How to install the Tor browser on a Chromebook

A man using a Chromebook and a smartphone.

The Tor Project says you can’t run the full version of the anonymized Tor browser on a Chromebook. But, by using the Linux subsystem of your Chromebook, you can install and use it very easily. That is how.

What is Tor?

The Tor Project has created a anonymize the computer network that anyone can use to maintain their privacy online. The Tor network uses the regular internet infrastructure along with its own overlay network of volunteer-provided Tor nodes. These do the routing for the Tor network traffic. They encrypt your traffic and use other tricks to make backtracking and identifying your IP address difficult to the point of being nearly impossible.

The Tor browser allows you to access websites on the Tor network, as well as the normal web, which is known as the clear web. In both cases, your network traffic is routed through the Tor network. But remember that your traffic has to leave the coverage of the Tor network to access the website you want to visit. If the website uses the HTTPS protocol, your connection will remain encrypted and will be inaccessible to others. If the website uses the above HTTP protocol, your traffic will not be secure. Using a virtual private network (VPN) provides protection for the last step of the connection and is highly recommended.

However, the main purpose of the Tor browser is not clear web browsing. In fact, it would make your connection seem a bit slow and degrade your user experience. Its true purpose is to visit sites on the Tor network itself, which are called onion sites. These have a “.onion” extension and cannot be accessed with a normal browser.

The Tor network is a darknet and a part of the dark web. There is a lot of awful content on the dark web. You should only visit the dark web if you have a good or compelling reason to do so. And there are many valid reasons: the dark web is not all bad.

In some repressive regimes, Tor is the only way to access clear web sites that have been banned in those countries. Most major newspapers have an onion site on the Tor network so that anonymous sources can deliver stories and leads while remaining anonymous.

How can Tor run on Chromebooks?

The Tor website says that there are no official Tor client for ChromeOS. There’s a Tor app for Android And because Chromebooks can run Android apps, you can use it on your Chromebook. However, it is not ideal. The websites you visit think you are on a mobile device (such as a smartphone). The version of the website that you will see is the one that responds. These are designed for small screens in portrait mode.

Fortunately, there is an easy way to install a genuine Tor browser on your Chromebook. It uses the Linux subsystem for ChromeOS. If you have not activated Linux on your Chromebook, you will need to do so first.

The Linux subsystem may not be available on older Chromebook models. If the settings described in the next section are not showing up in ChromeOS settings, then you are sadly out of luck.

Powering on the ChromeOS Linux subsystem

First, you will need to activate the Linux subsystem of Chrome OS.

Click the notification area (system tray) to open the Settings menu and click the gear icon.

The ChromeOS settings menu

On the Settings page, type “linux” in the search bar.

ChromeOS setup page with "Linux" in the search bar

Click the “Activate” button next to the “Linux Development Environment (Beta)” entry.

A confirmation window will appear to inform you that a download is about to take place.

Confirmation dialog for ChromeOS Linux installation

Click the “Next” button to go to the next page.

Set a username on ChromeOS Linux installation

Enter a username and leave the disk size option at the default setting. Click the “Install” button to start the installation process. This will take a few minutes. When the setup is complete, you will see the Linux terminal window and a command prompt with a blinking cursor.

Note that the command prompt includes the username you chose earlier. In this example, it was “Dave”.

The ChromeOS Linux command prompt

To find out a bit about the Linux environment we are running in, type this command and then hit the “Enter” key. You will need to press the “Enter” key each time you enter a command in the terminal window.

cat /etc/os-release

Some interesting information is shown to us. Most importantly, we now know which version of Linux this subsystem is based on. It is Debian Linux. Debian uses the SUITABLE software installation system, or “package manager”, in Linux language.

We will use APT to install the Tor browser.

Tor browser installation

Copy and paste the following line into the terminal window. Note that if you are using the keyboard to paste into the terminal window, the keystrokes are “Ctrl + Shift + V”, not “Ctrl + V”.

When we tell the APT system to install a package for us, it looks in various locations to try to find the package. This command configures an additional location for APT to search.

echo "deb http://ftp.debian.org/debian buster-backports main contrib" | sudo tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/backports.list

Now, we will tell our Linux subsystem to check for updates.

sudo apt update

When that command completes, we will install the Tor browser launcher. Cut and paste this command into the Linux terminal window and then hit “Enter.”

sudo apt install torbrowser-launcher -t buster-backports -y

You’ll see a large number of scrolling results and a text-based progress bar at the bottom of the window. You may be asked to confirm that you are sure you want to install the launcher. If prompted, press “Y” and press “Enter.”

When the installation is complete, we can launch the Tor browser launcher.

What we have installed is a small program that downloads the Tor browser installation files, verifies the integrity of the download with signatures and checksums, and, if everything is fine, installs it for us.

torbrowser-launcher

Wait for the files to download and install.

A connection dialog will appear. Click the “Connect” button.

Tor connection dialog

Wait while another progress bar slowly slides to 100%.

Set up a Tor connection dialog

Then, at last, the Tor browser will appear.

The Tor browser

You will probably find it convenient to add the Tor browser to your pinned apps on your shelf. Right-click on the Tor browser icon on your shelf and select “Pin” from the context menu.

Tor browser icon on the ChromeOS shelf

To launch the Tor browser in the future, just click on the icon on your shelf.

There will be a slight delay while it prepares and configures, and then the Tor browser will launch.

Make Tor more secure on Chrome OS

Let’s increase the security level of the browser. Click on the three-line menu icon at the top right of the browser window.

Three line hamburger menu icon

In the menu, select “Preferences”.

Preferences option in the Tor browser menu

When the settings window appears, click on “Privacy and Security” in the list of options on the left side of the screen. If you have the browser window set to a narrow width, the option is replaced by a lock icon. Set the “Security Level” to the “More Secure” setting.

Most secure option selected in security privacy settings

Now that you have the Tor browser set up, you are ready to visit the onion sites. But where are they? Well, it’s a little 22 captures. If you know why you need to be on the dark web, you need to know where you need to go.

The dark web has no equivalent to Google. At least, there is nothing you can trust that will not direct you to fake sites and endless scams. Therefore, you cannot search for a topic and get a list of links to different sites. This is not the clear web.

But the only way to prove that your Tor browser is working properly is to visit some onion sites. So here are some insurance.

  • Duck Duck to Win: The search engine focused on privacy. This still only searches the clear web, of course. Find it at https://3g2upl4pq6kufc4m.onion/
  • INC: The onion site of the Central Intelligence Agency. It is at http://ciadotgov4sjwlzihbbgxnqg3xiyrg7so2r2o3lt5wz5ypk4sxyjstad.onion/index.html/
  • New York Times: The New York Times maintains several sites about onions. This site provides your news to anyone who can access it, even from regions where external news is prohibited: https://www.nytimes3xbfgragh.onion/

For maximum security, use the Tor browser with a VPN (ExpressVPN is our favorite), and only enter the dark web with a specific purpose in mind. Casual tourism doesn’t count.

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