Tor: Super Anonymous Web Browsing for Firefox (Easy!)

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Paranoid? Try Tor (free!), it bounces all your Internet activity around a network of thousands of other servers/proxies (people like you), making it impossible to track your location or activity.

Tor works on Tiger and Leopard, but it’s best if you’re using Firefox (because Tor includes a one-click enabler plug-in for Firefox). Tor installation is a breeze as the installer package actually installs and configures four smaller programs:

1) Vidalia – GUI for Tor
2) Tor – a system for using the Internet anonymously
3) Privoxy – a filtering web proxy that integrates well with Tor
4) Torbutton – a 1-click way for Firefox users to enable or disable the browser’s use of Tor

I tried both the Stable and Unstable Mac versions and they both installed correctly. According to the instructions, I should have been good to go (except they forget to tell you to “Open Vidalia”). I opened Vidalia, opened Firefox, enabled Tor within Firefox, and I was anonymous.

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A Couple Notes

It took about 2 minutes after enabling Tor in Firefox (at least the first time) for it to be ready to start surfing (it has to connect to other network clients so you can jump around anonymously). You can track it’s progress in the Vidalia “Message Log.” If you try surfing before Tor is ready, you’ll probably get something like this:

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The main difference you’ll notice when Tor is enabled is that web surfing is much slower. Instead of hopping around servers in your city or country, Tor jumps across the world multiple times to cover your tracks – that takes time. My typical down/up speed is 8000kbps/800kbps; with Tor enable, it was about a 1/10th the speed (sometimes slower):

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If you try to search for something in google, google will automatically redirect itself to the google page made for the country it thinks you are located in. So, searching can be difficult when google thinks your in Poland and search results are in Polish! Some other web sites that use location (i.e. weather, movies, store locators) won’t work properly.

On my business website, I have an application that allows me to track where people are coming from. When I visited my page using Tor, instead of showing Burbank, CA, it showed Berlin and always from a different IP address (after clicking “Use a New Identity).

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The Vidalia application includes some other cool features: one-click ability to “change identities,” a map of all the current relay points you may be directed to, and a bandwidth graph to let you know when it’s working.

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Overall, Tor is awesome! It’s easy enough for just about ANY Mac user to install. I highly recommend it if you’re concerned about having the ultimate privacy when surfing the web, even if only on a rare occasion.

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