How to surf the web anonymously using OS X

Using Tor can help you anonymize web browsing and publishing, instant messaging, IRC, SSH, and other applications that use the TCP protocol.

This tutorial will guide you in installing, setting up and using Vidalia – a cross-platform interface for Tor, in OS X. Using Vidalia, you can start and stop Tor, view the status of Tor at a glance, and monitor Tor’s bandwidth usage. Vidalia includes Tor itself, and privoxy – which is a web proxy with advanced filtering capabilities. This might all sound a bit confusing, but it’s actually quite straight forward.

Background

When some people think of anonymous web browsing, they may assume that only ‘hackers’, ‘crackers’ and people with poor intentions would be interested in remaining anonymous online. This is simply not true. From the Tor overview page:

Individuals use Tor to keep websites from tracking them and their family members, or to connect to news sites, instant messaging services, or the like when these are blocked by their local Internet providers. Tor’s hidden services let users publish web sites and other services without needing to reveal the location of the site. Individuals also use Tor for socially sensitive communication: chat rooms and web forums for rape and abuse survivors, or people with illnesses.

Journalists use Tor to communicate more safely with whistleblowers and dissidents. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) use Tor to allow their workers to connect to their home website while they’re in a foreign country, without notifying everybody nearby that they’re working with that organization.

Groups such as Indymedia recommend Tor for safeguarding their members’ online privacy and security. Activist groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are supporting Tor’s development as a mechanism for maintaining civil liberties online. Corporations use Tor as a safe way to conduct competitive analysis, and to protect sensitive procurement patterns from eavesdroppers. They also use it to replace traditional VPNs, which reveal the exact amount and timing of communication. Which locations have employees working late? Which locations have employees consulting job-hunting websites? Which research divisions are communicating with the company’s patent lawyers?

update: thanks to commenter kalbazs (see comments at the bottom of this post) – I should mention up front – when you use Tor, your surfing speed will decrease. This is due to the fact that the Tor network relies on people donating servers – and there aren’t enough servers to keep up with the demand. In the not too distant future I’ll do a couple of tutorials on how you can run a Tor server, if you have a lot of spare bandwidth.

Setting up and using Tor to surf the web anonymously

  1. The first thing you’ll want to do is download and install Vidalia. The installation is very straight forward, and you’ll end out with Vidalia in your Applications folder.
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  3. Launch Vidalia and it will open up, start Tor and display the various settings and features.
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  5. You should also notice the Vidalia icon in your dock is now “green”. That lets you know Tor is running.
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  7. To manually edit the Firefox settings so that you can surf the web anonymously, select Firefox and then Preferences…. Note: or, skip down to step 8 which will show you a very nifty Firefox add-on (plugin) that automates all of this for you. Note #2: if you use Safari as your web browser, you can find the instructions to set it up as your anonymous browser here.
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  9. Select the Advanced button, then the Network tab, and finally the Settings… button.
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  11. Select Manual proxy configuration: and then enter localhost as the HTTP Proxy:, SSL Proxy:, FTP Proxy:, Gopher Proxy: and SOCKS Host:. Make sure the port is set to 8118 for every instance. When you’re done, click OK to return to Firefox.
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  13. Once you’ve completed the above steps, visit the Tor detector. Assuming everything was set up correctly, you should be viewing a page similar to the screenshot below.
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  15. If you don’t want to manually enter in the Tor settings each time you want to surf the web anonymously, download and install the fantastic Torbutton add-on (plugin) for Firefox. Once it’s installed (and you restart Firefox) you can enable and disable Tor with a single click (see screenshots below).
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    tor for os x

  17. Again, after you’ve installed Torbutton, visit the Tor detector page. Assuming everything was set up correctly, you should be viewing a page similar to the screenshot below.
  18. tor for os x
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  19. One of the “bonus” features of installing Tor via Vidalia is that Privoxy is also included, and enabled, by default. Privoxy will block (most) ads, further improving your privacy. The screenshot below illustrates a “blocked ad”.
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  21. To stop Tor, click Tor from the Vidalia menu, and select Stop Tor.
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  23. Or, right click (ctrl-click for single mouse button folks) the Vidalia dock icon, and select Stop Tor.
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  25. The Vidalia icon will change from green (running) to gray with a red “X” (stopped).
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Up next will be using Tor to chat/IM anonymously.

14 thoughts on “How to surf the web anonymously using OS X”

  1. I hate to be generically glowing, but in the short time I’ve known of it, this is the most helpful tech site I follow. Thanks for your efforts.

  2. Pingback: How to surf the web anonymously using OS X | Anonymized

  3. I installed Vidalia, and configured it as instructed, and my page load speed deteriorated to a snail’s pace while it was running. Additionally, I started to get all kind of error pages that I have never seen before. I googled “http referrer” and the page came up in German. German! I don’t speak German. This app brings more frustration than benefit. I dropped it in the trash. Good Riddance!

  4. kalbazs –

    Shoot I should have mentioned that in the article – thanks – I’ll update it shortly – YES, Tor does slow down your surfing considerably. It’s really only meant to be used when you need to be anonymous, not for day-to-day browsing. The slowness is a known “problem” because Tor
    relies on people donating their bandwidth to run Tor servers.

    As for the German stuff – that I have NO clue about :P

  5. Google was probably auto-detecting language based on the location of the referrer… Last hop in the Tor chain was likely from a German host.

    And yes, Tor is can be incredibly, painfully slow!

  6. i installed everything tor was running then it closed down unexpectedly now i cant open it anymore because it asks me for a password, help or i will junk the prog

  7. The speed of the internet becomes worse than 56K modem days !! I didn’t buy cable modem to go back to 1992….. concept is great but speed needs improved asap… this is torture to use.

  8. Ok. I followed the instructions exactly. Download, installed Vidalia and started Tor. I configured Firefox for localhost and port 8118 for all protocols. I went to Tor Detector and it says I don’t have a Tor IP. I then installed the Torbutton add-on. Enabled it. It still has I am being detected. Vidalia is green in my dock. This is Mac OS 10.4.11.

    What am I missing?

  9. Pingback: How to surf the web anonymously on your Android device | TuxWire : The Linux Blog

  10. Ross can you help me please? :) I downloaded tor and my bandwith dropped completly i am going crazy i cant receive internet anymore unless i am sitting next to the router. Now I uninstalled tor but it is still so slow … do i have to change the proxy in firefox ? i dont know what to do anymore? Thanks Tanya

  11. I have better software tools provide by shag drive.Because by using this tool Anonymous web surfing sites allow you to bypass work filters by fetching the website’s data themselves, and then sending it back to you through the free anonymizer. These free anonymous surfing sites are powered by software that resides on the server. Not only do they allow you to circumvent filters put in place by network administrators, they also protect your online privacy by masking your IP Address, thus allowing you to surf the web anonymously. When you surf without a free anonymizer, your computer is exposed to all types of potentially harmful content (like viruses and spyware), and your personal information can easily be recorded by data trackers, effectively eliminating any privacy at work.

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