Privacy and security concerns are affecting more and more people, especially after the disclosures of whistleblower Edward Snowden. At the time, he advised the public to use encryption in order to keep out prying eyes. As a result, a lot of tools and product have been created to meet this purpose and we’ve seen even a smartphone getting created especially fo these needs or a service to encrypt calls.
Now, we’re witnessing the launch of a new, portable security-oriented travel router. At the recent conference Def Con, security experts Marc Rogers and Ryan Lackey introduced PORTAL, a software image compiled for small travel routers. PORTAL stands for Personal Onion Router To Assure Liberty and it provides traffic routing through the Tor anonymity network. Lackey said the following to ArsTechnica in a recent interview:
“The big advantage of something like PORTAL is being able to isolate failures to a dedicated outboard device and with a conceptually simple UI/UX. It’s a physical device, and when it’s present and connected in line, traffic must pass through it. It never has your sensitive information on it.”
The model that was showcased at Def Con was one of TP-Link’s pocketable routers, but there’s a good number of compatible models listed on the project page. It basically works like a funnel for Tor as you don’t need to remember to enable anything to use it. Your normal Internet traffic goes in, and te Tor traffic goes out and comes back.
By using Tor’s pluggable transports, PORTAL comes with added protection in order to properly “cement” your privacy. PORTAL is basicall an external box, that “never has your sensitive information on it,”. Still, the navigation isn bulletproof or NSA-proof, but it’s said to offer a relative anonymity, safe from prying eyes and content filters.
Making your own router isn’t exactly easy, if you’re not that versed into programming. For example, the GL.iNET Smart Router is compatible with the PORTAL image, and you’ll need to download it from Github and flash any TP-Link-compatible travel router.
So that’s basically the main drawback of PORTAL, as it isn’t currently a hardware product, but just a Github download that must be “flashed” onto a TP-Link compatible pocket router. Lackey added:
“The whole build process, management, etc. wasn’t available at Def Con. Turning this into a tool directly usable by end users, or at least “power users” or sysadmins responsible for a group of users, is important, and something we’re working on. Watch this space. Being able to flash your own devices is great, but for [more than] 95 percent of users today, they don’t even want to do that much (nor should they be expected to!), so we’re working on a solution.”