VPNs and Tor are used for similar reasons, yet they differ a lot. Both have their strengths.
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) creates an encrypted tunnel between your computer (or phone, or tablet – whatever you use to connect to internet) and a VPN server. Your traffic will be encrypted and unreadable between your computer and the VPN server.
The rest of the internet cannot know which address or location you come from, because the only source for your traffic appears to be the VPN server. This will enable you to stay anonymous online, hide your IP address, change your IP location and make you safe on any WiFi hotspot.
Tor (short for The Onion Router) is a decentralized overlay network that you can access with a Tor Browser. Its main mission is to enable anonymous communication. It also hosts onion services which are hidden from the open internet. The Tor network is ran by volunteers.
The Tor Browser allows you to browse the internet and the onion sites encrypted and anonymously. However, it does not provide absolute unbreakable anonymity, as if the enter and exit nodes are compromised, the traffic and its source can be traced.
When you browse with a Tor browser, your traffic gets encrypted, sent to the first Tor node and routed through random Tor routers. This anonymizes your traffic and hides your location. Because your data gets bounced back and forth in the network, the speeds you get from Tor network are slow. This renders it inconvenient for normal internet use.
The upside of Tor is that it is available to everybody. It doesn’t cost a thing, as it is run by volunteers.
The most obvious upside for VPN is its speed compared to Tor. Paid VPN services have the budget to purchase bandwidth for their customers. Volunteer-run Tor doesn’t have this luxury.
When you pay for VPN, you choose who you trust. You have somebody whose business depends on your trust. On Tor network you trust that the anonymous volunteers don’t abuse your trust.
Because Tor is also extensively used for illegitimate uses – not exclusively, though, which deserves a mention – access to Tor is blocked in many places where a VPN would be working just fine.
If you choose to take up VPN, we recommend our F-Secure FREEDOME VPN. You can try it 5 days for free, no credit card or even an email address needed.