Ben Oliver


Piratebox - A Private Internet In Your Pocket

14 January 2014

I’ve recently had the good fortune to land a portable router. If you don’t know what that is, it’s just a router with a battery in it. The idea being that you can stick whatever 3G dongle you like in it and make yourself a little hotspot on the go. I have a phone that has the same feature minus said dongle, so I have little use for such a device.

However, I chanced upon a fine idea created by NYU arts professor David Darts: The Piratebox.1

The concept is simple. It’s a wifi network with some storage on it, that anyone can connect to. When connected, all web pages redirect to the ‘piratebox’ page stored on the router. This allows people to chat, place files on the device, download other ones, and use a built-in message board; all offline and compeltely anonymous.

It’s a mini network in your pocket, that’s completely off the grid.

The installation was fairly painless on my device, a TP-Link MR3040. I dug out a tiny USB pen drive to go in the router and act as storage, followed the instructions and was up and running in no time. Some basic use of ssh and Linux is required, so if you’re afraid of the command line this is probably not the project for you. That said you won’t go far wrong following the guide2 on Darts’ page and copying/pasting the commands as you go.

I decided to leave my little router on overnight. I live in an apartment block that’s teeming with people gasping for free wifi so I figured it wouldn’t be long until someone hooked up to my little device, and I was right.

The next morning I flipped open my laptop, connected to my ‘piratebox’ network and hey-ho someone had left me a nice message, and uploaded a book! It’s nice to feel loved. The message said that they were pleasantly surprised by the device, and it was fun enough to offset the disappointment of not actually having free wifi.

There’s a message-in-a-bottle quality to this whole thing that I love. It allows people to share their thoughts freely (and yes, their files), in one of the few truly anonymous environments you’ll find on a computer.