How to Investigate Anonymously Online Using Tor Browser Bundle

Hide your IP address to avoid tipping off your tech-savvy subjects

Posted by Dawn Lomer in Corporate Security, Information Security on April 9th, 2013

The internet can be a powerful tool for gathering information in an investigation. And with the proliferation of websites containing reams of information about people and their activities, today’s investigator has many more avenues to gather intelligence than ever before.

But what happens when you don’t want to leave a trace while researching a subject in an investigation that is still in the early stages and not yet revealed? How do you avoid tipping off your suspects and witnesses by leaving a trail that reveals your interest and research into their online activities?


Want to learn how to find useful information using open source intelligence on the web? Read this article containing 101+ links to OSINT resources.

Risks of Being Discovered

By showing your hand too early, you expose your investigation to risks, including:

  • Destruction of evidence
  • Collaboration of witnesses
  • Disappearance of funds linked to a crime
  • Disappearance of suspects and witnesses

Staying anonymous is not only advisable, sometimes it’s absolutely necessary.

Simple Tool for Anonymity

We have presented several webinars on conducting online investigations over the past few months, and each one has touched on the idea of investigating on the web without revealing your identity, but today I thought I’d provide some basic information one particular tool that can be useful for investigators who wish to remain anonymous online.

The free Tor Browser Bundle allows you to browse anonymously by routing traffic through a network of anonymous nodes until it reaches its final destination. Originally an acronym for “The Onion Router”, Tor uses volunteer servers around the world to route internet traffic from server to server and encrypts the data a number of times along the journey.

Since the Tor network has been around for 14 years or so, it’s been tested in many situations and even in oppressive regimes that restrict internet traffic. While a few vulnerabilities have been reported, it remains the go-to solution for anonymous online activity.

How to Use It

The Tor Browser Bundle is a self-extracting browser package. Once extracted, you can access a connection window that initializes the application and allows you to browse.

Tor is available for Mac, Windows and Linux, but there are some precautions users should take when using it, outlined on the download page, which you can find here.

Once you launch the browser running on Tor you can surf anonymously on social media sites and access areas of the deep web that are not indexed by Google. For more on searching the deep web, watch our webinar entitled Online Investigations Using Deep Web Searches.

How Not To Use It

As with most anonymous things, there’s a whole creepy but fascinating underworld to Tor as well, where all sorts of illegal, unethical and downright alarming stuff purports to go on. Take it with a grain of salt, says our IT guy, but here’s a peek into the dark side of Tor.

Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Managing Editor

Dawn Lomer is the managing editor at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.