anonabox : a Tor hardware router
As is our habit, a few friends who work in IT consulting got together for beer and tacos to talk about current projects for our clients. One such client was for a school district that wanted to filter the Internet access for the schools network. At first we talked about a few different ways to filter the content, like filtering images based on how many shades of pink the images contained. The conversation turned to things the kids might do to get around whatever system was in place. The problem is, kids are smart and pretty tech savvy. We discussed ways the students might try to bypass a filtering system, like running some kind of portable device that built a proxy through the school’s systems entirely. It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to block such a device if it were properly designed. Too bad kids were not our clients!
As we finished our beers, we noticed a news story on the overhead TV about the Arab Spring protesters in Egypt being cut off from twitter. We wished we could help somehow. From our collective experience working at ISP’s we had a pretty good idea how the filtering was going on. The journalists and protesters might be able to get back out to the regular Internet if they could just run a vpn or proxy through it. Outside of going there in person and tracking down people who needed help so we could reconfigure their computers to use proxies and vpn’s there was not a clear way to help. Unless…
Light Bulb! How about if we were to actually build that anti-censorship box we were just talking about and mail it out to people? We decided to go for a second round of beers while we followed this line of thought to its conclusion. Little did we know, it would take over four years, and a lot more tacos and beer, to create a device with the security, speed, functionality and easy-of-use that is the anonabox.
Four Years, Four Generations
Our first prototypes were pretty clunky, and cost between $200-$400 just for the parts, but they worked well and proved the concept. We knew that the device had to be small enough to easily conceal, built with quality components, and rock solid. But we also wanted to make it inexpensive. We wanted to make it available to as many people as possible.
By our fourth round of prototypes we had created a model with 64mb memory and a 580mhz CPU. This not only runs the software well, it flies! At last happy with the board, we designed a simple, minimalist case in plain white to house it. The end result is our current model. We decided to name it the anonabox.
So what IS the anonabox?
The anonabox is a networking device that provides anonymous Internet access and encryption, and helps to bypass censorship in places where access to the Internet is limited.
The anonabox has been developed and refined for the sole purpose of running the open source software Tor, considered the best and most secure way to access the Internet anonymously. All traffic coming out of or going into your computer or network is encrypted this way. The result is strong, secure anonymity. Using the anonabox hides your location, as well as all the other personal data that leaks through ordinary Internet use. We noticed also that pageload times and end user experience is significantly faster than when running the Tor browser bundle software, because all the hard work is being done in the background by the anonabox.
Encryption for Everyone
The anonabox easily encrypts Internet usage with a simple device that secures all web traffic, not just the traffic coming from one program. No software to download or configure, no login credentials, no registration, just plug it in and your network connection is encrypted. The anonabox also allows people to use programs over Tor that never supported it before or required complicated configuration like Skype, Safari and Filezilla, to name just a few. Also the default firewall configuration protects your computer or network from outside access.
Solving a Problem
In places where the government or private entities may try to control or limit access to the Internet, the Tor network allows access to the full, uncensored Internet, and also access to some parts of the web that are hidden even in uncensored places, like .onion domains. However, most people who use tor access it through software called the Tor browser bundle, or Vidalia. This creates a problem because only web activity within that one program is sent over the Tor network, leaving everything else on your computer unprotected and potentially revealing your location and information about you over the regular web.
As more people use the Tor network, more people accidentally reveal information about themselves by using the software incorrectly, or by simultaneously running other software that compromises their security. The anonabox uses Tor to allow anyone to access the Internet anonymously without having to install any software, and makes the encryption of the Tor network available to anyone, anywhere in the world.
Open Source Security
No more backdoors! The anonabox provides better security than most available products because it is completely open source, and open hardware. Anyone can audit and browse the code, or download hardware schematics. For this reason, it is guaranteed to be free from the documented back-doors and security flaws common to other commercially available routers. We welcome developers from around the world to create their own uses for the anonabox. We believe the device belongs to them and they are free to modify it any way they like.
How is it used?
Here’s how it works: <¶>1.Run a cable from the anonabox to your regular router <¶>2.Plug in the USB power cable wait for it to power up, then connect wirelessly (or via an Ethernet cable) to your device of choice.
Thats it! Because all the hard work is being done by the anonabox in the background, nearly any device can now access the tor network: tablets, old machines, phones, anything with network connectivity works without any configuration.
Thus far, we have been able to make anonaboxes only in extremely small batches for friends and volunteers. Your support will help us move out of our garage, into full production. With a large initial order, we hope to reduce the price and get the anonabox into as many hands as possible. If our Kickstarter does not get funded, it’s back to the garage, making them a few at a time when we can. We are also very excited to get feedback from a community of users, to put the anonabox to the test and continue to refine it. We thank you for your pledge, in any amount. This is a cause we believe in very much and hope others see value in. High five!
Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
The anonabox is a fully functional product ready for large batch production. A tremendous amount of planning has gone into getting it ready for launch. We have backup vendors in place for raw materials and parts in case there is a delay in the supply chain, and to make sure the production line is scale-able to accommodate orders in a timely fashion, no matter how many we receive. We have internalized two main ideas to run this: First; one hour of planning before the launch is worth 100 hours after. And Second; it is always better to under-promise and over-deliver, than the other way around.
One potential bottleneck we have anticipated for example is that each and every anonabox that goes out is tested by hand to make sure it is configured properly and functioning as it should. We have made contingency plans to hire more people and organize for efficiency as needed to make sure we can scale to a large amount and maintain a high level of quality control.