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Hacked and Unpacked

The PirateBox, Revisited

In a previous post, I showcased the PirateBox, an anonymous offline mobile file sharing and communication system.

While it was a fascinating project at the time, the leaning curve was steep for someone not familiar with flashing routers, SSH access, and some proficiency with the BASH shell interface.

Recently, the project recently saw a major update, with a revamp including a new website, www.piratebox.cc, a simpler installation procedure, and a bevy of new features.

The devices that support the simplified installation are: The TP-LINK MR3020:IMG_1387The TP-Link MR3040 (my fave!):IMG_1402And the WR703N:wr703All three devices are reasonable in price, and my personal favorite, the 3040 has a built-in battery, making it the ultimate portable PirateBox.

It is refreshing to see portable routers, devices that were essentially made obsolete with the advent of the “hotspot feature” in smart phones have their useful life extended in such a way.

TP-LINK deserves a hat tip for not locking out their potential user base and making the firmware update process so unrestrictive and open.

The new website includes a simpler installation procedure, an upgrade tutorial, for previous PirateBox modified hardware, as well as information about PirateBox tutorial events, aptly called “PirateBox Camp”.

If you are lucky to live within the vicinity of one of these events, you can receive expert assistance with installing this version of OPEN-WRT, as well as innovative uses for PirateBoxes. Care for a web server taped to your skateboard? They do that.

So what is new with the PirateBox?

  • The initial hardware installation process has been greatly simplified, with a zip file that you extract and place on the USB thumb drive.
  • Complete re-write from the ground up for greater stability and additional features.
  • The website now provides clear and concise instructions on installing and upgrading a PirateBox to the latest version.
  • UpnP Media server for streaming content.
  • Image and messaging board for 4CHAN like functionality.
  • Rasberry-PI(rate) Box image now available for the ubiquitous Raspberry-Pi enthusiast platform.
  • The community around this project continues to grow, with an excellent forum, where users can get assistance when they encounter difficulties or have the desire to enable some of the more advanced features. (or perpetually break their stuff, like me)

All of this gave me the impetus to upgrade both of my PirateBoxes. Installing v1.0 also gave me the opportunity (?) to explore password recovery methods on the TP-LINK 3040 and the TP-Link 3020 as I had forgotten their passwords. This wouldn’t be me unless everything was broken right off the bat.

First, we need to fix the PirateBoxes…

Luckily for me, Mathias Strubel has posted a very nice youtube video, demonstrating how to access the failsafe mode on PirateBox / OpenWrt devices, and I was able to recover both of mine quickly thanks to this.

The PirateBox forums were also really helpful in providing me with the necessary information needed to reset my password via the telnet interface. The forums for the PirateBox are a vibrant environment, full of knowledgeable people, and friendly advice.

Once I had regained administrative access to both devices, I proceeded to use the updated documentation to upgrade them to the latest version of the PirateBox software, to take advantage of the added stability, slicker interface, and additional features.

If this is your first time installing, on a fresh device, you can find the instructions here: http://piratebox.cc/openwrt:diy.

If like me, you are upgrading existing PirateBoxes, you will find the instructions to do so on the same page as well, about halfway down. The upgrade process was greatly simplified, and I soon had both devices running the latest version.

The PirateBox has many uses.

Some people have done very interesting things with this project, such as going on a cross country trip and asking the people you meet to upload content, creating a kind of “digital scrap book” documenting their adventures.

Others, such as Jason Griffey have forked the PirateBox into new projects. He is the driving force behind the LibraryBox, a kickstarter backed effort, that used these small routers to provide free books in locations with little or no internet access, amongst other things. There is also an Android port of the PirateBox, now available on the Google Play market!

Bear in mind, it does require a rooted device. This new version has even addressed a problem that has been pointed out to me in the past, the name of the access point is a little ominous. Some possible users might shy away from connecting to an open network called “PirateBox – Share Freely”.

There is now an immediate message explaining what the PirateBox is, and re-assuring users that nothing nefarious is afoot.IMG_2144David Darts has created an awesome project, that makes an innovative use of otherwise obsoleted technology. The PirateBox enables anonymous file sharing, anonymous chat, and a portable 4chan message board like experience. All of this with the added geek cachet of an ultra portable server, resting in your pocket!

@jean_taggart


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