Using the Anonabox
The lure of the Anonabox is that it's a simple way to route all of your internet traffic through the Tor network. You don't need to download any special software, or configure anything, you just plug it in and boom, you’re on the Tor network. Overall, that’s exactly what we experienced. We have no experience connecting to Tor, and it was literally as easy as plugging it in and starting the Tor connection from the web interface. We’d even bet our mom could accomplish it.
One of the promises of the Anonabox was that it offers access to the “Deep Web,” which many folks have heard about before but never experienced. After all it’s not like you can find it easily, nor do most users want to leave any footprints in a place like that. But once we were up and running on the Anonabox, we decided to check it out. There’s not much to say other than you can go there but we wouldn't.
Most of the sites required logins just to look at their wares, so we mostly browsed. Every site also required Bitcoin for payment, which is not unexpected. You’d be insane to enter your banking credentials into one of these sites. As far as the Deep Web goes, you can certainly access it via Tor, and you don’t need the Anonabox to do it, but this makes it easy. You can also access these sites through any old browser if you know where to look, but you're probably better off not going there without some form of privacy protection, even if it's just for exploratory or research purposes.
When it comes to using Tor for day-to-day stuff, you really shouldn’t. As you can imagine, bouncing the signal all over the world before it comes back to you takes its toll on your connection, so as you would expect there is a great deal of latency when connected to Tor. Overall we wouldn’t say it was unusable, or like dial-up, big web pages took upwards of 10 seconds to load instead of two -- that kind of thing. The makers of the Anonabox specifically warn about this in the product description, saying it’s horrible for gaming due to the latency.
For a brief snapshot of what it can look like, at times, we ran the Speedtest.net benchmark before and after we connected to Tor.
And here’s after:
That’s stark. Our download speed went from 179.82Mb/s all the way down to 1.21Mb/s. The latency is real, and there’s no way around it, but luckily you don’t have to be logged into Tor the entire time the Anonabox is connected. This isn't the devices fault, by the way. That's Tor and it would happen on any client connected to the network.
You can simply connect or disconnect to Tor anytime you want via the Admin interface, which is an awesome feature since we don’t mind a slower Internet connection once in awhile, but using it every day is not workable for us, nor you we expect.
The same goes for WiFi, in that the router broadcasts a separate SSID for the Tor-connected network. Earlier versions of the Anonabox included a hard-coded 24 character password that was printed on a slip of paper, which made life difficult, but in the Pro you can name the network anything you want, and customize all the security settings too. Security options include all the usual suspects: WEP, WPA-PSK, WPA2-PSK, mixed mode, or open.
You can only get 802.11n of course, but that’s not a surprise. You can however select a specific channel to operate it on, and choose from 20Mhz or 40Mhz channels. Mac filtering is supported, as is bridge-mode.
Overall it was really a breeze to use on a day-to-day basis. There’s no advanced knowledge required to use it, and it’s literally plug-and-play. You can connect and disconnect from Tor as you see fit, both wired and wirelessly, and use it only when you need to. We honestly can’t think of anything in the interface that was difficult or troubling to figure out beyond connecting it initially. It was extremely easy to use and worked as advertised.
Problems with using Tor
There is one downside though, which is that when we were connected to Tor we had trouble going to sites that used our location. For example, Pandora would no longer play because it thought we were in France.
We also couldn’t check our online dating profile as it also thought we were in Europe. Sometimes Google didn’t even work because it detected too many redirects coming from our connection.
One in a while Google would show us this error when we were using Tor.
Also Anonabox specifically mentions in its FAQ that you shouldn't use Tor when gaming due to the latency, but it is technically possible. Here's a screenshot of our pings in BF4 while connected to Tor. We also sent an email to Anonabox about our great gaming experience, and they replied by saying, "The reason could be that your internet service is quite fast. Usually we recommend VPN services for gaming and streaming videos."
You get a 30-day free trial of HMA with the purchase of your Pro box, but after that you can choose from their pricing models here. Together they make for a sweet pairing that lets you use Tor but without the limitations of connecting directly to it, like not being able to access Pandora or other sites. As we stated before, it also hides your Tor use from your ISP if that's a concern.