FYI: Tor Browser is very much still a thing and getting updates

Version 12.5 brings in Finnish language support, traffic node path visualization and more

The Tor Browser, which strives to provide anonymity online rather than the limited data sharing internet companies call "privacy," has reached version 12.5, a milestone that brings usability and accessibility improvements alongside attention to legacy issues.

The name Tor stands for "The Onion Router" and refers to a method of network communication developed back in 2002 that uses encryption and multiple relay nodes in an effort to keep the user anonymous.

"The aim of Tor is to improve your privacy by sending your traffic through a series of proxies," the Tor Project explains on its website. "Your communication is encrypted in multiple layers and routed via multiple hops through the Tor network to the final receiver."

The Tor Browser, based on the Extended Support Release of Mozilla's Firefox, provides a way to connect to the Tor network. It makes an effort to provide – but does not guarantee – anonymity. It does so by: making the user's internet traffic appear to come from a different IP address, thus obscuring the user's location; preventing someone watching your local traffic (e.g. your ISP) from seeing or limiting your website visits; and routing connections through multiple relays.

The Tor Browser and associated onion services are often used by journalists, human rights advocates, and others in adversarial environments where the threat model goes beyond marketers. Criminals may do so too, but as the Tor Project argues, they have better options.

Other browsers also support connection through the Tor network, such as Orbot, Onion Browser and Brave.

However, as Brave observes in the documentation for its Private Window with Tor Connectivity, it does not implement most of the privacy protections in the Tor Browser. The company warns, "If your personal safety depends on remaining anonymous, we highly recommend using Tor Browser instead of Brave Tor windows."

Even so, the Tor Browser cannot promise perfect anonymity online – there are attacks on Tor nodes that can unmask users – so if personal safety is the issue, that requires careful threat analysis and ideally expert consultation. Safety is not assured by software selection.

Tor Browser 12.5 brings with it a revised circuit display interface – which shows the network node traffic path – that's now represented by its own icon next to the padlock icon in the menu bar. And relay nodes now have national flags that make it easier to understand node locations.

"Usability testing participants often struggled to find the circuit display when asked, and users generally needed to be taught where it lived," said Duncan Larsen-Russell, Tor UX and design team lead, in a blog post.

The circuit display interface has also been reworked to play nicely with screen readers.

There are new onion site icons to better separate Tor Browser from The Onion Router services it relies on, because third–party usage of onion services has been growing.

The Tor launcher's Connect button – because Tor does not automatically connect to the network unless configured to do so – has been surfaced to be visible in the address bar of any offline page. That's because, explains Larsen-Russell, when users navigated away from the Connect to Tor tab that appears at startup, they often had trouble finding the Connect button again.

But if a bridge – a relay node that's unlisted in response to local censorship – has been configured, Tor Browser will connect automatically. And that's a better user experience where local censorship is relevant because it reduces opportunities for mistakes.

Larsen-Russell also says that the Tor Browser has been making an effort to improve accessibility, inspired by Mozilla's accessibility work. The result has been the refactoring of various components like the circuit display, the security level panel, and associated dialog elements so they work better with screen readers.

Finally, Finnish (Suomi) language support has been added to the Tor Browser desktop and Android versions, not to mention assorted miscellaneous changes and bug fixes. ®

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