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Is the shellfire VPN box worth it?

As with other similar devices, the diminutive Shellfire Box VPN router is vastly underpowered for everyday use. As we see in this Shellfire Box review, however, it otherwise works rather well. Given that it costs only fractionally more than Shellfire’s PremiumPlus VPN plan, its purchase is a no-brainer for Shellfire users. Its potential as a travel router suited to undemanding tasks may also be enough to tempt other VPN users to the service.

Router Hardware Specifications

The tiny Shellfire Box looks very similar to the Anonabox (except that it is white). It measures just 6.5 x 4.5 x 2.8 cm and is feather-light, weighing in at under 30 grams.

Is it possible to fit hardware powerful enough to handle the rigorous processing demands of encrypting and decrypting OpenVPN in such a minuscule box? We shall see.

The full hardware spec is:

  • On-chip: MediaTek MT7620n
  • CPU Speed: 580MHz
  • RAM memory: 64 MB DDR
  • Wired network: 2 x Ethernet 100 Mbps (switched)
  • Ethernet chip: MediaTek MT7530 (SoC)
  • Ethernet switch: MediaTek MT7530 (integrated)
  • Wireless network: 2.4 GHz 802.11b/g/n MiMo 2x2:2
  • Wireless chip: MediaTek RT5390 (SoC)

This is pretty much on par with similar hardware by the likes of Anonabox, PandaPow, and Betterspot, all of which performed miserably in our speed tests.

The Shellfire Box uses the 300 Mbps 802.11n wireless standard (max). This around three times slower than the current 802.11ac standard.

It is also worth noting that the 100 Mbps Ethernet ports are not only very much slower than the current Gigabit (1 GigE) standard, but are also slower than the 300 Mbps Ethernet ports used by most other devices in its own class.

The Shellfire Box is powered via a micro-USB port (no battery).

What it looks like

It’s a tiny white plastic box with two Ethernet ports and a micro-USB power port in one side. The device also sports a full-sized USB port, although the purpose of this is unclear. A blue LED lights up when plugged into a power source

Also included in the package are a 30cm Ethernet cable, a 1m USB power cable (without mains connector), and a fold-out Quick Installation Guide  (in English and German).

Is the shellfire box private?

Shellfire states that, “We don’t log any connection data.” But then again, it also states that, “You’re surfing absolutely securely and anonymously!” I really wish VPN providers would stop saying this.

Shellfire knows exactly who you are via your IP address, and could keep logs any time it chooses to, so you are not in any way anonymous when using the service.

Looking more closely at its privacy policy, Shellfire says that,

Connection and usage data (for example file transfers, connection times) are only collected if they are required as means of accounting. This is not the case for flat rate tariffs.

Given that all its VPN plans (including this router) use flat rate tariffs, it does seem that Shellfire is a genuine no logs service. Yay!

Shellfire is based in Germany, which has among the strongest privacy laws in the world. New surveillance and mandatory data retention laws, however, are chipping away at this. Many fear the situation will get worse. Please see here for more details.

As I understand things, though, the new mandatory data retention laws do not currently apply to VPN providers.

In addition to the above issue, the German intelligence service (BND) actively monitors German citizens, and cooperates closely with GCHQ and the NSA.

Germany is therefore usually regarded as not being an ideal location to base a privacy-focused VPN service. However, there is some debate over the issue thanks to the reputation of its privacy laws.

P2P is permitted, but only on the Finland server.

Visit Shellfire »

Setting up the shellfire box

Signing Up

Ordering the Shellfire Box requires providing full contact details. As already noted, delivery requires a physical address, so there is little point being evasive here, anyway.

Delivery to Germany takes two to three days (expect longer if outside of Germany, and especially if outside the EU).

Connecting to the Shellfire Box

The router comes pre-configured for the Shellfire PremiumPlus service. To use, simply plug it into your modem via an Ethernet cable (provided) and power it on using a USB plug or power supply. You can then connect devices to the Box via its Ethernet port or WiFi, as per connecting to a normal router.

It really could not be easier (but remember to plug the WAN port into your modem, not the LAN one as I did at first!).

The Router Interface

As with most VPN routers, the Shellfire Box is managed via a web interface. Simply log on to the specified web page in your browser, and use the password provided.

The OpenWRT interface really is as simple as can be. The server list can be sorted by location and type (speed).

You can choose between OpenVPN over UDP or TCP. “Hidden TCP Connection” almost certainly means using TCP port 443. Please see How to Bypass VPN Blocks for information on this.

Conclusion

The main problem with the Shellfire Box is the same problem that plagues all similar devices. You simply cannot fit the hardware needed to process a VPN connection at speed into such a tiny and low-cost box. The result is a 85-90% download speed loss.

For day-to-day use, this will be unacceptable to most users. That said, if you plan on buying the Shellfire VPN PremiumPlus plan anyway, the Shellfire Box is a no-brainer. After all, it costs less than $6 more than buying the PremiumPlus plan on its own!

Other than speed issues, the Shellfire Box works well. It is ridiculously easy to set up, and does not leak your IP address. It could, therefore, be useful as travel router, which can keep you safe while performing undemanding tasks on the internet.

Written by: Douglas Crawford

I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. You can now follow me on Twitter - @douglasjcrawf.

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