Hey there! If you‘re looking to take your online privacy and security to the next level, you may have heard about Onion over VPN. But what exactly is it and how can it help protect your data?
Onion over VPN refers to using The Onion Router (Tor) together with a virtual private network (VPN). This creates a sort of super-encrypted tunnel that makes it extremely difficult for anyone to monitor or track your online activity.
In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll explain everything you need to know about Onion over VPN, how it works, who can benefit from it, and how to get set up with the best VPNs for it. Let‘s dive in!
A Quick Look at Onion over VPN
Before we get into the nitty gritty details, here‘s a quick rundown of what Onion over VPN entails:
- Onion routing – This is the underlying technology behind Tor, which encrypts traffic and bounces it through relays to hide your IP address.
- VPN tunnel – A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel between your device and a server, hiding your IP behind the server‘s IP.
- Dual encryption – By combining the two, your traffic gets encrypted by the VPN and then passed through the onion network for further encryption.
- Enhanced anonymity – With multiple layers of encryption and IP obfuscation, it‘s extremely difficult for anyone to identify who you are or monitor your activity.
So in a nutshell, Onion over VPN gives you the anonymizing effect of The Onion Router plus the encryption and IP hiding of a VPN. But to really understand the power of this approach, we need to look at how Tor and VPNs work individually.
The Onion Router (Tor) – A Closer Look
First released in 2002, The Onion Router, or Tor, is a system designed to make you virtually anonymous online by obscuring your IP address and encrypting your traffic.
Here‘s an overview of how Tor works:
- You connect to the Tor network through a Tor entry node, which encrypts your traffic and bounces it to a middle relay.
- The middle relay decrypts the traffic from the entry node then re-encrypts it and passes it along to a Tor exit node.
- The exit node decrypts the traffic and sends it out to the open internet to reach the destination website or service.
- When the destination responds, the traffic goes back through the same path in reverse, getting re-encrypted at each step.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
This multi-hop encryption through randomly selected relays successfully obscures your originating IP address. The "onion routing" name comes from how it essentially wraps your data in multiple encrypted layers, like an onion.
Some key facts about the Tor network:
- Tor has over 2 million daily users worldwide.
- There are currently around 7,000 volunteer-run Tor relays.
- Tor traffic is 3-4 times slower than normal internet speeds.
- Tor is funded primarily by the US government and non-profits.
Tor usage has risen sharply in recent years amid growing concerns about online privacy. However, it‘s not without some downsides:
Pros of Tor
- Hides your IP address and location
- Encrypts traffic end-to-end
- Allows anonymous access to blocked content
- Defeats targeted surveillance and tracking
Cons of Tor
- Slow connection speeds due to routing
- Adds latency which can disrupt real-time apps
- Cannot access most streaming services
- Some sites block or restrict Tor access
- Adds complexity for average users
While Tor goes a long way in enhancing privacy, some limitations remain. This is where adding a VPN on top comes into play.
How VPNs Work to Enhance Privacy
A virtual private network, or VPN, protects your privacy in a different way than Tor. Rather than bouncing your traffic through intermediary nodes, a VPN creates a secure tunnel directly from your device to the VPN server.
Here are the key steps for how VPNs work:
- You initiate a VPN connection from your device and get routed to a VPN server.
- Your traffic gets encrypted and sent through the VPN tunnel to the server.
- The VPN server decrypts the traffic then sends it out to the public internet.
- Responses get encrypted again and passed back to you through the tunnel.
Image source: Comparitech
This accomplishes a few important things:
- Your IP address is hidden behind the VPN server‘s IP address.
- Your ISP can‘t see or track the sites and services you use.
- Your data is protected from snooping or man-in-the-middle attacks.
On top of that, many VPNs also have beneficial features like:
- Kill switches – Cuts off the internet if your VPN drops to avoid IP leaks.
- Split tunneling – Allows you to route only some apps through the VPN.
- Perfect forward secrecy – Generates new encryption keys frequently to limit past data exposure if a key gets cracked.
- SOCKS5 web proxy – Allows you to route other programs‘ traffic through the VPN tunnel.
According to a 2021 GlobalWebIndex survey, over 25% of internet users worldwide now use a VPN. The level of security depends greatly on the specific VPN provider and their policies. But generally, VPNs provide robust protection for everyday web browsing and communications.
How VPNs Compare to Tor
|The Onion Router (Tor)||VPN|
|Encryption strength||Very strong – uses multiple encryption layers||Varies by provider – strongest use AES 256-bit or greater|
|Anonymity level||Very high – hiding IP is the primary aim||Moderate – hides IP but VPN provider still knows who you are|
|Speed impact||Significant slowdown due to multiple nodes traffic must pass through||Minimal impact for most VPNs|
|Geo-restriction evasion||Limited due to IP blocklists – not all streaming services work||Works very well to spoof location and access region-restricted content|
|Censorship circumvention||Excellent for bypassing firewalls and blocks – main purpose is uncensored access||Good but not guaranteed to bypass all censorship depending on IP blocks|
|Cost||Free||Generally a paid subscription service starting around $2/month|
|Usage difficulty||Moderate difficulty – requires installing the Tor browser||Easy for most providers – just need to install app and connect|
|Legality issues||Generally legal but associating with dark web illegal activity; Russia recently banned Tor||Depends on country – many restrict or ban VPNs; China tries to actively block VPN access|
As you can see, Tor and VPNs each have unique strengths when it comes to security and privacy. Using them together helps overcome the weakness of either one alone.
Onion over VPN – A Powerful Privacy Combo
Now that we‘ve covered how Tor and VPNs work independently, let‘s look at why running Tor through a VPN creates such a powerful privacy solution.
How Onion over VPN works
Using Tor over VPN is simple:
- Connect your device to a VPN server to encrypt traffic and hide your true IP.
- Once connected, launch the Tor browser to access the Tor network.
- Tor will bounce your already-encrypted VPN traffic through a series of relays for further obfuscation.
This builds significant redundancy into hiding your IP address and encrypting your data. Here‘s a visual summary:
Image source: Prism-Break.org
Based on this layered approach, we can summarize the key benefits:
- VPN masks your home IP so your ISP can‘t pinpoint Tor usage.
- Tor entry nodes only see the VPN IP so your identity stays hidden.
- VPN provider doesn‘t know your activity on the Tor network.
- Initial encryption through VPN tunnel.
- Traffic encrypted 2-3 more times as Tor bounces through relays.
- Provides redundancy if one layer gets compromised.
- VPN helps bypass regional firewalls to access Tor network.
- Tor defeats targeted communication blocks and filtering.
- VPN shields your IP from ISP logging and surveillance.
- Tor removes metadata like geolocation and device fingerprints.
Experts like the Electronic Frontier Foundation recommend using a VPN with Tor to reduce side-channel surveillance risks. The more layers of security, the better!
Who benefits from Onion over VPN?
Given its ability to maximize online anonymity, there are several key groups who stand to benefit the most from Onion over VPN:
- Activists & journalists – Especially those operating under oppressive regimes who need to protect sources.
- Whistleblowers exposing corruption – Critical for concealing their identity and location.
- Political dissidents & protesters – Shields them from surveillance that could lead to arrest or violence.
- Security researchers – Allowing investigation without revealing themselves to cybercriminals.
- Regular users in high-risk environments – Victims of stalking and abuse need added online protection.
- Travelers in foreign countries – Prevents spoofing of location and unwarranted searches.
So while Onion over VPN may seem overkill for casual home web surfing, for those in dangerous contexts it can provide a real lifeline for communication.
Onion over VPN vs. Other Privacy Tools
Tor and VPNs are not the only options for boosting online privacy. How does Onion over VPN compare with some other popular privacy solutions?
|Onion over VPN||Proxy Servers||Incognito/Private Browsing|
|Anonymity||Excellent – hides IP address completely||Moderate – reveals IP to proxy provider||Very poor – still reveals IP and metadata|
|Encryption||Very strong with multiple layers||None by default – encrypted proxies available||Minimal encryption|
|Geo-restriction evasion||Very effective for accessing region-locked content||Varies by proxy – IP-based blocks can prevent access||No effect|
|Malware protection||Strong – VPN inspects traffic for threats||Limited – depends on proxy provider||None|
|Speed||Slower than normal browsing due to onion routing||Minimal slowdown for most proxies||No noticeable impact|
|Cost||Paid VPN + free Tor browser||Free public proxies; paid proxies $5-10/month||Free built-in feature|
|Ease of use||Moderately difficult – requires installing VPN app and Tor browser||Easy – just set proxy settings in browser||Very easy to activate|
As you can see, Onion over VPN provides the strongest overall privacy protection compared to other options. Proxies are the next closest alternative if you‘re looking for something simpler.
Onion over VPN Drawbacks
Of course, enhancing privacy using Onion over VPN does come with some downsides and risks to consider as well:
- Significantly slower internet – All the encryption routing takes a toll on speeds. General web browsing can feel laggy.
- Disrupts real-time apps – Onion routing latencies make gaming, video chat, live sports streaming etc. frustrating.
- Blacklisted by some services – Many sites block access from Tor node IP addresses. Certain providers like Disney+ block VPNs.
- Requires paid VPN subscription – Free VPNs are not reliable. Must budget $2 to $10 per month for quality paid VPN.
- Complex to set up and maintain – Understanding and implementing VPNs and Tor takes time for less tech-savvy users.
- Raises red flags if misused – Heavy use of anonymity tools could attract unwanted government attention in some countries.
- Associated with dark web illegal activity – Some stigma still exists around Tor‘s role in facilitating drug and weapons trafficking.
The additional complexity and speed tradeoffs may outweigh the benefits for casual browsing on trusted home networks. But for those prioritizing privacy, Onion over VPN remains a gold standard.
Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Started
Ready to give Onion over VPN a try? Here‘s a quick step-by-step guide to getting set up:
1. Choose a VPN provider
2. Download the VPN app
Install the app for your computer OS, iOS, Android, or other device platform.
3. Connect to a VPN server
Launch the VPN app, log in, and connect to a server. Make sure the VPN is actively shielding your IP address.
4. Verify your IP address
Google "what is my IP" to confirm your device‘s IP matches the VPN server‘s IP, not your ISP‘s.
5. Download the Tor browser
Go to www.torproject.org and download the Tor browser for your operating system.
6. Run Tor over the VPN
Launch the Tor browser while connected to your VPN. Tor will now route through the VPN tunnel.
That‘s all there is to it! You now have an encrypted, anonymized connection routed through VPN and onion networks.
Top VPNs for Onion over VPN
If you‘re convinced of the privacy benefits of Onion over VPN, which VPN provider should you choose? Here are my top recommendations:
Overall Best VPN: NordVPN
With over 5,200 servers worldwide, rock-solid encryption, and easy setup, NordVPN is my top pick for pairing with Tor.
- Apps for all major platforms
- Onion over VPN support
- Double VPN and SOCKS5 proxy
- Strict zero-logs policy
- Automatic kill switch
- 2048-bit encryption + Perfect Forward Secrecy
- Malware/tracker blocking
One of the few downsides is that NordVPN is unable to unblock Netflix. But for frictionless operation with Tor, you can‘t go wrong.
Most Secure: ProtonVPN
Developed by scientists who met at CERN, ProtonVPN offers leading-edge security features.
- P2P and Onion over VPN support
- Secure Core servers
- Perfect Forward Secrecy
- Swiss base with strong privacy laws
- Open source clients
- Free limited plan available
- Allows torrenting
With heavy open source auditing and encryption, ProtonVPN is ideal if security is your foremost concern. Speeds and streaming unblocking capabilities are average.
Fastest Speeds: ExpressVPN
With excellent global performance and reliability, ExpressVPN is the fastest VPN for use with Tor.
- Lightning-fast network speed
- Simple one-click connect
- Works with Netflix
- Apps for all devices
- Unlimited bandwidth
- Top-tier 256-bit AES encryption
- 3,000+ servers in 94 countries
Speed comes at a premium though – ExpressVPN is among the most expensive providers. But you get what you pay for in fast Tor performance.
The Bottom Line
Online privacy matters. While tools like VPNs and Tor help, combining them with Onion over VPN takes protection to the max. If you live under an oppressive government, speak truth to power, or want your data to stay far out of reach from prying eyes, Onion over VPN is a powerful solution.
To recap, here are my main recommendations on getting started:
- Pick NordVPN, ProtonVPN, or ExpressVPN for reliable service.
- Make sure to have VPN active before launching Tor.
- Accept the speed tradeoff for rock-solid anonymity.
- Use common sense – avoid illegal dark web activities.
- Set up two-factor authentication on accounts for added security.
It will take some adjusting to work smoothly, but ultimately Onion over VPN can be a lifeline to getting informed and speaking freely online. Stay safe out there!