I am a huge fan of Twitter without it I would have never heard about this project. I saw a post by @thedarktangent (DEF CON founder) asking if a PirateBox would be a good option for the data duplication village next year. Intrigued I googled PirateBox and found a rather interesting project. Because I like to keep spare hardware around I was able to setup a box very quickly. Reading through their website I found that they have OpenWRT compatible and RaspberryPi hardware options. Thanks to a run to Frys during DEF CON 24 I had an extra RaspberryPi 3 ready for use. In addition, I had plenty of extra wireless adapters left over from my DEF CON Wireless Monitoring Services Project.
After downloading the PirateBox image I took an extra 64 GB MicroSD card and used dd on my Mac to write the image just like most other operating systems for ARM hardware. The PirateBox team has created a very great getting started guide: https://piratebox.cc/raspberry_pi:diy
One thing to note on the installation steps is that it is important to follow the post installation instructions or you will limit the functionality of the box.
The wireless adapters I used were not on the list, but were the same chipset as the TP-Link TL-WN722N and they worked without issue. If you know which chipsets your cards are and have used them in Linux, I doubt you will have a problem. The drivers must support being put into to master mode since the box becomes an access point.
After you have finished configuring the box you then should see a new access point SSID “PirateBox – Share Freely” which is an open network. Once you connect to this network it will assign you an IP on the 192.168.77.x subnet and also redirect most DNS request to the main PirateBox page.
There are some very neat things on the main page. The first is the chat. It is a realtime anonymous chat system. I haven’t dug very deeply into how it works but I love the simplicity. Another thing on the main page is the ability to upload files. I started pushing a number of video files to my PirateBox so that I could test out the media stream possibilities. The final thing on this page is the disk usage. For this base test I just used the extra space on the microSD card for storage. But I believe it would be trivial to switch to an external USB drive by changing the shared directory in /etc/minidlna.conf.
The next feature is the message board. This clever little box gives you a private message board that functions like a limited 4chan. I think this could be useful for some interesting private conversations with file-sharing.
The last feature is a file listing that also allows you to download. The only draw back of this feature is that you can only download one file per click at a time making it more difficult for people to download a large list of files without a lot of clicks.
Overall I think the PirateBox has a lot of good features but has a few areas for improvement. Even though the idea is free open sharing, I’d prefer to see them use an encrypted wireless network or help you configure one in the installation instructions. I think the transfer speeds are going to be limited by the microSD card or by the USB 2.0 speeds of the RaspberryPi. I also think the 802.11n wireless adapter is going to be another limiting factor. I would expect a maximum throughput of 10-20 MB/s transfer. In my tests downloading files from the web interface I was getting a maximum of 10 MB/s.
There are more features I have not tested yet like mesh networking with the B.A.T.M.A.N. protocol and streaming video via the pre-installed ReadyMedia Media Server.
I think I’m going to start packing this device with me everywhere I go and see what I can amass.