VPN vs. Tor – Which is Better?
The answer to that question essentially depends on your specific requirements. Even though both VPN and Tor are frequently compared with each other, it is wise to know that they are just two different products with their own idiosyncratic characteristics.
In theory, both are used to attain an encrypted channel of communication over the Internet. Whereas in practice, their applications (slightly) differ and so do their operating principles.
Here’s a quick rundown of two of the most important systems for on-line privacy today.
Once you get a fair idea about the differences between Tor and VPN, you will be able to choose the best system for yourself.
Understanding How VPN and Tor Work
It is important to understand how these two systems differ from each other in order to make a sound decision about what to choose and when.
VPN is Your Friend
A VPN application basically encrypts your connection and passes your data through a (random) server before sending it to the destination server. This way no one can access your personal information nor can they know its original source if they choose to intercept the channel of communication.
The only caveat here is that most modern VPN providers fail to declare their logging policy. Which means that, in most cases, your VPN provider may log the details about your website visits and other details such as duration and activity.
All of this makes VPNs the smart choice for low-risk applications like torrenting and browsing through Reddit. You can still access some .onion websites provided you play it clean.
In other words, VPN is a friend whom you can trust with your basic and intermediate on-line activities.
Tor is a Group of Acquaintances
The Tor network can be best described as a form of relayed communication. Here, your connection is encrypted and sent to more than one server (usually three) and then to the destination.
This way your data bounces through multiple servers, making it nearly impossible to detect the original source. Because while the first server knows where the data came from, the second and third servers as well as the final destination server do not. There’s even a case where the NSA failed to compromise Tor while trying to de-anonymize a user.
However, communicating through Tor is a painstakingly slow process. Add to that the presence of the exit relay (i.e. the final node before the destination server), and you are looking at a vulnerable system.
Which is why we like to describe Tor as a group of acquaintances. Each member supports your quest but you do not know which one is the bad apple.
Which One to Use?
While both VPN and Tor have their own set of merits and demerits, they still are the best we have when it comes to on-line privacy. Therefore, your question as to which one is better can be best answered by weighing their pros and cons.
Go with a VPN when:
- You want a fast connection speed
- Your activity is low-risk (e.g.: accessing Netflix, sharing a file over torrent)
- You want to execute private, everyday browsing
Go with Tor when:
- You want a higher level of anonymity
- Your activity may be of interest to the law enforcement (e.g.: political activism, whistleblowing)
- You want to execute private, everyday browsing (where low bandwidth will do the job)
Notice how both VPN and Tor can be used for private, everyday browsing. Which basically hits the point about their similarities.
Experts sometimes suggest that the best way to shield your privacy on-line is to use both VPN and Tor in tandem. That might have the desired effect, but there is no need to do that if you are using Astrill, which now also acts as an onion VPN.
If you are torn between these two choices, there is a better alternative out there that will get the job done without a headache. With Astrill, you can browse the entire web (including deep web domains) at a speed that puts its free competitors to shame and with end-to-end encryption that invites the envy of the Tor network itself. Try Astrill’s 7-day free trial today.
For more such tips and tricks on how to safeguard your on-line presence, check out the Astrill blog.