Tor, the top privacy tool for online activists and miscreants alike, is about to jump into the mainstream.
Or at least that’s what Pogoplug thinks. The hardware company, better known for its cloud storage devices, has unveiled SafePlug, a $49 box that it hopes will make it easier for more people to surf the web anonymously.
Tor works by sending users’ web traffic through an twisty, indirect route around the Internet. So instead of going from user to site, Tor traffic veers in many other directions, hopping across relays in an effort to hide where it’s coming from. But as powerful and effective as Tor can be, the software is still too intimidating for many Internet users.
Safeplug changes that. With the device, surfing anonymously is as simple as plugging in a few cables (or in the case with smartphones, connecting to a Safeplug-connected WiFi network). It’s the sort of consumer-friendly approach to Tor that will encourage more people to try it out.
As if all of that wasn’t compelling enough, Safeplug also comes with a built-in ad blocker, though it’s turned off by default.
It’s not all great, though. One of the basic realities of using Tor is that it significantly slows down the user’s Internet connection. Safeplug isn’t immune to this. “While using Safeplug, it is likely that you will notice reductions in your overall Internet speed and page-loading times,” Pogoplug admits, though it maintains that speeds should increase as Safeplug and Tor get more popular.
That latter point is key. As Pogoplug points out, the success of Safeplug is ultimately a great thing for the long-term future of Tor, which the company argues can only get better as more people use it.
Another thing that’s key to keep in mind here: Not even Tor is a complete solution for online anonymity, “Want Tor to really work? You need to change some of your habits, as some things won’t work exactly as you are used to,” Tor warns on its download page.