Does my ISP know that I’m using Tor?
While it’s common knowledge that your ISP can see everything you do on their network, Tor is the ultimate tool for online privacy. So, can your ISP see you using Tor? We’ll answer that question in today’s in-depth article, as well as show you how to use a VPN with Tor to make yourself invisible to your ISP.
The Onion Router, or Tor, is a popular way to provide Internet users with anonymity. It encapsulates data in several layers of encryption – hence the “onion” part of its name – and routes traffic through a complex group of peers, with each one realizing only what they need to keep the data moving. Some Tor users ask themselves the question: Does my ISP know I’m using Tor?
It’s a very good question because we all prefer our IPS not know that we’re using Tor, or anything at all. As we shall see, there are several reasons for this but the simplest of them can be summed up by this analogy: If I’m dressed like someone else, I’d rather people see me dressed up rather than being dressed up.
Hide your Tor traffic from your ISP with the following VPNs:
- NordVPN – Best TOR VPN – ISP intrusion doesn’t stand a chance with NordVPN’s TOR-optimized Onion technology on specialized VPN servers.
- Surfshark – Guaranteed privacy, fast connections, and a logging policy you can trust.
- ExpressVPN – Perfect for when you really need that extra speed on TOR networks.
- CyberGhost – Specialist; CyberGhost has been avoiding ISP tracking for years.
- PrivateVPN – A good blend of privacy, performance, and long-term privacy community trust.
Today, we begin our discussion by explaining what Tor is, why it is used and how it works. Although Tor is a very complex system, we will try to explain it in terms that anyone can understand. We will do our best to get the details but not too technically.
Next, we’ll discuss the reasons why your ISP might be interested in knowing if you’re using TOR and if they really can. We will then talk about some of the alternatives available for hiding your activity from your ISP or anyone who can intercept and analyze your traffic. We will see that VPNs are great tools to provide anonymity and introduce you to three of the best VPN providers we know.
What is Tor?
Tor is a system for enabling anonymous connections on the Internet. Its use makes it more difficult to track user activity of a particular user. It can mask visits to websites, online publications, instant messages, and other forms of online communication. The purpose of using Tor is “to protect the personal privacy of its users, as well as their freedom and ability to conduct confidential communications by preventing their Internet activities from being monitored.”
In short, Tor routes Internet traffic through a free, voluntary global overlay network made up of thousands of relays and hides the user’s location and use from anyone doing network monitoring or traffic analysis. Tor is not intended to completely solve the problem of anonymity on the web nor is it designed to completely erase anyone’s tracks. Instead, it is designed to reduce the possibility that websites or governments will track actions and data back to the user.
How does Tor work? (from where anyone can understand)
Although Tor is a relatively complex system, we will try to explain its operation in simple terms. With a better understanding of Tor’s operating principles, one is better equipped to assess the degree of anonymity it can provide and the limitations it entails.
When a Tor user wants to open a communication channel to a remote resource – a website, for example – the first step is to build a virtual path between the source and the destination. The Tor client (the software running on the user’s computer) has access to a list of Tor nodes and uses it to build a random circuit through multiple nodes. Their number and location depend on the source and destination sites.
Each node in the virtual circuit only knows about the previous and next nodes. Therefore, only the first node knows about the source and only the last node knows about the destination. If any node is breached, it will be impossible to trace the circuit.
Once the circuit is built, the client encapsulates and encrypts the data once for each node in the virtual circuit. For example, if a virtual circuit contains 3 nodes – usually many more than that – the data will be encrypted 3 times, first with the key of the last node, then with the middle node and finally with the first node. It is this layer encryption system that gives the Onion router its name as it was first developed.
The complete guide: Getting started with Tor
Why would my ISP care if I used Tor?
Simply because your ISP takes care of any and all of your online activities. There are several reasons for this. First and foremost, they want to make sure no one is violating their terms and conditions. They also need to provide a decent level of service to all of their users, so they must ensure that resources are adequately allocated where and when they are needed. Finally, they may also wish to protect themselves from legal action when one of their users breaks the law.
The specific problem with Tor is that it is known to be used for all kinds of illegal actions such as software and media piracy and a plethora of different criminal activities. This makes ISPs very wary about their use.
And when your ISP suspects that a user may be violating their terms and conditions or violating some local laws, they can respond in different ways. Some have been known to send infringement notices. Others will throttle the user’s suspected bandwidth. Even worse, some will outright cut the service.
Does my ISP know that I’m using Tor?
Simply put, your ISP knows everything you do. This includes the use of Tor. Of course, due to Tor’s anonymizing and strong encryption features, they won’t know what you’re using Tor for, but they will definitely know you’re using it.
And due to Tor’s reputation as being often used to carry out illegal activities online, many ISPs either completely prevent it from throttling it to the point of rendering it unusable.
Read more: How vulnerable are you when using Tor?
What are my options?
The best advice we can give you is to refrain from doing any illegal activity online. However, not all Tor users are criminals and your reasons for not revealing your identity can be completely legitimate and reasonable. But if your ISP has something against using Tor, you’ll need to resort to another method to achieve your desired privacy.
A VPN is probably your best option when Tor is not working with your ISP. They offer privacy and anonymity – albeit very different. It may not be as powerful and hard to crack as Tor but VPNs provide adequate protection in most situations.
The best thing about VPNs is that they are not blocked by ISPs (although there are exceptions). They often cannot be the primary means telecommuters use to connect to employer networks from their homes.
How do VPNs work?
A virtual private network, or VPN, creates a virtual tunnel between a protected device running a VPN client application and a remote VPN server. All data in or out of the protected device is encrypted by the client application using strong algorithms before being sent through the tunnel to the VPN server. At the server end, the data is decrypted and sent to its destination on the Internet. Even though the data is decrypted and then sent over the Internet at the far end of the tunnel, you or your device still can’t track it down. Once the data reaches its destination, it is seen as coming from the VPN server rather than the original device.
Most importantly, if you are concerned about privacy and anonymity, someone (ISP, government agencies or malicious users) is trying to intercept your traffic and spy on you, they will always do it from your end. This is the encrypted segment when using a VPN. Anyone who intercepts and scans your traffic will only see decipherable data between you and the VPN server. They won’t know where you’re going or what you’re doing.
Advantages of using a VPN
There are many advantages to using a VPN besides the obvious privacy and anonymity factors. Two of the most popular are bypassing your service provider’s access restrictions and bypassing geo-access restrictions.
Bypass access restrictions
There are many places that, while providing Internet access, restrict it in some way. It is common in academic institutions, office environments, and many public WiFi hotspots. These restrictions can be a way to limit bandwidth usage, reduce time wasted by staff and students, protect copyright holders or simply enforce ethics or morals.
These restrictions are usually implemented using systems that a VPN can easily bypass. However, it does not always work. As VPN use has become more and more popular in recent years, many organizations are using systems that block VPN traffic. Fortunately, VPN client software has improved and many VPN providers’ client software has a stealth mode that will make your traffic look like “normal” traffic, bypassing any VPN blocking. The best of them do it without user interaction.
Getting around geographical restrictions
Another major advantage of using VPNs – and perhaps the main reason people use them nowadays – is circumvention of geo-restrictions.
Many websites or online content providers restrict access to users who are in a particular geographic area. Some do it because they have different local offerings in different regions. Others do so because they are only authorized by copyright holders to distribute content in certain regions.
These geo-restrictions are enforced but refuse or allow connections based on their source IP address. An IP address is a number that uniquely identifies your computer on the Internet. As a side effect, your IP address can also reveal your approximate location.
As we have indicated, when you use a VPN, the destination resource sees that your traffic is coming from the VPN server instead of your device, and therefore it sees the IP address of the server. Thus, bypassing geo-restrictions is a simple matter of connecting to a VPN server in the appropriate location. Most service providers allow you to do this.
There are many factors that one must take into consideration when choosing the best VPN provider for their needs. We have compiled a list of some of the ones we feel are the most important.
- performance and stability: A VPN adds some load to the network which can slow down your connection. There is no way around that. To reduce that, you need fast VPN servers. You also want the service to be available when you need it. Therefore, you need a reliable supplier, with excellent uptime.
- Strong encryption parameters: This is the most important factor for privacy. Encryption makes your data nearly impossible and will stop your ISP from snooping on you. The higher the encryption, the more your data is protected. Don’t accept anything less than 128 bits but aim for 256 bits or more. Our top providers offer 256-bit encryption.
- Strict no-logs policyOne of the most important features when it comes to protecting your privacy is making sure that your VPN keeps no logs of your activity. If your VPN provider is hacked or you are forced to reveal information about you or your online activities, you will be protected if they don’t have anything.
- Location and number of servers: To be able to bypass as many geo-restrictions as possible, you need a provider with…