How to use the Tor browser on an Android device

Tor can safeguard your browsing activities on an Android device via a new app in alpha release. Here's how to use and tweak it.

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Image: Tor

Designed to protect and secure your web browsing, Tor has been a popular browser for Windows, macOS, and Linux; Tor is also testing the waters on Android. Currently available in Google Play as an alpha release, Tor can be installed on any Android phone or tablet.

Like its desktop counterpart, Tor for Android blocks ads and prevents third-party trackers from snooping on your online activity. Cookies are removed automatically when you sign out of a site. Tor also prevents advertisers and other companies from monitoring and analyzing your web traffic to see what sites you visit. The people behind Tor are planning a final, stable release for Android, but in the meantime, you can check out the alpha version to test its privacy and security benefits.

SEE: How to protect against 10 common browser threats (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

How to use and customize the Tor app for Android

First, download and install Tor on your device from Google Play. To use the alpha release of Tor, you also need to install Orbot, which serves as a proxy application to connect Tor with the Tor network--the ultimate goal is to remove this requirement for the future stable release of Tor for Android.

Fire up the Tor app. Tap the Connect button to make the initial connection to the Tor network. The About Tor website opens where you can swipe from one section to another to learn about some of Tor's features. At the last section, tap the Go To Explore link to start browsing with Tor.

To open a new tab in Tor, tap the + sign in the upper right, or tap the three-dot icon and select New Tab. You may want to block any web trackers from snooping on your activity. To do this, tap the three-dot icon and select New Private Tab. The new private browsing page you open will block any elements that may track your browsing activity and won't be saved as part of your browsing history.

You can continue to open more tabs this way. To manage your tabbed pages, tap the number to the left of the three-dot icon. At the tab page, you can now close a page by tapping on its X. You can close all open pages by tapping the three-dot icon and selecting Close All Tabs.

SEE: Tor traffic from individual Android apps detected with 97 percent accuracy (ZDNet)

Next, you may want to tweak the security settings in Tor. To do this from any open webpage, tap the three-dot icon, swipe down the menu, and select Security Settings. The default Standard Security Setting is the most open and usable but least secure option as it enables all Tor browser and website features. If you want to test Tor against potential attacks and dangerous websites, you can adjust the security slider to Safer or Safest.

With the Safer setting enabled, HTML5 video and audio media become click-to-play via NoScript, all JavaScript performance optimizations are disabled, some mathematical equations may not display properly, some font rendering features are disabled, some types of images are disabled, and JavaScript is disabled by default on all non-HTTPS sites.

The Safest setting includes all of the restrictions from the Safer setting, but most video and audio formats are disabled, JavaScript is disabled by default on all sites, and some fonts and icons may not display correctly.

You can explore other settings for security and privacy. Tap the three-dot icon and select Settings. At the Settings screen, tap the Search setting. In light of its focus on user privacy, DuckDuckGo is the default search engine, though you can change that to Google, Bing, or another site.

SEE: Hiring kit: Android developer (Tech Pro Research)

From the Settings screen, go to Privacy. You can turn on the Do Not Track option; however, this option has fallen out of favor and support among other browsers so you may want to leave it off. You can enable tracking protection for all sites you visit or only for those you open in private browsing mode. You can tweak cookies so they're disabled for all sites, disabled for third-party sites, or enabled for all sites. By default, all private data is removed when you close Tor, though you can disable this option if necessary.

Finally, open the setting to Clear private data. You can manually erase open tabs, browsing history, search history, downloads, form history, cookies, cache, and offline website data.

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