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Tor Browser without Tor

Tor Browser is a fork of the Mozilla Firefox web browser with numerous enhancements for improved security and privacy. It routes all traffic through the Tor network (henceforth referred to as 'Tor') to make it impossible for the recipient of data packets (e.g. a server hosting a website)—as well as any third party—to see who sent it. [1]

But it is also possible (and easy!) to use Tor Browser without Tor and take advantage of its excellent enhancements for reducing linkability, that is, "the ability for a user's activity on one site to be linked with their activity on another site without their knowledge or explicit consent." [2] Tor Browser offers better protection from online tracking than Firefox, Google Chrome/Chromium or Microsoft Edge, especially against fingerprinting, without any customization necessary.[3]

To Do / Questions[edit]

  • Make the instructions clearer.
  • How to: Create a desktop shortcut, change the logo of the shortcut (at least in Windows).
  • Test whether two instances of Tor Browser Bundle (TBB) run simultaneously - one with Tor enabled, one without - interfere with each other. This does not seem to be the case based on preliminary tests.
  • Change the name and logo of the browser.
  • Note that TBB notifies of updates, even if Tor is disabled.
  • Investigate better methods of changing browser settings other than creating a user.js file or manually editing about:config.
  • In order to use a clearnet Tor Browser in addition to Tor Browser (using Tor), copy the directory and change shortcut paths.
  • --allow-remote
  • How to use Tor Browser without Tor in Whonix.

Instructions[edit]

Sourcing and Installing Tor Browser[edit]

  • Windows: Follow the instructions in this guide from EFF's Surveillance Self Defence, until the section "Using Tor Browser".

  • macOS: Follow the instructions in this guide from EFF's Surveillance Self Defence, until the section "Using Tor Browser Bundle".

  • Linux: Download Tor Browser Bundle (TBB), preferably by installing Tor Browser Launcher. This will download the most recent version of TBB, verify its integrity and store it in ~/.local/share/torbrowser.

    • If Debian or any of its derivatives (Ubuntu, Mint) is being used, run sudo apt-get install torbrowser-launcher.
    • Fedora users can run sudo dnf install torbrowser-launcher.

    Start Tor Browser Launcher by running torbrowser-launcher.

    Tor Browser Launcher automatically opens Tor Browser when finished. When Tor Browser starts for the first time it asks for "Tor Network Settings" to be set. It is safe to click Quit, as Tor will not be used.

Disabling Tor[edit]

  1. Open the profile.default directory.
    • Windows:
    • macOS:
    • Linux: Navigate to ~/.local/share/torbrowser/tbb/x86_64/tor-browser_en-US/Browser/Tor Browser/Data/Browser/profile.default/. Note: x86_64/tor-browser_en-US may vary depending on locale and processor architecture.
  2. Create a new file named user.js with the following contents and save it to that directory. Changes to Tor Browser's extensions[4] can be entered here, but further changes will need to be made in Tor Browser.

    // Allow user-configured proxy settings
    user_pref("extensions.torbutton.use_nontor_proxy", true);
    // Disable TorLauncher extension
    user_pref("extensions.torlauncher.prompt_at_startup", false);
    user_pref("extensions.torlauncher.start_tor", false);
    
  3. Alternatively, preferences can be set manually via about:config in Tor Browser's address bar. The preferences that need changing are in quotes in the user.js above, with the corresponding values they need to be set to.

  4. Start Tor Browser.

    • Windows: Change the icon.
    • macOS:
    • Linux: Run ~/.local/share/torbrowser/tbb/x86_64/tor-browser_en-US/Browser/start-tor-browser.

    It is necessary to change the proxy configuration. In about:config, change network.proxy.socks_remote_dns to false and network.proxy.type to 0. Check your settings by navigating to about:tor and clicking the "Test Tor Network Settings" link. A page should appear saying "Sorry. You are not using Tor." If an error page appears stating the proxy server is refusing connections, then something is wrong with the proxy settings.

Optional Steps[edit]

  • Windows: Change the icon.
  • macOS: Undetermined.
  • Linux: Create a desktop shortcut.

Normalizing Tor Browser Behavior[edit]

  • Consider setting the Security Slider to "low’". The extra security features enabled by default come at a cost; they prevent some webpages from working properly. That is why other browsers disable them by default.
  • How to set preferences. Click on the three horizontal bars in the upper-right corner of the Tor Browser window (the "hamburger" symbol). Select "Preferences" in the menu that pops up.
  • How to prevent Tor Browser from deleting the browsing and download history as well as all cookies when it closes. By default Tor Browser always uses private browsing mode. To disable it: Preferences -> click the "Privacy" tab on the left-hand side -> uncheck "Always use private browsing mode". The browser needs to restart for the changes to take effect.

    However, by disabling the private browsing mode, Tor Browser's built-in "long-term linkability" protections are deactivated. The user loses protection which aims to prevent "subsequent browser activity from being linkable to what you were doing before" whenever Tor Browser is closed or the 'New Identity' menu item is selected. The latter option involves a lot more than simply deleting all cookies. [5] If a user still wants to disable private browsing mode, then installing one or more anti-blocking extensions is advisable (see below).

  • Anti-tracking browser extensions. The Tor Project FAQ states:

    Some people have suggested we include ad-blocking software or anti-tracking software with Tor Browser. Right now, we do not think that's such a good idea. Tor Browser aims to provide sufficient privacy that additional add-ons to stop ads and trackers are not necessary. Using add-ons like these may cause some sites to break, which we don't want to do. Additionally, maintaining a list of "bad" sites that should be black-listed provides another opportunity to uniquely fingerprint users.

    Despite this opinion, if a user disables some of Tor Browser's own anti-tracking features (like private browsing mode; see above), then it is logical to to install one or more extensions that make it harder to track later browsing. The extensions Disconnect, Privacy Badger[6] and uBlock Origin are all open-source and are generally recommended. Research which one(s) may be most suitable in the circumstances; their use cases are different.

  • How to save a cookie for future use. See these instructions on Tor Stack Exchange. This option requires the private browsing mode to be disabled.
  • How to make Tor Browser remember passwords. First, disable private browsing mode (see above). Next: Preferences -> click the "Security" tab on the left-hand side -> check "Remember login for sites". The browser may need to be restarted for the changes to take effect.

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. See https://www.torproject.org/about/overview.html.
  2. https://www.torproject.org/projects/torbrowser/design/#privacy
  3. See The Design and Implementation of the Tor Browser.
  4. The user preference "extensions.torbutton.use_nontor_proxy" is a hidden preference that will allow user-configured proxy configurations. It will disable Tor Browser's stream isolation, but in this configuration Tor is already disabled. See Tor's bug tracker for more information.
  5. See https://www.torproject.org/projects/torbrowser/design/#new-identity
  6. The browser might need to be restarted for it to work.

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