November 30, 2020

Kickstarter Puts Kibosh on Tor-Based Router Funding

tor

A Kickstarter project that catapulted to stratospheric success soon after launch has taken a nosedive, crashed and burned. The makers of the Anonabox, a router designed to direct all of a user’s Internet traffic through the Tor network, reportedly broke some Kickstarter rules, resulting in the project’s suspension. All pledges will be canceled, and backers won’t be charged.

Kickstarter on Friday suspended a crowdfunding campaign for Anonabox, a portable networking device designed specifically to run Tor.

The campaign for the privacy-minded router, which launched earlier last week, was wildly successful. In just a few days, it reportedly garnered more than US$600,000 in pledged funds from thousands of backers. The Kickstarter goal for the $45 device was just $7,500.

By Thursday, however, an acrimonious debate had arisen over an apparent contradiction between the project’s claims to be using custom components and the availability of similar hardware elsewhere online.

Concerns also emerged about the assertion that the Anonabox was fully open source. Some critics claimed that its creators actually had shared little code. Others questioned the device’s built-in security.

Numerous backers already had canceled their pledges before Kickstarter suspended the project on Friday.

Broken Rules

Because the project was not allowed to reach its funding deadline, all pledges were canceled and backers won’t be charged, Kickstarter spokesperson Justin Kazmark told TechNewsWorld.

Kazmark declined to comment on the reason for Kickstarter’s decision.

“We typically don’t comment on specific moderator actions, but I can point you to our FAQ on why projects would be suspended,” he said.

In an email to the project’s investors, however, Kickstarter reportedly said that “a review of the project uncovered evidence that it broke Kickstarter’s rules,” which prohibit falsely claiming to have made items yourself, and failing to disclose relevant facts about the project or its creator.

Anonabox’s creators did not respond to our request to comment for this story.

‘Privacy in a Box’

“People want privacy in a box and will pony up the funds to get it,” Tim Erlin, director of IT risk and security strategy for Tripwire, told TechNewsWorld.

“While there’s little doubt that Kickstarter made the right decision with regard to this project, it’s also clear that there’s demand for the capability and willingness to fund it,” Erlin told TechNewsWorld.

“Kickstarter’s move protects its platform and brand, but it also runs the risk of discouraging other would-be-entrepreneurs from taking the leap into what appears to be a good market,” he added.

Despite the end of its Kickstarter campaign, the Anonabox will soon be available online though its own website, a notice on its site promises.

Risks Involved

Privacy-minded users long have relied upon Tor software for anonymity while browsing the Internet. Tor encrypts Internet traffic and passes it through a random assortment of computers around the globe.

Anonabox promises to give users a way to ensure that all their network traffic is routed over Tor simply by plugging in a single device.

“Clearly, this Kickstarter campaign shows there is a great demand for such a device,” Andrew Lewman, executive director of the Tor Project, told TechNewsWorld.

The Tor Project for years has been working on a hardware device of its own dubbed the “Torouter,” Lewman noted.

“We think the purpose of such a device is valuable and would provide many people with an easy way to gain some privacy on the Internet,” Lewman explained. “It would also allow a larger number of people to give back to the Tor Network by hosting Tor Bridges or Relays.”

However, “simply forwarding all of your Internet traffic without understanding the risks involved isn’t safe,” he added. “We would love help, advice and ideas about how to make a hardware Tor router work easily, safely and securely.”

A Growing Need

Looking ahead, functionality like that promised by Anonabox likely will be integrated into home routers in the near future, Craig Spiezle, executive director, founder and president of the Online Trust Alliance, told TechNewsWorld.

“To make this mainstream, you will need it baked in from the ground up,” Spiezle explained.

In addition, he said, “the Internet of Things and smart homes will clearly need such protections and a universal interface.”

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