Anonabox Pro Tor And VPN Router Review: Protect Your Privacy

Anonabox Pro Introduction

Internet privacy is kind of like a VCR or CD player, in that one day our kids will ask us “you used to have that?” It’s staggering how much of our online activity is tracked, catalogued, and used for a wide array of purposes, most of them related to commerce. But if you’re a dissident, journalist, someone who lives in a country where the Internet is restricted, or just want to browse the web without being tracked, your options are becoming increasingly limited. It’s likely the situation will only get worse in the future, as companies devise more sophisticated ways of tracking our every move online.

The Tor project was designed to combat this scourge. Tor is a freely accessible network of global relays that bounce traffic all around the world and encrypt the path it takes, making it difficult to track one’s behavior online. The project’s website describes it thusly, Tor helps to reduce the risks of both simple and sophisticated traffic analysis by distributing your transactions over several places on the Internet, so no single point can link you to your destination. Instead of taking a direct route from source to destination, data packets on the Tor network take a random pathway through several relays that cover your tracks so no observer at any single point can tell where the data came from or where it's going.”



Image Credit: Tor Project website

Tor, which stands for The Onion Router, is available through many mechanisms including a browser, Android client, and now hardware in the form of the Anonabox (note this hardware was developed by a third-party, not the Tor Project itself). The hook with this tiny black box is that configuring Tor is difficult for some people, and using it properly on several computers or when you’re on the road can be a challenge, so the Anonabox does all this hard work for you. Once you’re connected to it and connected to Tor, all data that passes through your Internet connection is sent via the Tor network. It’s like using a far flung VPN basically, as once you turn the box on and are using it here in the US, if you do an IP check it’ll likely appear as if you’re in France, Germany, or some other far-away location.  If sites are mining your data or location, the websites will have no idea the request is actually coming from your computer, but rather an exit node in Slovokia, for instance.

Some of you may have heard of this device, and are aware of its turbulent past. It first appeared as a Kickstarter project that exploded in popularity. The company was seeking just $7,500 and ended up getting over $600,000 before Kickstarter suspsended the campaign. A Redditor and others had raised some issues about the veracity of the designers’ claims, so Kickstarter yanked the project in light of these questions, which were whether they were using custom hardware or an off-the-shelf unit from China that was modified.

The Ananobox was ultimately modified to address these claims, according to the company, and reappeared on Indiegogo with a new-and-improved device. The company was eventually acquired in 2015 by a holding company, and now it’s mass-producing these boxes and selling them all around the world. If you go online to look up reviews of the Anonabox be sure to note the date of the review, as all of the issues we’ve seen brought up in other reviews have been fixed or addressed in the most current form of the Anonabox.

The device itself is quite small, and we read one interview that the inventor said it was shaped with rounded edges in case you needed to make it disappear quickly. Ahem.

The unit measures 64mm long by 44mm wide, and just 22mm tall. It features one gigabit WAN port, a gigabit LAN port, a USB power connection, green activity LED, and a single USB 2.0 port.

The Anonabox next to a USB WiFi adapter for scale.
The bundle includes the unit itself, a USB power cable, quick-start guide and a 30-day VPN trial. 

In the box you get the Anonabox, a USB cable, a startup guide, and a promo code for free VPN service from HideMyAss for 30-days (more on that later). Update 5/3/2016 - Anonabox has announced a new partnership with VyprVPN, which will now provide Virtual Private Network services for the Anonabox Pro reviewed here in addition to the Anonabox Tunneler. "From the outset, we were very impressed with VyprVPN and what they offer the end user," said Alan Burwell, Anonabox VP of Operations. "They're the only VPN provider to employ proprietary software on wholly owned hardware, which means privacy and security are protected from end-to-end. And that's very important."

The Pro model we tested sells for roughly $100 - $120, but there are other models available as well with less functionality. Here's a brief rundown:

The Original: A basic Tor router that sells for $80. It doesn't have a USB port, and there's not a VPN interface. Also its WiFi password is hardcoded, so you can't change it. There's also no admin interface. 

The Fawkes: This unit sells for $90 and has an admin interface so you can customize the SSID and password. It also lets you link to a public WiFi hotspot anonymously, and can also function as a Tor bridge or relay, and as a wireless network extender.  

The Tunneler: This is not a Tor client but rather designed to work with the HideMyAss VPN client, and others. It sells for $100 and includes an admin interface. 

The Pro: This model, which we are evaluating reviewing here, has every feature possible including a customizable SSID and security settings, file-sharing, Tor client, embedded VPN controls, and more. 

Here's how the products are compared on the Anonabox website.

We’ll note at the outset that we’re not hackers, crackers, or network security experts, so we'll provide you with details of our experience using Anonabox Pro, but won't be doing any advanced penetration tests against it. Whether it’s safe or truly anonymous, we don’t think anything—even Tor—is 100% effective. That said, we’ll show you how it works, what our experience was like, and cover the pitfalls as well.

Tags:  Privacy, Router, VPN, Tor, Anonabox

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