How does Tor VPN work

Better safe than sorry: why, when and how you should use VPN and Tor at the same time

from Steve

Last updated: June 11, 2019

Use VPN and Tor together, is that possible? There are many serious, but also dubious instructions and advice on this topic circulating on the Internet. A VPN brings you security and anonymity, just like Tor. They should be safer together, right?

Since we're independent testers from Sunday mornings who don't want to sell you anything, we got to the bottom of the matter for you and found out when this combination makes sense and when it doesn't.

In this article we explain how you can use VPN and Tor at the same time and what you should pay attention to. However, if you want to take a step back by first choosing a suitable VPN provider, take a look at our VPN provider test 2021.

What is a VPN?

VPN stands for "Virtual Private Network" and is a common technology when it comes to surfing the Internet securely and anonymously. How a VPN works on a technical level can be explained by its name.

First of all, you need to know what the difference is between a private and a public network:

  • A private network you've certainly seen them at work before. A good example are shared hard drives that are used by several employees within the company network to store data at the same time. You cannot use these hard drives at home without a VPN, which is why they are also called a private network.
  • A public network is, for example, the hotspot in a Starbucks or the Internet itself. Any website, file or other information that can be accessed online from anywhere is in a public network. So when you open a website, you are on a public network.

With a VPN you combine the freedom of the public network with the security and data protection of a private one.

When you open a website with a VPN service, it first creates a VPN tunnel to the website you want to visit. So you have your own little "Virtual Private Network" every time you visit a website.

However, there are many things to consider before choosing a VPN service. For example, you should find out beforehand which encryption mechanisms are used, where the VPN's servers are located and, above all, whether the VPN service is recording your history or not.

What is the Tor Browser?

Tor is a specially developed browser with which you can surf the Internet with more security and privacy. Tor stands for "The Onion Router", which translated means onion router. An onion is built in layers, just like the Tor network.

The Tor Browser uses a network built up in server nodes - the so-called Tor network. Each request from you initially goes through several servers before it finally arrives at the target server. The entry point into the network, i.e. the server that your laptop or smartphone controls first, is called the “entry node”.

Your request is encrypted and transported to the Tor network via the entry node. Your anonymity is guaranteed, as each node only knows the IP address of its predecessor. After the short trip over a number of servers, your request will then be sent back to the Internet from the Tor network. The node that establishes contact with the “outside world” is called the “Exit Node”.

The problem with the Tor network is the fact that communication via the exit node is unencrypted.

If you want to learn more about the Tor Browser, check out our article Tor Browser: Everything You Need to Know.

What exactly is the difference between Tor and VPN?

You now know what a VPN is and how the Tor network works. Now let's dig deeper by putting both technologies to the test.

Here I show you the result in direct comparison:

criteriagoalVPN
securityWellWell
speedSlowlyOkay
costsFreeFree services available, but paid services are usually better
anonymityIs givenSurf history data can be logged
Configuration effortHighLow
Streaming and gaming possibleYesYes
Blocked on websites?1.3 million websites block the Tor Browser by defaultNo

In terms of security, both technologies are about the same. The Tor Browser benefits from its Tor network and onion routing, while a VPN provides more security through a VPN tunnel. With the VPN providers, however, there are differences in the way the information is encrypted during transmission.

In terms of speed, however, the two services differ significantly. We made a speed test for you by first testing our internet connection (Vodafone LTE, 50 megabits per second) without VPN or Tor using https://speedof.me/. Then we switched in a VPN in order to be able to determine its effect on our connection.

We did the same for the Tor Browser, with the following result:

 Ping
(ms)
Download
(Mbit / s)
Upload
(Mbit / s)
Unprotected 5214,084,33
VPN (CyberGhost)
with server in NYC
1414,453,61
Tor Browser3001,791,68

We haven't combined VPN and Tor in this test. We decided on speedof.me because this test portal carries out an HTML-based measurement and we could not achieve any valid results with the common (flash-based) test portals such as speedtest.net and NDT.

As you can see in the table above, the latency, download and upload speed of the VPN is significantly better than that of the Tor Browser. Even if we take a server in the USA, where the connection loses more speed than with a server in Europe, the VPN is clearly convincing.

Thus, the Tor Browser is only suitable for streaming and online gaming under the best possible conditions, but I don't recommend it to you.

Unlike most VPNs, the Tor Browser is free. You can always download it from the official Tor website. However, you should be careful with a free VPN. Very few free VPN services contribute to higher security.

Many log your surfing history, use questionable encryption methods, collect other data from you or display annoying advertisements. A free VPN does not necessarily contribute to more security and anonymity.

Does it make sense to use Tor and VPN at the same time?

First of all, you should know that the way you combine Tor and VPN makes a big difference in terms of privacy and security. So how you connect these technologies together determines how anonymous and secure you ultimately are.

A fundamental distinction is made between two configurations:

  1. Gate through VPN
  2. VPN through Tor

Before I show you how to best combine Tor and VPN, I'll tell you the advantages and disadvantages of this particular surfing option.

General advantages and disadvantages

The simultaneous use of Tor and VPN means that the respective weaknesses are balanced and retouched. For example, the Tor Browser enables access to the Darknet, which would not be possible with a VPN alone.

Unfortunately, the Tor network has been hacked a number of times in the past. The security mechanisms have been continuously developed since then, but someone always finds a way to reveal IP addresses and other personal data of Tor users.

With a VPN you can add an additional layer of protection and counter and encrypt the unencrypted communication from the exit node, which is also the greatest weak point in the Tor network.

Why is the Tor network under constant fire? I assume that this has something to do with the darknet. The Darknet is a place where, in addition to legal activities to protect privacy, illegal activities are also part of the agenda. Therefore, as a Tor user, you will not be able to open certain websites. In addition, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will classify you as a Tor user. These problems can be avoided with a VPN.

Now we come to the disadvantages. As you have already read above, both technologies bring speed losses with them. When it comes to security and anonymity, it also depends on how your Tor and VPN combine. Here you are given the choice of what is more important to you personally.

Gate through VPN is better in terms of technical security while VPN through Tor is basically the better option for more anonymity.

Another disadvantage is the configuration effort associated with the Tor Browser. Simply installing the browser does not make you anonymous or protect you from potential hacker attacks. Therefore, you should definitely configure JavaScript, browser plugins and other settings (not only with the Tor Browser but also with Firefox and Co.) correctly in order to surf the Internet safely and anonymously.

Also take into account the effort involved in setting up your VPN for the Tor Browser. This is not always worry-free and can be a technical obstacle for some users.

advantages
  • Access to the Darknet
  • Internet service providers (ISPs) do not classify you as a Tor user
  • Extra security
  • Websites blocked for Tor can be visited
disadvantage
  • Enormous loss of speed
  • The VPN service knows your correct IP address
  • Configuration effort is high

The bottom line is that it makes perfect sense to use a VPN in conjunction with Tor. Especially if you want to be unhackable. Regardless of whether it is Tor through VPN or VPN through Tor, in both cases the shared use gives you more security.

If you are looking for a detailed comparison of technologies with which you can surf the Internet anonymously, be sure to check out our article VPN, Tor or Proxy: How do you best protect yourself? at.

1. Gateway through VPN: advantages and disadvantages

With this setup, you first connect to the VPN server, which encrypts all Internet traffic within the VPN layer. Then the encrypted data is sent through the Tor network to the destination server.

The connection is established as follows:

Your → VPN → Tor → Internet

This arrangement brings you more technical security and is easier to configure than the variant VPN through Tor. This combination is especially worthwhile for you if you have your Trusts VPN service more than your internet provider.

Here is an overview of the main advantages and disadvantages of this variant:

advantages
  • Simple setup and few technical skills required
  • Your internet service provider does not know that you are using the Tor browser
  • The Tor Entry Node does not see your real IP address, but that of the VPN provider
  • You can open .onion pages
disadvantage
  • Communication via the Tor Exit Node is still unencrypted
  • The VPN provider knows your real IP address

2. VPN through Tor: pros and cons

This setup requires more configuration effort and is not supported by every VPN provider.

With this method, your VPN tunnel goes through the Tor network. First, the VPN service encrypts your communication and then sends it to the Tor network. After the onion routing through Tor, your data goes via the exit node to the VPN server, which then decrypts it and sends it to the target server.

The connection is established as follows:

Your → VPN (encryption) → Tor → VPN (decryption) → Internet

Here is an overview of the main advantages and disadvantages of this variant:

advantages
  • The VPN provider cannot log your history, they only see that you are connected to the Tor network *
  • You can visit websites that are blocked for Tor
  • Communication via the Tor Exit Node is encrypted
  • You can select the VPN server you want to connect to after the Tor network to prevent geoblocking
disadvantage
  • More configuration effort
  • Your ISP will see that you are connected to the Tor network
  • You cannot open .onion pages
  • Not supported by most VPN providers

* Pay your VPN provider with Bitcoins, otherwise they can de-anonymize you through the credit card bill or similar

This is how you set up your gateway and VPN correctly

As mentioned earlier, there are two different ways to use these technologies together. We would now like to show you these and explain them in detail so that you can also use Tor and VPN together.

1. Set up Tor through VPN

First open your VPN service and start it. We will be using CyberGhost in this tutorial.

Now connect to the Tor network by opening the Tor Browser.

This model is easier to configure and does not require advanced technical knowledge. The main disadvantage of this method, however, is that the Tor Exit Node is still unencrypted.

2. Set up a VPN through Tor

If you're having trouble finding the right VPN service for the Tor Browser, you should also read this article.

We'll be using BolehVPN for this part of the guide. If you don't want to use BolehVPN, you can also use AirVPN as an alternative.

In the first step, start the Tor Browser and then open BolehVPN.

Now click on “Proxy settings” at BolehVPN.

Then you enter the following information under the respective fields and then click on "Save Proxy Settings":

  • Select Protocol Type: SOCKS
  • ProxyAddress: 127.0.0.1
  • Proxy port: 9150

Then go back to the "Dashboard" menu and select a server that you want to connect to. Here, however, you have to make sure to choose a server that is "fully routed" and works "TCP" -based.

Conclusion

Both Tor and VPN are powerful technologies that help you navigate the Internet safely and anonymously.

  • At Gate through VPN Your ISP does not see that you are using Tor and the Tor network does not know your real IP address either. The VPN service, however, sees your IP address and can recognize that you are on the Tor network.
  • At VPN through Tor the opposite applies. Your VPN provider may not see your true IP address, but your ISP will know that you are connected to Tor.

Both alternatives are excellent in terms of technical security. In addition, there are no differences in terms of speed. Ultimately, it depends on who you trust more: your Internet service provider or your VPN provider. By the way, an interesting alternative is to use a VPN router. So you can surf encrypted with several devices at the same time.

If you don't want to dive into the Darknet, I would give you the combination VPN through Tor recommend, as this offers an additional level of security due to the encryption of the exit node.

Have you ever shared Tor with VPN? Which combination did you choose? Let us know in the comments.