Tor and VPN provider Mullvad collaborate on privacy-focused browser

Tor and VPN provider Mullvad collaborate on privacy-focused browser

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The Tor Project Inc., the nonprofit team behind the anonymity-protecting Tor Browser, and commercial virtual private network provider Mullvad VPN AB have teamed up to launch the privacy-preserving Mullvad Browser.

The new browser was developed by the Tor team based on the Tor browser to minimize tracking and fingerprinting of users out-of-the-box, according to the announcement today.

One way to protect privacy on the internet, users can connect using a VPN, which can be used to encrypt network traffic between users and their internet service provider. It also allows them to hide their IP address from services that they connect to because services only see the exit address of the VPN.

Another option is the Tor Network, built by the Tor Project, which uses relays to anonymize internet traffic. Using the Tor Browser, users can connect to the network where their traffic is sent through multiple servers before it reaches an exit, which hides their origin from onlookers.

However, using a VPN or Tor is not enough to prevent all surveillance, tracking is still possible through cookies, scripts and what is known as “fingerprinting.” Fingerprinting can be done using all manner of things leaked from a user’s browser, such as the device it’s on, the shape of the window and the fonts installed.

“The mass surveillance of today is absurd — both from commercial actors like big tech companies and from governments,” said Mullvad VPN Chief Executive Jan Jonsson. “We want to free the internet from mass surveillance and a VPN alone is not enough to achieve privacy.”

Mullvad looked to Tor to make a privacy-focused browser because some users might want to get the best possible privacy experience without connecting through the Tor Network and use a VPN instead. As a result, the Mullvad Browser could be described as providing privacy protections similar to the Tor Browser but without Tor.

“From our perspective, there has been a gap in the market for those who want to run a privacy-focused browser as good as the Tor Project’s but with a VPN instead of the Tor Network,” said Jonsson.

The browser can also be used with or without any VPN, not just Mullvad’s service. However, it’s highly encouraged that if a user wants to get the best possible privacy they use a reputable VPN service.

The team at Tor helped Mullvad create a browser with the best possible anti-fingerprinting suppression possible by building in fingerprints that make all its browsers look like one another. The team calls it a “hide-in-the-crowd” approach. Essentially the browser attempts to mask every user’s configurations and data that might be leaked out to scripts and other surveillance tools so that it looks as generic as possible, making it difficult to fingerprint.

By default, the Mullvad browser also has a private mode enabled, blocks all third-party tracking cookies and makes it simple to delete cookies when visiting pages during any session. The browser itself further respects its user’s privacy and does not collect any data from them.

“Developing this browser with Mullvad is about providing people with more privacy options for everyday browsing and to challenge the current business model of exploiting people’s behavioral data,” said Isabela Fernandes, executive director of the Tor Project. “It demonstrates that you can develop free technology with mass-appeal and privacy in mind.”

Other privacy-focused browsers exist on the market, such as the Brave browser, which touted itself at launch with integrated ad-blocking and other advanced privacy protection features. It also blocks trackers, cross-site cookies and makes it difficult to fingerprint as well.

With almost every website tracking visitors, and advertisements becoming ever more intrusive, users are more focused on their privacy than ever. As a result, internet users often download more privacy extensions and plugins, which increases the chances that they accidentally open themselves up to security issues.

With the new Mullvad Browser, privacy is an integral feature and users have it on default. It’s open source, free of charge and supported on multiple platforms, including Windows, MacOS and Linux. It’s available for download today at Mullvad’s website.

“When we collaborate, we want to drive change and raise people’s awareness that digital rights are human rights,” Fernandes said about the collaboration. “We hope to inspire others to think of privacy as a ‘feature’ at the core of tech innovation, a building block designed to enhance user experience.”

Image: Mullvad

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