Oct 13, 2014 · 2 minutes

There's no denying the need for security tools that are easier to install, more convenient to use, and portable enough to be used whenever an Internet connection is needed. Often,. it's easier for hackers to gather information than it is for consumers to protect it, and if there's any hope of preventing those attackers (or the government, for that matter) from gathering that information, it's going to come from hardware and software tools that meet all the criteria above.

August Germar hopes to create one such tool with the Anonabox, a small device that routes all data transfers from a connected device through the Tor browsing tool, ostensibly protecting its users from whomever might be spying on their online activity. Germar is seeking $7500 on Kickstarter to produce the Anonabox, which can be had for a $45 "donation" made through the crowdfunding service, at a scale large enough to make a difference to consumers.

It's an admirable goal, and the Anonabox has already passed its funding goal by about $5,000. But it's important to exercise caution whenever someone makes promises to protect data from attackers -- in part because no one really knows what intelligence agencies can do, despite the revelations offered by Edward Snowden and another NSA whistleblower.

Using something like Tor has its downsides, chief among them that when you attempt to prevent intelligence agencies from seeing what you're doing online, it's a surefire way to ensure that they'll target you with even more surveillance, as I wrote in July:

This means that searching for ways to keep your metadata away from the NSA’s clutches doesn’t just attract the agency’s attention — it also ensures that the agency will gather more information than it did before and store it longer than it otherwise would have. The NSA has given people a devil’s bargain: Either go along with its programs and accept that some of your information will be collected, or attempt to resist the NSA and get labelled a “target” for caring about your digital security.
It's probably safe to assume that routing everything through something like the Anonabox is going to have the same effect; I wouldn't be surprised if people who visited the box's Kickstarter page were targeted because they were even just a little curious about making it harder to track their online activities. The NSA has placed concerned consumers around the world in a no-win situation.

So while it might be tempting to herald the Anonabox as yet another victory over the NSA and anyone else who might want to compromise their targets' digital security, it's also important not to overstate the effectiveness of any security tool, or to ignore the potential downsides of using a device that's bound to add at least a few more people to the NSA's list of surveillance targets.

That's the world the NSA and other intelligence agencies have created -- one where it's hard to even get excited about interesting projects like the Anonabox because attempting to resist their spying could just end up making things worse. Surveillance programs are bad; the feeling that it's impossible to beat them is worse.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]