You’ve probably heard about VPNs and Tor browser, and know that they are both good options when it comes to maintaining online privacy and anonymity. However, the reason why there are users who don’t use one but use the other is that there are certain areas in which VPNs lack but Tor does not and vice versa. While VPNs offer better privacy, Tor offers better anonymity.

Why? Because your VPN can see everything you do, while you don’t have to trust anyone with Tor. VPNs, on the other hand, can help you hide your activity, while anyone at the Tor exit node can see what you are doing. Also, Tor is not P2P friendly, while VPNs are. So the best way to go about things is to use VPN with Tor. The question is, which combination to use? Tor over VPN, or VPN over Tor?

Tor Over VPN

This combination requires you to connect to your VPN service and then go to the Tor browser to start browsing the web.

Upsides

  1. The Tor nodes cannot see your real IP address, only your VPN server’s IP
  2. Your internet service provider cannot see that you are using Tor. Often, ISPs block Tor traffic, so this can help bypass that
  • You don’t have to meddle with configuration and settings as such. The process is pretty straightforward and quick
  1. You can access Tor hidden services, which is a library of websites with the .onion suffix that one can only access through Tor.

Downsides

  1. The Tor exit node can see everything you do. It is quite common for the exit node to be a website that uses HTTP instead of HTTPS, which means that the information shared is not encrypted. This makes it a malicious node, and the one running this node can see everything you do, and even redirect you to fake websites to steal your personal information
  2. Your VPN can see everything that you do. While there are VPNs that maintain a strict no-logs policy, it’s often the case that VPNs maintain activity logs
  • Tor traffic is commonly blocked by countries where there are strict censorship laws. Also, many Tor exit nodes are blocked. If you use Tor over VPN, you won’t be able to use those nodes, and your internet browsing will be limited despite combining these two services

VPN over Tor

VPN over Tor requires you to configure your VPN to work with the Tor network. Then you first have to connect to Tor, and then connect to your VPN client. Again, this combination has its own merits and demerits.

Upsides

  1. Your VPN has no way of knowing your identity of monitor your browsing. If you subscribe to the VPN service through Tor, it has no way of identifying you on the internet. This makes for perfect anonymity.
  2. You can access all blocked Tor exit nodes because the VPN connection hides your Tor usage
  • You never have to worry about malicious Tor exit nodes as the traffic is always encrypted and your data is secure
  1. You can use VPNs’ geo-spoofing capabilities with this combination. You can connect to a server in the location of your choice, and access geo-restricted content like Netflix USA and BBC iPlayer (provided your VPN can unblock these services)
  2. All your internet traffic will go through Tor, which gives you the best possible anonymity that you can have.

Downsides

  1. Your ISP can see that you are using Tor
  2. You are vulnerable to end-to-end timing attacks. These are attacks orchestrated to de-anonymize Tor and VPN users. They rely on the timestamps of your connections to spot you on the internet and thereby de-anonymize you
  • You cannot access hidden Tor services

Which combination is better?

Now that you have seen the pros and cons of VPN and Tor, you can make a better decision about the two. To give you a better idea, consider this. Tor over VPN improves your overall security, while VPN through Tor improves your privacy. A lot of other factors can play a part in your decision. For example, the VPN provider you use can help you choose the best combination.

While VPN through Tor is the recommended choice, you should note that currently there are only AirVPN and BolehVPN that offer this combination. Other VPN vendors offer the Tor over VPN feature. The former gives you the best privacy and anonymity, while the latter does not require any technical work to be done and hardly takes any time for setup.

Why you need privacy and anonymity?

Well, if you are still unaware of this, you’re a little late to the party. But better late than never. There are plenty of reasons why you need to use either Tor or VPN to improve your online privacy and anonymity.

1. Protect your personal information

You use the internet to make thousands of payments and access your bank accounts as well. If you don’t use any protection, anyone can see your data and can steal your information. We don’t need to tell you why that is bad. Although many banking and e-commerce websites use HTTPS protocol (the lock symbol you see in the address bar of the browser), there are a lot of websites that do not. Does that matter? Hell yes! Not using HTTPS means your data is shared without encryption, which means it is there for everyone and anyone to see.

2. Hide from Big Brother

When NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden dropped the ball on NSA’s mass surveillance programs, everyone was shell-shocked. People had an idea that sometimes government organizations monitor their citizens’ online activity, but they didn’t know that everyone’s browsing and search history, IM chats, emails, and VoIP calls are monitored by the NSA. Once this was disclosed, news about other governments spying on their citizens also came to light. Also, the Five Eyes countries actively share intelligence information among themselves, meaning your online activity is the property of multiple governments.

3. Bypass Censorship

The Internet is a free place in many parts of the world, but it is a greatly regulated entity in some other parts of the world. Governments decide what their citizens can and cannot access on the internet, which is a sad situation. People in countries like China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, UAE, etc. cannot access news websites, social media, VoIP services, and a bunch of other websites because the governments do not approve of them. Some information is blocked because the government thinks it goes against the national sentiment and the national security.

Should you use Tor and VPN together?

Practically speaking, using either of Tor or VPN is enough for the average internet user. Both give you a considerable degree of anonymity and freedom. Based on the way you use the internet and the place you use the internet from, you can decide between using VPN and Tor. However, if you are a little paranoid about your online privacy and anonymity, you can always use a combination of the two.

We have given you a rundown of how both the combinations work. The recommendation is to go for VPN through Tor, and there are only AirVPN and BolehVPN that give this solution of VPN for Tor.  Neither of these VPNs are absolutely free of problems, but if you really want to go for VPN through Tor, these are your only options.

Use VPN and Tor together for best privacy and anonymity

Both VPNs and Tor browser provide privacy and anonymity, but they each lack in certain aspects. Luckily, though, bundling them together can remove those flaws and boost their respective merits to give you the best combination of privacy and anonymity.

Maria Novak
Our senior reviewer, Maria, has been tinkering with computers since a childhood spent in her father’s workshop. Her passion for technology – and her ability to explain complex concepts in an approachable way – is unequaled. She is a regular contributor to the Top 5 VPN blog.
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