Technology

Kickstarter cancels plan to make anonymising router

Hong Kong protests Image copyright Photopress
Image caption Many people agitating for change in nations such as China use Tor to avoid official scrutiny

A plan to raise cash to make a router that hides what people do online has been suspended after questions were raised about the project.

Anonabox sought $7,500 (£4,700) on crowdfunding site Kickstarter but got pledges of more than $585,000 in its first five days.

The project was pulled by Kickstarter which said it had worries about who made the hardware being offered.

Other problems with the project also emerged via social news site Reddit.

Security worry

The Anonabox project claimed to involve creating a tiny $45 custom-built router that sent all a person's browsing traffic across the Tor network. This bounces data around the net, encrypting it at every step, to hinder attempts to trace who is visiting a site or who has written a particular message or blogpost. Tor is widely used in many nations by human rights activists to avoid official scrutiny.

Typically people use software to join the Tor network but Anonabox claimed hardware was better because it was less open to tampering and attack by people keen to unmask anonymous browsers.

Soon after the project debuted on Kickstarter, some people noticed that the hardware being claimed as custom-built was already available elsewhere. Pictures of the prototype Anonabox seemed to be very similar to a device available from a Chinese electronics firm.

Others questioned the project's pledge to be open source as relatively little of the code running on the router was shared. Finally, some uncovered security shortcomings with the Anonabox that could give attackers a way to compromise the device.

The scrutiny led Kickstarter to suspend the project and ensure cash from backers did not get passed on. In an email to tech news site Wired, Kickstarter said questions raised about where the hardware came from and who made it brought about the suspension.

August Germar, who came up with the idea for Anonabox, told Ars Technica that the similar-looking devices seen on Chinese websites were "just generic knockoffs" saying it was good the hardware was available from China.

"It doesn't bother me," he said. "I just wanted more people to be able to have a device like this."

Despite the project being cancelled on Kickstarter, Mr Germar said he planned to continue development of Anonabox and sell it directly.

The furore around Anonabox comes as the Tor Project announces version 4.0 of its core software.

The updated version disables some older software found to be vulnerable to attack and adds some data traffic funnelling systems that seek to get around widely used firewall systems. In particular, said Tor, these systems should help people in China avoid official scrutiny of their browsing habits and behaviour.

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