If you’re looking for a new VPN, you may have seen that a number of VPN providers offer the option of “Onion over VPN”. The use of “Onion” means that this setting is used to connect your VPN to the Tor (The Onion Router) network. Enabling this setting connects your VPN server to the Tor network.
This means that any browser can be used to access hidden onion services, rather than having to use the specifically designed Tor browser. Enabling “Onion over VPN” is as simple as toggling the option’s slider, and the VPN will then automatically connect to the Tor network and you can start browsing hidden onion services.
Why use this feature?
Connecting to the Tor network through the “Onion over VPN” feature protects your home IP address from being visible to the Tor entry node you connect to. Using “Onion over VPN” also prevents your ISP from being able to see that you’ve connected to the Tor network, as they’ll only be able to see that you’ve connected to your normal VPN provider.
For Onion over VPN connections, your device will connect to your VPN server, then connect to the Tor network through an entry node. Once in the Tor network, your connection will be passed through a relay node and then leave the network via an exit node to connect to the target website. Think of it as a tunnel through which you arrive at your target site.
The use of three randomly selected nodes in the Tor network is designed to limit the information available to each node. The entry node only knows your IP address, in this case, the IP address of your VPN provider. The exit node only knows the URL of the site being connected to. The relay node is used to ensure that the entry and exit nodes never directly communicate, making it significantly more difficult to de-anonymise any network traffic when compared to one or even two VPN servers chained together.
Using the Tor network comes with a performance impact due to the use of four VPN servers, including your VPN provider’s server. As such, it’s not really suitable for every-day usage, you should only use the “Onion over VPN” setting if you actively want to access hidden onion services. You’ll find browsing websites a fair bit slower than it would otherwise be.