website’s server. The dark web, which is mostly composed of websites only accessible through Tor, can be accessed securely for both illegal and legal purposes.

Additionally, Tor provides a safe means of communication for individuals such as journalists, whistleblowers, and activists who desire anonymity. However, Tor has limitations, as connections must go through public entry and exit relays, which can lead to suspicions, and websites can recognize Tor traffic and block it. The use of bridges is a possible workaround to this issue, but it requires further discussion.

When should you use VPN?

Here are some reasons why a VPN is better than Tor:

  • Unblock region-locked content: A VPN can change your location to any country where the VPN provider has servers, bypassing region restrictions set by streaming services or other websites.
  • Faster for torrenting: VPNs generally offer faster speeds than Tor, allowing for more bandwidth for downloads.
  • Secure public wifi: VPNs can encrypt your connection, protecting you from hackers on public wifi without hindering your browsing experience.
  • Bypass censorship: VPNs let you access censored content as if you were in another country, helpful for users in countries where much of the web is blocked.
  • Prevent ISP throttling: VPNs can hide your internet activity, preventing your ISP from throttling certain types of traffic, such as torrents or video streams.
  • Access blocked content at work or school: A VPN can bypass web restrictions imposed by your workplace or school.

However, it’s important to note that a VPN provider can still see connection data and traffic passing through its servers, despite hiding your IP address. Using a VPN for anonymity requires trusting the provider, unlike Tor, which uses a trustless system. Also, a VPN cannot grant access to the dark web, as a Tor connection is required to access .onion websites.


Q: Can I use Tor and a VPN together?

A: Yes, it’s possible, but it may slow down your internet speed. One way to do it is to connect your device to a VPN first and then launch the Tor browser, so your outgoing traffic goes through the VPN and then the Tor network. This can make it harder for others to track you. If your internet service provider doesn’t like Tor connections, using a VPN can hide the fact that you’re using Tor.

Q: Should I use Tor or VPN?

A: It depends on what you want to do. A good rule of thumb is to use a VPN all the time and use Tor when you need it. VPNs improve privacy without interfering with day-to-day web browsing, while Tor is useful when anonymity is critical or you want to access the dark web.

Q: Can I use a free VPN instead of a paid one?

A: Yes, you can use a free VPN, but we don’t recommend it. Free VPNs are often less reliable, more likely to leak or sell your data to third parties, and may have fewer features and slower speeds.

Q: Will the Tor browser hide my activities from my ISP?

A: Yes, the Tor browser hides your activities from your ISP. However, VPNs encrypt traffic before it even reaches your ISP. So while Tor may make it more difficult for your ISP to see what you’re doing online, a VPN will make it impossible.

Q: Which devices support the Tor browser?

A: The Tor Browser is available for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and Android devices. It can also be used on some routers with the OnionPi project or deployed as an internal service using OnionShare. You can also install it on iOS devices by jailbreaking them and downloading the Tor Browser from the i-device repository.


In conclusion, both Tor and VPNs offer ways to protect your online privacy and security, but they work in different ways and have their own advantages and disadvantages. Tor is a free, open-source network that anonymizes your online activity by routing it through multiple servers, while VPNs encrypt your internet traffic and route it through a single server.

Tor is best suited for accessing the dark web and avoiding government censorship, while VPNs are ideal for general web browsing and streaming content. Ultimately, the choice between Tor and VPNs depends on your specific needs and priorities. By considering factors such as security, speed, and ease of use, you can make an informed decision and enjoy a safer and more private online experience.

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