Tor, the privacy network that’s used by everyone from criminals and activitists to the US intelligence services and the supremely paranoid, has just been repackaged for the mass market. Available in the shape of a $49 box-like device, it’s said to make it easier to route your home’s internet connection through the Tor network.
Pogoplug’s Safeplug, as its known, pushes all of your web-browsing activity through the randomized web of interconnected computers that make up the Tor network, allowing you to remain undetectable whilst online. What with all the recent hullabaloo over the NSA’s spying on millions of internet users, Pogoplug thinks the level of concern is enough that hundreds of netizens will embrace the opportunity to stay off the radar.
The good thing about Safeplug is that it’s pretty straightforward to set up – simply plug it into your regular router, switch it on, and you’re good to go. The device is said to be compatible with all major web browsers too, including Chrome, Firefox, IE and others, as well as with Android and iOS devices, keeping your IP address hidden while you surf. Safeplug also comes with integrated ad-blockers, so there’ll be less annoying ads popping up.
On the downside, surfing the web via Tor could have an impact on your connection speed, as Pogoplug admits in its blog:
“While using Safeplug, it is likely that you will notice reductions in your overall Internet speed and page-loading times. This is because your Internet traffic is being bounced to computers across the globe to make your Internet browsing impossible to trace. The good news is that the more people use Tor the faster the service runs, so by using Safeplug you are helping the Internet community protect itself from tracking and surveillance. As Safeplug and Tor gain in popularity, speeds will continue to increase”
Slow connection speeds are one thing, but one has to question if this device is really needed, as it’s perfectly possible to browse via Tor without spending fifty bucks on the Safeplug box – the Tor community has already created a web browser for Linux, Mac and Windows computers that’s simple to download and use. The only real advantage of Safeplug is that you can use multiple devices to browse via Tor without setting anything else up.
Moreover, questions have been raised recently about the usefulness of Tor, at least where the NSA is concerned:
“For most uses, Tor provides the best available protection against a well-resourced observer, states the Tor website.
“It’s an open question how much protection Tor (or any other existing anonymous communications tool) provides against the NSA’s large-scale Internet surveillance. On its own, Tor can’t protect against attacks against vulnerabilities on your computer or its software; Tor is not the only tool you need to be secure on the internet”
Even so, we’ll concede that most other governments and hackers don’t have the capabilities of the NSA behind them, and so if you’re concerned about any other kind of spying threat, Safeplug might just be the device for you.