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How to safely configure the Tor browser

So you've downloaded the Tor browser to your device and now you're ready to start exploring the dark web? Wait just a second! Before you do anything, it's important to ensure that your browser has the optimal configuration of settings to ensure you don't leave yourself vulnerable to exploits or becoming de-anonymized in some way. This guide will ensure you're good to go in no time with these 3 simple steps.

STEP 1 - Set home page to blank
Analysts of the Tor network have found that it can be easier to profile particular users by the Tor home page they use. This is because every single session you will have the same specific starting point for a browsing session. Therefore, don't be tempted to set your favorite website as your home page in the Tor browser. Instead, simply set it to a blank page.

You can do this by opening up the browser settings. Either click the 3 horizontal lines icon in the top right corner of the browser and select 'Settings' from the dropdown, or enter about:preferences in the URL bar. From here, go to the 'Home' tab and set 'Homepage and new windows' to 'Blank Page'.

STEP 2 - Set security settings to safest
Next, go to the 'Privacy & Security' tab and scroll down to the security section close to the bottom. By default, the security level will be set to 'Standard'. We definitely don't want to leave it on this, so change it to 'Safest'. The primary benefit here is that javascript will be disabled on all sites. Javascript is notorious for allowing vulnerabilities to be exploited, and could increase your risk of being compromised in some way. Should any site on the darknet request that you switch javascript on, don't do it. Many reputable sites will in fact prompt you to switch it off if they detect it.

STEP 3 - Manually disable javascript (for added safety)
Whilst the safety settings usually ensure javascript can't run, there have been documented ocassions where (particularly after an update), javascript has not been properly disabled. For added security and peace of mind, we strongly recommend this one final step. Enter about:config in the URL bar, then when prompted, click 'Accept the Risk and Continue'. Next, enter the word 'javascript' into the search box, then close to the top of the list an option called 'javascript.enabled' should show. Click the icon on the right hand side to change this from 'true' to 'false', which will ensure it is completely disabled within the browser engine, even if the safety settings fail for whatever reason.
So, am I good to go now?
As far as configuring the Tor browser is concerned, yes. However, should you be inclined to visit any questionable sites such as darknet markets, it is advisable that you refrain from using Windows, Mac or any mobile device. For optimum safety, browsing using Tails or Whonix are considered to be the gold standards. Tails is a simple safety-focused Linux operating system which can be installed and run from a USB stick, whilst Whonix runs as a virtual machine (ideally on a Linux host machine).

More information about these operating systems and download links can be found here: Tails | Whonix