Some VPN providers offer Tor over VPN services, which let you use Tor and a VPN at the same time. In other cases you can simply log in to a VPN and then use the Tor browser. Do such configurations actually increase your privacy? Here are some considerations.
Let’s start with the advantages of running Tor over VPN. (We’re assuming you log into a VPN, then start Tor. You can do the reverse, too, but that configuration has different implications and is not covered here.) These advantages include:
- Your ISP and government monitors won’t know you are using Tor (unless your VPN provider reveals that information to them).
- Your VPN provider won’t be able to track which sites you visit in the Tor browser or other torified apps.
- The VPN will provide protection against private data that could leak through Tor. For example, since Tor in most configurations only protects traffic from your browser, other apps that connect to the Internet aren’t private when using Tor alone. With a VPN in the mix, they are.
But there are also some drawbacks to running Tor over VPN, including:
- Your VPN provider will know you are using Tor. If you trust your VPN provider not to log your connection information or share it with government authorities, this won’t be an issue. But Tor over VPN is a privacy risk if you don’t trust your VPN company.
- Since Tor is much slower than most VPN services, using Tor over VPN will greatly reduce your network bandwidth even if your VPN is fast.
- Practically speaking, using Tor over VPN doesn’t make your online activity any more difficult for third parties to monitor in most situations than it would be if you used VPN alone — with the exception of your VPN provider, which can still log you activity whether or not you use Tor. Given this, the performance drawback of Tor over VPN may not be worth it.
In general, we think that running Tor over VPN is not worth it for most people. But in certain situations — like if you use a free VPN provider that you don’t really trust — it can add some vital privacy. To decide whether it is right for you, consider the details of your situation.