June 07, 2014
Browsing More Securely Is Easier Than You Think

I’m here to advocate for the use of the Tor browser. If you’ve seen mentions of Reset the Net then you may already have installed it. If you were aware of the Snowden documents in which the NSA bemoaned its inability to crack the Tor network, you’re probably already way head of this post. But if you’ve heard of Tor but don’t know what it stands for or why anyone cares, you can find all the details at the Tor project website.

Briefly, the Tor browser is Firefox with a few under-the-hood modifications that generally don’t affect the user experience (with one or two exceptions). After installation it you use it just like Firefox; but with the Tor browser your IP address is not trackable as you wander around the internet.

This has interesting effects, mostly positive but a few negative. Since you appear to arrive from a location other than your own, search results and ads sometimes appear in another language; but that’s not really an issue in my experience, you can always get stuff in English somehow. Google will sometimes present you with Captchas because you seem to be logging in from a continent different from your regular one. Websites that check your location to prevent viewing from blacked-out areas or whatever will no longer know where you really are. You don’t get targeted ads because websites can’t recognize you or track you.

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The major negative is that you can’t watch videos through Tor because opening a remote video file and allowing its contents onto your computer isn’t secure. You can stream video; I watched a baseball game through MLB.com just a few days ago. And you can download stuff and watch it locally, which is more secure. The takeaway here is that to browse safely requires both good tools and good practices.

Having said that, I often use both Tor and another browser, the former for most operations and the latter for a few that don’t work with Tor. Spotify, in particular, won’t play music through Tor because it thinks I’m in Hungary or Malaysia, where Spotify isn’t licensed to play music.

The only other negative is that the Tor browser runs slightly slower than Firefox; that extra time is spent disguising your IP address by bouncing your request around The Onion Router (TOR) network.

Why would you care whether your IP address is scattered as you browse? Because your IP address can be connected with your critical data such as name, address, and so on. Once a site has your IP address they know who you are, and they’ll do everything they can to contact and advertise to you. If you’re lucky it won’t go farther than that.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at June 07, 2014 02:09 PM
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It's kind of like chess. It only works if nobody cheats. http://www.uschess.org/content/view/12677/141/

Posted by: bp on June 9, 2014 12:32 PM
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