News Tor vs VPN: Key Difference and Which One to Choose?

Alex Wright

Editorial Team
Editorial Team
May 7, 2021

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and The Onion Router (Tor) are two of the most popular tools for protecting your privacy and anonymity online. But they work in different ways and are suited for different use cases. This article examines the key differences between VPNs and Tor to help you decide which one to use.

How VPNs Work​

A VPN is a mediator between your device and all the internet traffic. It works by adding an extra layer of protection by creating an encrypted tunnel between the device and a server provided by a VPN service. This hides your real IP address and location. VPN services usually have servers in many countries, allowing you to choose where to appear to be connecting from.

VPNs encrypt your data twice - once on your device before it enters the tunnel and again by the VPN server before it goes out to the public internet. This prevents anyone from spying on your activity, even your ISP or the VPN provider. If you wish to get trustworthy VPN software, you can go to the Surfshark download page and download it on multiple devices.

How Tor Works​

Tor works by routing your traffic through a series of relay servers run by volunteers around the world. Your data is encrypted multiple times as it passes through each relay, similar to peeling the layers of an onion. The encryption also changes at each hop.

This makes it very difficult to trace traffic back to its original source. The exit relay connecting to the destination website will not know your true IP address or location.

Key Differences​


VPNs are much faster than Tor. With a good VPN service, you may see little to no speed reduction versus your normal connection. Tor will slow down your browsing significantly due to the extra hops and encryption layers.

Encryption Scope​

A VPN encrypts all device traffic, while a Tor Browser only encrypts traffic within the browser itself. VPNs provide more complete protection.


Both hide your IP address, but Tor offers stronger anonymity due to multi-hop routing and not needing to trust a VPN provider. However, VPNs are still very private if no logs are kept.


Quality VPNs start around $2-10 per month. Tor is free to use.

Streaming & Torrenting​

VPNs work well for streaming and torrenting. Tor is not suitable due to slow speeds.

Device Support​

VPN apps are available for all major platforms. Tor Browser only works on desktop operating systems.

Setup & Use​

VPNs are very easy to use. Just install the app and connect. Tor requires manually configuring the browser.

Which Should You Choose?​

For most people, a VPN is the better everyday privacy solution. It offers excellent protection with fast speeds and easy use. VPNs are great for activities like:
  • Accessing region-blocked content
  • Public WiFi security
  • Torrenting
  • Hiding internet activity from your ISP

Tor is recommended if you need maximum anonymity. The multi-hop routing offers robust protection against surveillance and traffic analysis. Tor also allows accessing hidden ".onion" sites on the dark web. Use cases include:
  • Whistleblowing or activism under oppressive regimes
  • Journalistic work with sensitive sources

Some other factors to consider:
  • VPNs can leak identifying DNS requests outside the tunnel. Use Tor if this is a concern.
  • Tor entry/exit nodes can be monitored. Add a VPN for extra protection.
  • Tor is slower but can better withstand targeted blocking or denial of service attacks.

VPNs and Tor both have an important role in online privacy. Evaluate your personal needs and threat model to decide which one to use or combine them for maximum security.
I use one called Secure VPN on my mobile. I think the best one overall is ExpressVPN, but you have to buy a subscription.

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