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.
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
- 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.
- Launch Vidalia and it will open up, start Tor and display the various settings and features.
- You should also notice the Vidalia icon in your dock is now “green”. That lets you know Tor is running.
- 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.
- Select the Advanced button, then the Network tab, and finally the Settings… button.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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”.
- To stop Tor, click Tor from the Vidalia menu, and select Stop Tor.
- Or, right click (ctrl-click for single mouse button folks) the Vidalia dock icon, and select Stop Tor.
- The Vidalia icon will change from green (running) to gray with a red “X” (stopped).
Up next will be using Tor to chat/IM anonymously.