Tor, the somewhat-popular privacy tool used by activists, criminals, and U.S. intelligence to obscure traces of their online activities, is being repackaged for the mass market. A $49 device launched today and targeted at consumers makes it relatively easy to route a home Internet connection through the Tor network. The Safeplug, as the device is called, can also block most online ads.
“It’s meant to be a mass-market product,” says Jed Putterman, chief product officer of PogoPlug, the company that developed the Safeplug and whose main business is providing cloud storage and backup for home use. “We wanted to make a family-friendly way to get the protection Tor offers.”
The most straightforward way of using Tor today involves downloading a bundle of software, including a new Web browser, onto each device a person wants to use anonymously. The Safeplug, in contrast, is a small box that is simply plugged into a home Internet router to allow any Internet-connected device to make use of Tor. The Safeplug acts as a proxy server, meaning that computers on the same network use it as a go-between to access the Internet. The device also has a built-in advertising blocker, which is disabled by default.
This makes it a great gift for anyone in your family who may be less than tech savvy, offering a one-plug solution for your entire home network and enabling you to remain safe even when less experienced members of the household (read: children, relatives), are looking for a way to get online without compromising your workstations as a whole.
Of course, Tor is not exactly the end-all-be-all solution for online anonymity, as many programs such as Adobe Flash, Netflix, and various web browsers can still leak your information if improperly used or configured. In the end, Putterman hopes both the widespread proliferation of his device along with the increasing concern for personal privacy online will help to bolster the Tor network, creating more relays across a wider range of countries and reducing the amount of time it takes to connect and transmit data to each.
Until the Safeplug is installed on your router, you can still use any one of our dozens of different recommended VPN providers who can anonymize your traffic, encrypt your data, and keep your network safe from intruders both at home and abroad.