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What happens if you use Tor without a VPN? – VPN Success

What happens if you use Tor without a VPN? – VPN Success

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Tor provides a way to stay anonymous on the internet and many people assume they don’t need a VPN because of that. I decided to take a deeper look at using Tor without a VPN to see if this still provides the levels of protection a VPN can provide.

What happens if you use Tor without a VPN? Using Tor without a VPN may allow Tor exit nodes operators to see or manipulate your information, as it travels through their exit nodes. With HTTPS downgrade attacks, it is still possible to hack encrypted HTTPS connections by forcing the connection to use HTTP as it leaves the Tor exit node.

While Tor can help maintain your privacy and keep you anonymous online, it does not provide the level of protection that a VPN does. Because a connection that leaves the VPN server can end up being better protected than a connection that leaves the exit node of the Tor network.

This is because there is a file A reputable VPN, the VPN server is under the control of the VPN provider while the Tor exit node is running anonymously. A Tor exit node can be run by people who are bent on adhering to the goals of the Tor Project or they can be malicious parties, such as hackers, government agencies, or even rogue states.

Let’s take a look at how Tor works without a VPN for potential privacy and security issues.

Using Tor without a VPN

The way the Tor network works is by routing connections made from the Tor software installed on your device Through a network of global Tor nodes. With special Tor nodes known as exit nodes that provide an exit point from where the connection leaves the Tor network and continues along the normal Internet paths to the website it is connected to.

The website will only see the IP address of the Tor exit node, which makes it difficult to trace who has connected and it is this difficulty in tracking connections that gives Tor the ability to provide privacy protection and keep users anonymous. Furthermore, Tor nodes keep changing in number as new nodes are added and existing nodes are removed, making it more difficult to keep track of connections being made.

There are a number of issues with the Tor network where privacy can be compromised, the main one being Tor’s exit nodes. These exit nodes would potentially allow anyone running the exit node to access information passing through the exit node.

Encrypted information passing through HTTPS, SSH, and SFTP connections is difficult to access, but there are still many connections made using insecure HTTP and FTP connections. These connections do not use encryption and travel through the Tor network in plain text, allowing the owner of the Tor exit node to be able to read the information.

When a website domain is entered without the HTTPS part, for example, the connection is first made using HTTP. This initial connection is unencrypted but fortunately an automatic redirect occurs when an HTTP connection is made to where is hosted and this redirects to secure HTTPS for any subsequent connections made.

Anyone running a Tor exit node can intercept the initial HTTP connection and prevent it from being redirected to HTTPS, making all connections use the unencrypted HTTPS channel. This would allow the malicious owner of the Tor exit node to see any information sent over the connection, compromising security.

It is important to always ensure that the lock appears on the left side of the address bar when making any connection to a website using a secure connection. Otherwise, all information entered into the web page will easily be captured by the Tor exit node operator. I always check the connection certificate by clicking the lock icon and see if the details look correct (example of US government certificate shown below).

US government certificate

Using Tor with a VPN

The type of attack mentioned in the previous paragraph is known as HTTPS downgrade attack and with a VPN, this type of attack becomes very difficult.. As a VPN provides end-to-end encryption from the users device (VPN client software) to the VPN server. This secure tunnel is maintained across the Tor network and when this connection passes through the Tor exit nodes, it is difficult to break the connection.

The VPN connection does not use HTTPS, but rather uses private VPN protocols such as OpenVPN and WireGuard to L2TP/IPSec. Some VPN protocols like PPTP are not secure and should not actually be used.

VPN Protocol Options

In the screenshot above, the OpenVPN protocol has been used and this has been around since 2001. The level of encryption is customizable, making it possible to use military-grade encryption levels that are almost impossible to crack.

There are two different ways to use Tor with a VPN:

  • Tor via a VPN connection
  • VPN over Tor

Tor via a VPN connection

By first connecting to a VPN server and then opening the Tor browser, it allows the Tor connection to take place via VPN. This allows for the fact that Tor is being used from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) as they will not be able to see the connection to the Tor network, they will only see a connection to the VPN server.

The other advantage of connecting to Tor over a VPN is that the Tor network will only see the IP address assigned by the VPN and not the real IP address assigned to the ISP.

The disadvantage of connecting to Tor over a VPN is that any malicious Tor exit nodes can still use HTTPS downgrade attacks to try to access or tamper with information that exits from their nodes.

VPN over Tor

By first opening the Tor browser, without entering anything into it, followed by connecting to the VPN server, an encrypted VPN channel will be created, which provides better protection against malicious Tor exit node intrusion.

Anything typed into the Tor browser will begin to pass through the Tor network and once it reaches the exit node, the encrypted data travels to the VPN server, before exiting the VPN server and continuing its journey across the Internet. Tor exit nodes will find it difficult to crack the encrypted connection and this will protect the data going through confidentiality and integrity.

The IP address will be the assigned IP from the Tor network, which makes it difficult for the VPN to see the real IP but that doesn’t matter much, as the VPN provider will already know who you are if you buy the subscription with them.

This approach to using a VPN over a Tor connection provides a double layer of protection with Tor providing anonymity and the VPN providing the security of encrypted connections.

Is Tor and VPN Enough?

Using Tor with a VPN and preferably with a VPN over a Tor connection should be enough to protect privacy. The biggest risk with Tor is exit nodes as some of them can be under the control of malicious parties such as rogue states, hackers and the like.

With a VPN via Tor setting, all traffic leaving the exit node will be encrypted to a high level which makes it extremely difficult for any exit node operator to hack that traffic and see the information inside.

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