Fast, wireless access to Tor? Just maybe

Watch blocked programs while recharging your phone – is this for real?


Portable Tor routers have a serious image problem. But one of only two companies to have actually done it right plans to fix that.Should you believe the hype this time around? Quite possibly, yes.

It was only a year ago that the tech community got excited about the idea of a small, lightweight router that would connect you with the Tor anonymizing service. Plug-and-play. No installing software or complex configurations.

Unfortunately, the Anonabox turned out to have some fundamental flaws, not least of which were its founders' habit of being less than truthful about their "custom" hardware and the product's failure to encrypt traffic.

The Anonabox finally made it onto the market after suffering an epic meltdown, and by banking US$600,000, it sparked a series of blunder-prone projects. There was TorFi, which was pulled off Kickstarter and disappeared; Project Sierra, which raised just $6,000 of a $150,000 goal; and Cloak, which raised just £7,000 of its £65,000 ($100,000) goal.

Also offering private browsing is USB plugin Wemagin, which did raise sufficient funds but last month started offering refunds, having completely missed its April shipping date. It still hasn't shipped.

And then there were two products that avoided scandal: Safeplug and Invizbox. These are both essentially the same: you plug a small box into your home router using an Ethernet cable, and then connect either wirelessly or through another Ethernet cable to the box. The box connects to the Tor network and away you go. They both cost $49.

But here's the rub: Even though both these products do what that say they will, they still have limited use. Why? Because a Tor router alone will not provide you with the kind of privacy that you clearly want if you are prepared to spend $50 on a piece of equipment just to get more privacy.

For one, if you are using your usual browser in the usual way, you are likely providing your IP address to websites even if you are running through Tor routers.

There is JavaScript, for one. Turn that off. If you are not going through HTTPS or SSL secure websites, you are also likely exposing your information. And if you aren't actively blocking ads, you are also likely exposing your data. And then there is the WebRTC bug in Firefox and Chrome that exposes your IP address.

What's more, the Tor network is slow – and often, really slow. Jumping between all those different relays takes a toll. Instant messaging and Skype are therefore out.

Many websites won't let you access content without JavaScript running. And the fact that you are actually using the Tor network is often visible, which has given many websites the option to cut you off if you are.

The BBC, for example, notes: "If you are using a Tor network you will not be able to play programmes in BBC iPlayer." And if a website is using CloudFlare to protect itself, you may find yourself forced to fill in a CAPTCHA just to gain access to a website.

It makes you wonder what's the point of having a Tor router at all.

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