What Is NordVPN’s Onion Over VPN? How Does It Work?

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NordVPN consistently proves itself as one of the best VPN services – and we’ve been comparing it to other providers for years!

Something that helps the provider stand out in an oversaturated market is its Onion Over VPN feature.

It’s one of my favorite tools to use… but there’s a trick to getting the most out of it (more on that later).

So, what is NordVPN’s Onion Over VPN, and how does it work?

Simply put, it’s a feature that routes your traffic through a NordVPN server and three Tor nodes – without needing to connect through the Tor Browser.

The big advantage is it lets you use the Tor Network with any application on your device.

It’s a little more complicated than that, of course.

But don’t worry – I’ll tell you everything you need to know!

In More Detail: What Is NordVPN’s Onion Over VPN?

NordVPN’s Onion Over VPN is a convenient built-in privacy solution.

Usually, to get the same functionality for browsing the internet, you need to connect to a VPN server, download and install the Tor Browser (if you haven’t already), and then set up a Tor connection.

It gets even more complicated if you want to route your internet connection from other apps on your device through the Tor Network as well.

Each app needs to be individually configured first – and not all of them will let you do so.

NordVPN’s Onion Over VPN bypasses this issue.

What Is Tor?

tor the onion router

Tor (also known as “The Onion Router”) is an open-source software used for anonymous communication.

The idea behind it is to help anonymize your online traffic by relaying it through three different connections before it reaches your end destination – AKA: the website you’re visiting.

Your traffic is also routed through those nodes (Entry, Middle, and Exit) when data is sent from the website back to your device.

It’s kind of similar to using a VPN, thanks to the use of an encrypting tunnel.

But there are more steps involved.

An even better comparison would be to the Double VPN method (but I’ll get to that in a bit).

Tor is also used to refer to three of its components:

  1. The Tor Project, which is the team behind Tor as a whole.
  2. The Tor Network, which is the open network system made up of different “relays” or “nodes” – basically, individual server connections that receive and forward your internet traffic.
  3. The Tor Browser, which is a Firefox fork (in other words, a browser app based on Firefox) developed by the Tor Project to make connecting to the Tor Network easier.
the tor browser

Is Tor Safe?

Using Tor is generally safe, but it depends on how you use it.

For example, even though your traffic is encrypted, your use of Tor isn’t.

This means your ISP and any other third parties (like the government) can see you’re using Tor.

Additionally, because you don’t know the owners of the Tor node you’re connecting to, you also don’t know who has access to your IP address.

This is why I recommend using a VPN with Tor.

If you need further convincing, here’s a quick list of known safety issues:

  1. Almost anyone can set up a Tor node, which is simultaneously good and bad. It’s good because it makes Tor a decentralized network (meaning there’s no single entity in control – not even the Tor Project), but bad because it introduces the risk of malicious nodes. This happens when a cybercriminal adds an exit node to the network that can…
  1. A malicious exit node works in these ways because the exit node can read the data it’s relaying for you. Before you panic, though, if you’re only connecting to a site with SSL end-to-end encryption (the URL starts with HTTPS instead of HTTP), this issue is already taken care of.
  2. Tor nodes are publicly listed, so your ISP, network administrators, and even the government can easily see that you’re using Tor. The same can be true for VPNs unless you’re using obfuscation.
  3. Tor users can be identified through correlation – matching the volume of data your router is handling with what the destination site is putting out at the same time.
  4. Your IP address can still be leaked if you use Tor to access certain content (Windows DRM-files that haven’t been configured properly or other active content like JavaScript – though the Tor Browser disables and blocks this type of content by default).

Ultimately, if you’re not using Tor safely, you shouldn’t use it at all.

Do You Need a VPN for Tor?

As mentioned above, while not strictly necessary, I recommend using a VPN with Tor.

Remember, if you’re connecting to a publicly-listed entry node, your ISP can still see you’re using Tor.

And the entry node can still see your real IP address.

Using a VPN with Tor – or, for more convenience, a feature like NordVPN’s Onion Over VPN – takes care of these issues for you.

For example, instead of your real IP address, the entry node now sees the VPN server’s IP address.

And while your ISP might still be able to see you’re using a VPN, there’s less chance of this happening.

nordvpn onion over vpn extra layer encryption security

Of course, you still need to practice safe browsing habits.

A VPN can’t protect you from a malicious exit node stealing your login details, shared documents, or adding malware to files you download through Tor.

But thanks to the extra layer of encryption security, Onion Over VPN makes it much safer as a whole.

Can I Use Tor Bridges Instead?

There’s another type of Tor relay/node I haven’t told you about yet – Bridges.

And while yes, you can use Tor Bridges instead of Onion Over VPN, it’s also more troublesome.

Bridges aren’t publicly listed and don’t show up in Tor’s main directory.

Some of them are also obfuscated, making them ideal for connecting to Tor in areas that heavily censor the internet.

tor bridges

But as I said, they can be a pain to use.

The lack of public listing means you have to use the Tor Browser to use Tor Bridges.

This means any internet traffic from other apps on your device won’t connect via Tor.

There is an exception to this rule: Orbot, a Tor app for Android phones that acts as a proxy and lets you route all of your phone’s traffic through Tor.

orbot tor application for android

It also gives you an option to use Bridges.

So yes, you can use Tor Bridges instead… but it’s still more secure (and a little more convenient) to use Onion Over VPN.

How Does Onion Over VPN Work?

There are two ways Onion Over VPN works

The first is the usual way, which is also sometimes called the Tor Over VPN method: you connect to any of NordVPN’s 5,200+ VPN servers, then open the Tor Browser.

But if you want to use this technique to route all of your internet traffic through Tor, not just your browser, there’s the Onion Over VPN feature.

nordpvn onion over vpn

This time, all you have to do is pick one of NordVPN’s Onion Over VPN-optimized servers.

Once you’re connected, the VPN encrypts all of your data before sending it into the Tor Network!

onion over vpn fastest server location

What Are the Advantages of Using Onion Over VPN?

There are several advantages to using Onion Over VPN in general.

But this is especially true if you’re explicitly using NordVPN’s Onion Over VPN.

Take a look:

1. Extra Layers of Encryption

The first and most obvious is you get an extra layer of data encryption on top of the multiple layers already provided by Tor.

NordVPN uses AES-256, which is called “military-grade encryption” for a reason!

The same is true in reverse.

If you want to add extra layers of encryption to your NordVPN connection, Onion Over VPN is a great way to do so.

2. Added Anonymity

When used correctly – which means not logging into any accounts (unless you’re using pseudonymous accounts only) – both Tor and VPNs help add a lot of anonymity online.

By using both privacy tools together via NordVPN’s Onion Over VPN, you increase the layers of anonymity.

The Tor Entry Node can no longer see your real IP address and only sees your NordVPN server’s IP instead.

So even if the Tor Network gets compromised, the attackers can’t discover your real IP.

3. NordVPN’s Kill Switch

Suppose that your connection to your VPN gets interrupted for some reason while using the Onion Over VPN method.

Suddenly, the Tor Entry Node can see your real IP address – and you might not even realize it.

This is where NordVPN’s “Always On” Kill Switch comes in.

enabled nordvpn kill switch feature

So even if your connection to NordVPN’s server is interrupted, your device’s connection to the internet (including Tor) is immediately “killed” until NordVPN can reconnect you.

4. Your ISP Can’t See What You’re Doing Online

To repeat an earlier point, unless you’re using Bridges, the Tor Entry and Exit Nodes you use are publicly listed.

This allows your ISP to block Tor connections altogether if they decide to (usually because the government requests it).

VPN servers aren’t publicly listed, though there are still ways to figure out that you’re using a VPN.

But NordVPN also offers an obfuscation feature, so long as you stick to the OpenVPN TCP protocol.

This helps hide that you’re using a VPN – while NordVPN also hides that you’re using Tor.

In other words: no one, including your ISP, can block your access to the Tor Network.

This also means you’re putting your trust in NordVPN.

But the good news is the VPN provider has a proven no-logs policy and uses RAM-only servers.

So NordVPN can’t see what you’re doing online, either!

When Should You Use Onion Over VPN?

As great as Onion Over VPN – and especially NordVPN’s Onion Over VPN – is, there are drawbacks as well.

Understanding both the advantages and the disadvantages will help you figure out when you should or should not use it.

NordVPN Onion Over VPN Makes Sense for...

1. People Working With Sensitive Data

Any personally identifiable information (PII) should be considered sensitive data.

But that doesn’t mean you should be using Onion Over VPN all the time – in fact, you almost certainly shouldn’t.

Instead, let’s focus on highly sensitive data.

Many other articles discussing NordVPN’s Onion Over VPN (or the Tor Over VPN method in general) mention this in a very generic, unhelpful way.

They tack it on as an extra subsection when, really, they already said everything under a different heading: Journalists and Political Activists.

Journalists often rely on sources who want or even need to remain anonymous to protect themselves due to the sensitivity of the information being offered.

In some cases, if the source is identified, their life is at risk.

These sources – and especially in the more extreme cases – can include political activists.

Political activists are up against some of the most brutal organizations in the world: governments.

Government parties and political individuals hold an excessive amount of power over citizens.

In many cases, that power is misused to actively spy on us – just take a look at the Five, Nine, and Fourteen Eyes Intelligence Alliances.

5 9 14 eyes intelligence alliance

Edward Snowden, the former CIA analyst who exposed that alliance (and much more) back in 2013, remains a de facto fugitive from the US government.

And the US’s allies would be all too happy to hand him over.

If it weren’t for tools like Tor and Onion Over VPN, there’s little doubt what would happen to him and hundreds of other political activists working with highly sensitive data.

2. Anyone Living in or Traveling to Countries With Heavy Restrictions

Countries like China and Russia, and most of the Middle East, have heavy restrictions on internet access and actively censor the online world to protect their ideologies.

This leaves their citizens and anyone visiting their country stuck with very limited internet.

Communication platforms and vital information are often censored, and trying to access them can result in heavy fines or worse.

NordVPN’s Onion Over VPN provides a safe, reliable way to access free internet from anywhere in the world.

When You Don’t Need Onion Over VPN (or Shouldn’t Use it)

You don’t need to use NordVPN’s Onion Over VPN feature for everything you do online.

In fact, you probably shouldn’t.

After all, Tor itself slows your internet connection substantially.

Adding an extra connection to the mix with Onion Over VPN will slow it even more.

This can make it a frustrating or even impractical experience.

Generally speaking, you don’t need Onion Over VPN for:

  • Casual Browsing – on a trusted network, like your WiFi at home, you don’t need the extra security Onion Over VPN provides while browsing casually. Simply connect to a regular NordVPN server for a better online experience.
  • For Logging into Accounts – the second you log into any online account that can personally identify you (like your email or social media), you lose all of the anonymity both a VPN and Tor offer. If you’re going to log into anything other than a pseudonymous account, then you’re better off using NordVPN’s Double VPN feature if you want the extra security. More about Double VPN later!
  • When Speed Matters – if you need fast internet for what you’re doing online, stick to one of NordVPN’s regular servers. This includes things like streaming Netflix or gaming. The good news is, NordVPN is blazing fast, so you can still protect yourself without sacrificing speed.
  • For Downloads – when you’re downloading anything, speed matters. There’s also the issue of potentially malicious exit nodes tampering with the files you’re downloading. You’ll have better download speeds and a safer experience using a regular NordVPN connection with the CyberSec feature enabled.

So, how do you handle highly sensitive data while using Onion Over VPN?

This is where pseudonymous accounts come into play.

ProtonMail, for example, allows you to create an encrypted email account without asking for any personal information so that you can use a pseudonym.

protonmail page

You can use tools like this to communicate and share documents safely over an Onion Over VPN connection.

How to Use NordVPN Onion Over VPN?

Now that you know what NordVPN’s Onion Over VPN is, how it works, and when to use it, you’re ready to do so!

It’s very easy too – just follow these quick steps:

  1. Buy a NordVPN subscription.
  1. Download and install the NordVPN app for your device.
nordvpn app 2
  1. Launch the app and log in.
nordvpn desktop app
  1. Click on the three dots next to Onion Over VPN.
onion over vpn setting
  1. Select your preferred server(s) and connect.
onion over vpn fastest server location
  1. Enjoy the added anonymity and security provided by Onion Over VPN!
When you’re done, I recommend closing all internet-connected apps before disconnecting from NordVPN’s Onion Over VPN.

Onion Over VPN Isn’t Showing In the NordVPN App?

In late-2020, a lot of Reddit users complained that NordVPN’s Onion Over VPN disappeared.

If this happens to you, don’t worry!

NordVPN hasn’t removed Onion Over VPN or any of its other specialty servers, like Double VPN. 

f they’re missing for you, it’s usually an easy fix.

NordVPN recently launched its proprietary VPN protocol, called NordLynx.

Based on the WireGuard protocol, NordLynx is faster than OpenVPN but just as secure.

The problem is, not all of its servers are guaranteed to work with NordLynx – including some of the specialty servers.

So all you need to do is switch back to OpenVPN.

This Reddit user was told to try OpenVPN TCP instead of UDP.

Here’s how to change your VPN protocol:

  1. Open the NordVPN app
nordvpn setting
  1. Click on Auto-Connect.
nordvpn auto connect
  1. Disable Choose a VPN protocol and server automatically.
disabled nordvpn auto-connect feature
  1. Change the NordLynx protocol to OpenVPN (try TCP first).
nordvpn vpn protocol setting
  1. Exit the Settings.

You should see Onion Over VPN listed as an option under Specialty Servers in the app again!

Onion Over VPN Still Missing?

If you already changed your VPN protocol using the instructions above, but Onion Over VPN is still missing, there’s an issue with those servers.

This happens from time to time, unfortunately.

One Reddit user was kind enough to share the reply they got from NordVPN’s customer support when this happened to them a few years ago.

The provider doesn’t explain the issue but promises their server admins are working to fix it.

If you’re ever in the same situation and you’ve tried all other solutions, contact NordVPN.

In the meantime, you can still use the old-fashioned Tor Over VPN method by connecting to a NordVPN server and then launching the Tor Browser.

If you’re using Windows and need to route other apps through Tor as well, I recommend using Tortilla.

It’s a lot more complicated, though, so I strongly recommend reading the Usage Instructions on its GitHub page.

Onion Over VPN vs. VPN Over Tor

Stepping away from NordVPN’s Onion Over VPN tool, there’s another way to use both Tor and a VPN at the same time: by reversing the order.

This is called a VPN Over Tor (or VPN Over Onion) setup.

Essentially, you first connect to the Tor Network and then your VPN.

However, it’s also a lot more complicated to set up.

I won’t talk you through using VPN Over Onion today, but let’s look at the pros and cons.

Pros:

  • You can visit websites that usually block Tor connections because they only see the VPN connection
  • The VPN being added at the end means you’re protected from any malicious exit nodes
  • Exit nodes also can’t discriminate against the data packets sent through them with a VPN Over Tor setup

Cons:

  • The VPN Over Tor setup process is so complicated that you’ll need to ask your VPN provider to help
  • Your ISP can now see you’re using Tor and might decide to block the connection
  • You can only visit regular websites – no more accessing .onion sites (this isn’t a problem for most users)
  • The Tor Entry Nodes can see your real IP address, leaving you more vulnerable to any compromises to the Tor Network

Overall, Onion Over VPN isn’t just a lot easier to use – it’s also more private, especially with a no-logs VPN like NordVPN on your side!

Onion Over VPN vs. Double VPN

NordVPN’s Double VPN is relatively similar to Onion Over VPN because there are multiple layers of encrypted connections that your data passes through.

In this case, instead of one VPN server plus three Tor Nodes, you connect through two VPN servers.

There are ways to do this manually by using two different VPN providers.

But then you open yourself to software compatibility issues – especially in Windows, which is very prone to TAP driver errors.

Luckily, NordVPN makes it much easier.

All you need to do is click on Double VPN in the app, choose a server pair, and enjoy!

nordvpn double vpn setting

Because you aren’t using the Tor Network whatsoever with Double VPN, you can’t access any .onion sites.

But your internet will also be faster because there are fewer connections involved – especially with NordVPN’s Double VPN feature, as the pairings are specially configured for the best possible performance.

FAQ

Is Onion Over VPN Safe?

Onion Over VPN is safe – arguably safer than using Tor without a VPN!

But you need to use a secure, reliable VPN like NordVPN, which also offers a built-in Onion Over VPN feature for added convenience.

Can Onion Routing Be Traced?

Yes, onion routing can be traced if you’re connected to a Tor Node that the government or an attacker controls.

Using Onion Over VPN is one of the only ways to protect yourself from this possibility, as the route will end at the VPN.

Is Tor Illegal?

No, Tor is not illegal.

The Tor Browser and Tor Network are 100% legal to use in most countries.

But that doesn’t mean everything you use Tor for is automatically legal, too – same as when using a VPN.

It’s also true that Tor, VPNs, and Onion Over VPN can be and are used for illegal activities, which is why some countries and websites block Tor connections.

What VPNs Have Onion Over VPN?

VPNs that have Onion Over VPN as a built-in option include NordVPN (my top recommendation) and ProtonVPN.

Wrapping Things Up...

Tor and VPNs are both excellent tools for boosting your online privacy and anonymity.

And when used together, you have a robust setup that journalists, whistleblowers, and political activists can rely on.

Getting it right can be a little tricky.

But thanks to NordVPN’s Onion Over VPN feature, it’s easier than ever before!

Not only will Onion Over VPN add multiple layers of encryption to your browsing, but all internet-connected apps on your devices.

Want to give it a go?

Sign-up for NordVPN with this link to unlock a discount that comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee!

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