Should You Enable Tor on Your SmartPhone with Orbot?
August 4, 2015
Lately, I spent a great deal of time focusing on the importance of protecting your identity online. Every person experiences different life altering, or as I like to call them, teaching moments, where their outlook evolves. Two years ago I became a victim of identity fraud. Why and how? That’s beside the point. The main reason being was due to my own negligence. I made myself the victim with stupid behavior and decisions. The experience shaped my perspective and awareness for security and privacy online.
Today let’s turn the spotlight on Tor and Orbot. As mentioned in previous blog posts, Tor has a vast community of supporters, praise from government agencies and security experts, and even critics who question its validity. I am not here to question the latter like others.
What is Orbot?
Tor supposedly offers almost complete anonymity when browsing online on the Desktop. There exists no Tor mobile browser, but the Tor community developed a set of applications, including Orbot and Orweb, that go utilize the Tor network and are designed to interact with other applications such as Twitter and DuckDuckGo search.
For most people their Samsung Galaxy S6, iPhone 6 or other smartphone is their main computing device. They may work from a laptop or desktop workstation between 9-5, but their smartphone never leaves their side. Shouldn’t you establish the same privacy habits and safeguards on those mobile devices?
I ask this question to examine the necessity of Orbot and Tor centric applications for mobile devices. You should question your reliance on proprietary software such as the Chrome mobile browser.
Can Orweb or Orfox Compensate for Chrome?
The decision to use Orweb on your device is personal and nothing more. The Guardian Project, the organization responsible for Tor development, plans on releasing a public beta of Orfox soon. I will address Orfox below, but a number of the discussion points for Orweb should apply to Orfox.
Before you declare Tor for mobile an absolute necessary for personal privacy, ask yourself these questions:
How often do I use my mobile web browser?
Despite the consistency in which I use my Samsung Galaxy S5 for everything, mobile browsing sits at the very bottom of applications used. Search does redirect queries to external browsers, but ever since I jumped from Google Search to DuckDuckGo search, queries stay contained within the DuckDuckGo application. In the DuckDuckGo settings, you can set it to never use an external browser. Now Chrome remains a useless application sitting pretty in the background.
Are you willing to sacrific battery power for privacy?
For Orweb to properly function through the Tor network, Orbot needs to start and stay running on your device. Therefore it takes two applications for web browsing. If you account for not being able to uninstall locked mobile browsers that arrive with the smartphone, such as Chrome for Android and Safari for the iOS, then add another application to the device RAM.
The addition of Orbot and Orweb takes up space and eats up battery power. The comfort of knowing your internet browsing activity stays anonymous with Tor may require sacrifices. Do you think this compromise is justified?
You could gain root access to the device and toss Chrome and all other locked applications to free up space.
Is application functionality a concern?
Orweb’s functionality is uncomparable to Chrome. You are almost always going to sacrifice functionality when enhancing security, especially if you want anonymity. There’s no way around this issue.
Functionality may become less of a concern with eventual arrival of Orfox.
Lightning Browser and Orfox Web Browsers
The Lightning Browser provides a light-weight mobile browsing solution, but without all the features and functions of the Tor browser. This browser gives the impatient user, like myself, an alternative without giving up functionality and speed for Tor.
Those privacy-minded individuals who love Tor need to wait a little longer for Orfox, Orweb’s successor. Orfox combines Firefox for Android with configuration settings from the Tor desktop browser for a better and secure mobile browsing experience. The push for Orfox will utlimately mean the end of Orweb.