While there are many different public open proxies on the Internet today, the Tor onion router network is specifically about providing users with a degree of privacy and anonymity. The Tor project claims that hundreds of thousand of people use the Tor network to provide privacy. Though Tor is popular, by itself it’s not quite as easy to take advantage of as it could be and that’s where Vidalia comes in.
Vidalia is a packaged application that includes Tor, the Privoxy local proxy as well as the Vidalia GUI for managing the Tor experience. With the one Vidalia download, you end up with a local Privoxy proxy loaded on your local PC with an instance of Tor to connect through for privacy.
The Vidalia control panel shows you the status of your Tor connection, lets you start and stop it and provides an easy way to change proxies with the Use a New Identity button. Vidalia also offers a bandwidth graph so you can see exactly how much traffic you’ve sent through Tor. If you’re curious to see how big the Tor network is and how traffic flows, there is also an option to view the network
To get Vidalia to work with your Internet applications, there are a few different approaches. Since the Privoxy part of Vidalia is a local proxy, you can simply set any browser you may use to connect through the local proxy at the address and port what you specify in the Vidalia settings. For Mozilla Firefox users, taking advantage of Tor with Vidalia is even easier with a simple add-on called TorButton. With TorButton, there is a small indicator at the bottom of the browser display that you click on or off in order to activate an anonymous browsing experience.
While Vidalia makes Tor easy to use, there are still a few things the Vidalia control panel does not easily enable. For example, there is no easy way to specify or enable an SSL proxy. Also, there is no easy way to ensure that the proxy you select is in fact an anonymous proxy.
Using the free online ProxyJudge script at: http://www.proxyserverprivacy.com/adv-free-proxy-detector.shtml, we had proxies that were identified as anonymous as well as those that could be identified as being proxies—it all depended on which Tor server we were connected to.
The same issue goes for speed with Vidalia. While some Tor servers didn’t seem to impact our bandwidth by more than 25%, some servers were somewhat slower (several resulted in an 80% bandwidth or greater speed reduction).
Vidalia is, however, free and it is open source. You can also (if you’re so inclined) look at the source code and modify and/or extend it you need to.