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A Guide to Using Tor on Android: Apps, Privacy, and More

Tor Browser is the world’s most popular method for accessing the dark web. Most of the time, people use Tor Browser on their regular computer. That’s because, by and large, it’s easier to use and make sure everything is working correctly than on mobile.

However, Android versions of Tor Browser do exist. The Tor Project recently released its first official Android version of the Tor Browser—but it isn’t the only option.

Here’s what you need to know about Orfox, Orbot, and the official Android Tor Browser to decide which one is best.

What Is the Official Tor Project Android Tor Browser?

For many years, Tor Browser users requested an official Android version. Their desire came true in September 2018, when the Tor Blog announced the alpha release of Tor Browser for Android.

The Tor Project recognized that mobile browsing is not only on the rise, but in some parts of the world, it’s the only way to get online. At the same time, online surveillance and censorship continue to rise, especially in those areas where mobile internet access is the norm. This resulted in the first official Android Tor Browser.

The Android Tor Browser has everything you would expect:

  • Blocks third-party trackers and other forms of surveillance
  • Stops unique browser fingerprinting
  • Multi-layered encryption to protect your data
  • Uses the Tor network to keep the source of data secure
  • Allows access to websites censored by ISPs
  • Allows access to Tor hidden services

Most importantly, the new official Android Tor Browser app will receive frequent updates. That means the official app will receive security and feature improvements. Whereas the alternatives, as you will read below, won’t.

What Are Orfox and Orbot?

Before the official Android Tor Browser release, there was Orfox and Orbot.

  • Orfox is the version of Tor Browser that the Tor Project recommended before the official release.
  • Orbot is a proxy app that routes your mobile data through the Tor network.

The Guardian Project worked with the Tor Project to develop these apps, which allowed Android users access to the Tor network. However, with the release of the official stable Android Tor Browser, Orfox will be phased out and stop receiving updates.

For the time being, Orfox will remain on Google Play.

Can You Still Use Orbot?

Unlike Orfox, Orbot will remain available and still receive occasional updates. You can use it for other apps on your Android device to route their traffic through Orbot, like a VPN.

Orbot has some handy features that distinguish it from your regular VPN. For instance, Orbot encrypts your traffic, then it passes through several nodes scattered across the globe. In contrast, your regular VPN encrypts your data but then connects you directly.

This configuration has another major difference: speed. There is a strong chance that your regular VPN is much faster than Orbot. Orbot’s node routing means it takes longer for your data to find its destination. It is more secure, but slower.

The first few alpha versions of the official Android Tor Browser required the Orbot app to route traffic through the Tor network. However, the most recent versions can now route the traffic through Tor without Orbot.

Download: Orbot for Android (Free)

How to Install and Set Up Tor Browser on Android

Now you know why the development of the official Tor Browser for Android is great for privacy and security. Let’s next look at how you set it up. Follow these steps:

  1. On your Android device, open Google Play. Search for official Tor Browser and install the app.
    1. The official version has a purple onion logo. (The Alpha test version has a green onion logo—you want the purple stable version.)
  2. When the app opens, hit Connect. The connecting process can take a minute or longer, depending on your network connection.
  3. After connecting, it’s a good idea to run a test. There are two simple ways to test if your connection is routing through the Tor network.
    1. Type what is my ip in the Tor Browser search bar. DuckDuckGo will display the IP address the search request originated from. You can tap one of the links to find out exactly where your data appears to come from.
    2. Head to the Hidden Wiki. The Hidden Wiki is a directory of sorts for the dark web. It’s an onion site, meaning that unless you have the correct browser configuration, you won’t be able access it.
  4. You are now using the official Android Tor Browser correctly.

Download: Tor Browser for Android (Free)

Android Tor Browser Security Settings

We generally don’t advise poking around the Tor Browser settings. That goes for Android, desktop, or otherwise. A misconfigured Tor Browser can expose your data, making you less secure.

That said, there is one security setting you should get to grips with. The Tor Security Level slider lets you adjust the browser’s security setting to these levels:

  • Standard: All Tor Browser and website features are enabled.
  • Safer: Disables website features that are often dangerous. This includes JavaScript on non-HTTPS sites, some fonts and symbols, and all audio and video media becoming click-to-play.
  • Safest: Only allows website features required for static sites and basic services. This includes JavaScript on all sites, fonts, icons, math symbols, and images. All audio and video media becomes click-to-play.

If you want to use Tor Browser as a daily driver, Standard will let you browse the clearnet (that’s the regular internet, rather than the dark web) almost as normal. You might encounter some issues, as certain sites complain if you don’t allow tracking.

If you want to boost your privacy, look at the Safer and Safest options. These options make browsing the clearnet difficult as the number of sites that rely upon JavaScript for at least part of their development is enormous. (By the way, did you know Facebook has its own Tor site?)

To change your slider level, tap the three-dot icon in the top-right of the Tor Browser, then select Security Settings. (See the images above for reference.)

Should You Use a VPN With Tor?

I would advise you to use a VPN with Tor, on both your desktop and mobile devices. If the Tor network connection drops, the VPN will at least provide a second layer of security for your data. It will take extra time for websites and services to load, but it does vastly increase your privacy. Having said that, it does somewhat depend on what you’re using Tor for.

If you use Tor to access censored data or to avoid an oppressive government, then yes, definitely use a VPN in addition to Tor. The extra time it takes to load a site is better than your data falling into the wrong hands.

And if you’re going to use a VPN, make sure to use a paid-for option. A log-free, paid-for VPN will protect your privacy should the authorities come knocking. A free VPN that tracks your data will always have something to hand over.

MakeUseOf regularly updates our list of the best VPNs. One of our favorite VPN providers is ExpressVPN; grab an ExpressVPN subscription using our link and receive three months extra FREE.

What’s the Best Tor Browser for Android?

The official Tor Project Android Tor Browser still has a few little issues. For instance, you can read in the Google Play app listing that some Android Q users experience problems. Others report that you cannot view the route your data takes between your device and the site, while still other comments advise their device cannot make a connection at all.

These are, however, all issues that the Tor Project will fix over time. Furthermore, there are many users accustomed to Orfox, so it’ll take some time for everyone to switch over. But for the time being, the official Android Tor Browser has become the best way to access Tor on your Android device.

Want to learn more about the dark web? Sign up for the free MakeUseOf deep and dark web email course, and check out the best dark web websites.

Read the full article: A Guide to Using Tor on Android: Apps, Privacy, and More


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