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Meshnetting through Cyberspace

Thanks to NickM for prodding me to post these interesting excerpts from New Scientist magazine (which did, alas, climb aboard the AGW bandwagon awhile back. So is it reliable now, and on this topic?). Please click the title for the rest of the New Scientist article, and for links embedded therein.

Meshnet activists rebuilding the internet from scratch
Tech – 08 August 2013 – New Scientist

Worried about the NSA snooping on your email? Maybe you need to start creating your own personal internet

THE internet is neither neutral nor private, in case you were in any doubt. The US National Security Agency can reportedly collect nearly everything a user does on the net, while internet service providers (ISPs) move traffic according to business agreements, rather than what is best for its customers. So some people have decided to take matters into their own hands, and are building their own net from scratch.

Across the US, from Maryland to Seattle, work is underway to construct user-owned wireless networks that will permit secure communication without surveillance or any centralised organisation. They are known as meshnets and ultimately, if their designers get their way, they will span the country.

Dan Ryan is one of the leaders of the Seattle Meshnet project, where sparse coverage already exists thanks to radio links set up by fellow hackers. Those links mean that instead of communicating through commercial internet connections, meshnetters can talk to each other through a channel that they themselves control.

Each node in the mesh, consisting of a radio transceiver and a computer, relays messages from other parts of the network. [ ... ]

While these projects are just getting off the ground, a mesh network in Catalonia, Spain, is going from strength to strength. Guifi was started in the early 2000s by Ramon Roca, an Oracle employee who wanted broadband at his rural home. The local network now has more than 21,000 wireless nodes, spanning much of Catalonia. As well as allowing users to communicate with each other, Guifi also hosts web servers, videoconferencing services and internet radio broadcasts, all of which would work if the internet went down for the rest of the country. [ ... ]

After the extent of the NSA’s clandestine PRISM program was revealed, privacy advocates like the Electronic Frontier Foundation urged users to start using relatively simple email encryption programs like Pretty Good Privacy and GNU Privacy Guard. But even those can be daunting to set up. A better idea would be a decentralised network that relies on encryption by default.

This is the case with Hyperboria, the virtual layer that underpins meshnet efforts in the US. Hyperboria is a virtual meshnet because it runs through the existing internet, but is purely peer-to-peer.

[ ... ]

Instead of letting other computers connect to you through a shared IP address which anyone can use, cjdns [software] only lets computers talk to one other after they have verified each other cryptographically. That means there is no way anyone can be intercepting your traffic.

[ ... ]

Web services like Gmail, for example, let you log in using an encrypted connection. But when you send an email it leaves Google’s encrypted garden and hits the open web in clear text for anyone to read. With Hyperboria’s peer-to-peer connections, every single link in the chain of communication is fully encrypted. Intermediaries that handle traffic cannot even see what kind of traffic it is, let alone read any email.

[ ... ]

Into the darknet

Visions of a decentralised internet come with a seedier side – the darknet. One way to access it is through the anonymising routing service Tor, which lets a user find hidden web pages that have .onion addresses, rather than IP addresses. But anonymisation like this can facilitate otherwise unacceptable activities. [ ... ]


  1. NickM says:

    Well, NS was always traditionally more biologically orientated. A few ears back I bought a SciAm and was shocked by how far it had dumbed down. I hope NS hasn’t gone down the same rabbit-hole. Maybe not. SciAm was brilliant and I learned a lot. Like trying to render a Mandelbrot set in AmigaBasic is OK if you have a lot of time on your hands. And by a lot I mean a lot. Ho hum! I still learned a lot such as the thermodynamics of a Stirling Engine and complex arithmetic. It was like school but fun and didn’t proceed at a gastropodic pace. It is now all little bits of summary with a different colour background. It’s like the BBC’s GCSE “Bitesize”. It drives me up the wall but in the ’80s SciAm (and especially the “mathematical recreations” bit was ace. I just hope NS hasn’t followed suit.

  2. Julie near Chicago says:

    I grew up on Scientific American. Those were the days … when they actually wrote pretty meaty, technical articles. And Martin Gardner (yes, “mathematical recreations”), and like that. But by the 80′s I was all wrapped up in dealing with the results of biological field experiments.

    Never heard of N.S. until the Climategate kerfuffle.

    Have you or JG got any info on this meshnet business?

  3. John Galt says:

    Julie, in terms of physical point-to-point or private relay networks, these have been around for a long time, especially where getting wired-to-the-matrix was too expensive and/or rural communities were being ignored by monopoly/near-monopoly telecoms providers.

    The difficulty is legislation as many of these physical private networks are based upon localised broadcasting using Wide Area Network topologies. The reason they aren’t immediately brought down by the FCC or other regulators is selective prosecution (as per usual), in that they will be ignored until someone sees them as either a threat to their profitability or a threat to their control, at which point the legislation will be brought down on them.

    For mesh networks which use the internet as a transport layer, this is akin to cloud-based web services with end-to-end strong encryption, not exactly a radical technology, but something that I suspect will be developed upon given the NSA and GCHQ intrusions. Equally, I would expect spy networks to attempt to break into such meshes.

    For myself, I would probably move to a mesh type approach if:
    1. I could utilise it easily through an internet based tunnel.
    2. I could set it up as a sandbox to my existing public internet activity
    3. If the functions such as e-mail and storage were encrypted and distributed*

    That’s about it really, an interesting technology but not yet ready for the mainstream.

    * = It is the existence of centralised servers that have been infiltrated by US Federal agents (Freedom Hosting) that led to people using Tor being compromised rather than Tor itself. Fortunately, when I was using my Tormail account I had an option called “Noscript” running to block the Feds javascript exploit which identified users true IP address and geo-location**

    ** = Given that I use Tor via an offshore free VPN (Expat Shield) any IP address given would reflect their servers hosted in the UK. Not too worried about that here in sunny Penang.

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