Q. I've heard you talk about a software called Tor before, but what does it do? Is it safe to download? And is it available to everyone? - Richard M.; listens on 880 AM WCBS, New York.
A. This is a great question, Richard, because Tor software is often the subject of controversy. If you're considering downloading this software, you need to be aware of the pros and cons, especially since Tor will allow you to browse through some pretty dark areas of the internet.
What is Tor?
In its simplest definition, Tor is a web browser software that conceals your identity when you're online. It does this in a few different ways. First, it uses encryption to scramble the data that's being communicated within the network. Second, it routes that data between random servers within the Tor network to hide your online identity, including data tied to your personal IP address.
What is Tor used for?
You've probably heard some unnerving things associated with Tor. We're not going to pretend there isn't truth to those claims. Tor can be used for good things and bad.
Positives: The best thing about Tor is that it provides anonymity for people who would want to browse the web without being tracked by their internet service provider, websites, the government and other interest parties. You can also use Tor to access services that are blocked by some internet providers, or governments.
Note: If you'd like to increase your privacy online without downloading Tor software, click here for tips on disabling web browser tracking.
Negatives: It's true that Tor has a dark side. Not the software itself, but the places to where it grants access on the internet. You may have heard the term "Dark Web" before. This is a portion of the internet that is often used for illegal activities such as child pornography, the sale of drugs, prostitution, etc. Tor software is needed to access the Dark Web, so needless to say, using the software could lead you into some pretty dark places. Click here for more information on the Dark Web and what's hiding in the shadows of the internet.
Is Tor safe?
The easiest answer: Yes, and no. The software itself is safe to use. And, if you're using it for its basic function of hiding your online identity, then you shouldn't run into any trouble. However, if you're using Tor with the intent of accessing the Dark Web, then you could easily encounter more than you bargained for.
What does Tor cost?
Tor software is free to download, however, you may be asked by the software's developers to make a donation. You are not obligated to do so, but there are various sections of the Tor website where donations are requested.
Although Tor does have its benefits, it is an extreme way to obtain online anonymity, and should only be used by those who find it absolutely necessary. Because of the risks associated with the Dark Web, Tor may not be the best option for the average internet user. Instead, try the tips in these articles to gain more privacy online, no special software required.