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How To Bypass Internet Shutdown

internet blackout toolkit

How does an internet shutdown work? And how do you bypass internet shutdowns? Learn about the different tools, platforms and software that will keep you online.

Discover and download the Internet Blackout Toolkit so you can be prepared and keep connected.

What is an Internet Shutdown?

In simple words, an internet shutdown involves intentionally disrupting or blocking internet access. They are also referred to as kill switches and blackouts. They can be done through throttling, when connectivity speeds are reduced to such a slow pace it’s almost impossible for pages to load. It’s also done by working with Internet Service Providers to cut off web access altogether.

Internet blackouts can occur at a localised or even national level, where an entire country has its telecommunications cut off. They are divided into two categories;

Partial Shutdown: The government limits access to specific websites or apps. A partial shutdown is done to prevent people from sharing information with others, typically via social media. 

Total Shutdown: In a total shutdown, all internet services are entirely stopped, including mobile data services and broadband carriers. The internet is no longer functional, and people cannot get online via any device. In developing nations, where internet access is unreliable, people take some time to understand that an intentional intervention is taking place.

Shutdowns are becoming more common every year. In 2015, only 15 shutdowns were documented. This number rose to 56 in 2016. In India alone, Human Rights Watch reported 20 shutdowns in 2017. However, www.internetshutdowns.in documented 41 shutdowns for the same period.

Why are Internet Shutdowns Used?

Most governments around the world apply censorship in some way or another. But a total Internet shutdown has a more immediate and widespread effect.

Concerns for national security are the leading cause of internet shutdowns globally. But governments also claim that shutdowns are necessary to prevent the spread of misinformation and ensure public safety

Some common reasons given for blackouts: 

More often than not, internet shutdowns are a means to control the views and actions of people. They limit a citizen’s ability to access information and express themselves freely. It means businesses are put on hold, students can’t study, and critical health services cannot be reached. Overall, the economy suffers and social life is disrupted. 

Internet shutdowns and your human rights

In more extreme cases, shutdowns disrupt democracy and journalists cannot report on government corruption or abuse. Social media blackouts are also commonly used during elections to minimise public discourse, stifle dissent and weaken minority groups. These platforms for open expression and communication, such as Twitter, are a threat to many dictatorial regimes and are therefore blocked. It’s far easier to control and promote the official government narrative if the general population is silenced. 

Unsurprisingly though, internet blackouts tend to attract global attention and put pressure on countries that use them. This produces the Streisand effect, in which trying to hide information or silence voices can cause the unintended effect of bringing these events even more attention. By incorporating transparency into governmental procedures, civil unrest is less likely to occur. 

The world leader in internet shutdowns is India, who frequently shutdown the internet in certain regions for reasons such as avoiding loss of life during periods of crisis. Yet an outdated law from 1885 is used to justify these frequent internet shutdowns. In 2019, authorities shut down the internet in Kashmir for months, revoking their autonomy and statehood. This was deemed necessary to avoid “to maintain security in the restive territory claimed by both India and Pakistan.”. 

However, a study by Stanford Global Digital Policy Incubator states that shutdowns are counterproductive to discouraging violent events. The study found there was an increase of violence by four times when networks were disrupted. 

Other experts believe that as the frequency of internet shutdowns increase, they will become normalised. So while national security is the initial justification, citizens may become complacent over time, even as the use of shutdowns are used for more sinister purposes.

Impacts of Internet Shutdown

Aside from the threat to people’s human rights, internet shutdowns have a major impact on national economies, jobs and growth. Businesses are cut off from their customers, suppliers and distributors, incurring huge losses that governments won’t simply pay back. 

According to Brookings, in 2015-16, internet shutdowns cost the entire world $2.4 billion, with India alone suffering a loss of $1bn in economic production. During the Arab Spring in Egypt, the cost of an internet blackout resulted in a $90 million loss. If the shutdown continued for the whole year, it would have cost 3-4% of Egypt’s GDP

In Cameroon, many entrepreneurs suffer during an internet shutdown. Businesses that rely on the internet, especially e-commerce websites, were adversely impacted. As a residual effect, shutdowns prevent investment opportunities; if businesses operate in a country with frequent shutdowns, investors are not likely to back them, as they can’t continuously run their business operations. 

If a website is hosted in a particular country that experiences a blackout, this means the rest of the world also loses access to that service. This could disrupt or cut off supply chains, financial transactions, interpersonal communication, and enterprise workflows. It may also have a localisation effect, as the internet no longer becomes a reliable platform for business, forcing companies to turn inward, rather than outward and join the global economy. 

Aside from the economy, most people depend on the internet in some way in their daily lives. Without a functioning internet, fundamental services like healthcare, education, banks, and other public services are slowed down or come to a standstill. Quality of life is greatly diminished and the risk to livelihoods and health increases, especially when people can’t contact emergency services.

A local internet shutdown can also have a significant technical impact on the rest of the internet. The web is an interconnected network where everyone contributes to the system as a whole. Internet shutdowns can undermine the network and generate systemic risks.

How to Bypass Internet Shutdowns?

The United Nations Human Rights Council condemned internet blackouts for breaching your human rights. And while internet shutdowns are still becoming more commonplace, there are ways to arm yourself now in case you experience one. 

Here are some ways to bypass internet shutdowns; 

Use a VPN

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) creates a secure portal between devices, providing an encrypted connection to the internet no matter where you are. When you use a VPN, your computer or phone is connected to a VPN’s server, located overseas. This hides your IP address and enables you to visit websites that were restricted before, as you’re “tricking” your ISP into thinking you’re somewhere else. VPNs are regarded as the easiest and safest way to bypass internet shutdowns. 

Laws around the use of VPNs vary by region. It’s important to understand the security aspects of each network before you use them. You can read through That One Privacy Site to learn about these different virtual networks.

Mysterium Network offers a decentralized VPN, which is built on the world’s largest P2P network. You can easily select from a list of locations around the world to connect to, unblocking content. It’s open-source and available for Mac, Windows, and Android. 

Also ensure that websites you visit are running over HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure), even when using a VPN. This means you will always access the original website and not any modified version of it. You can install HTTPS Everywhere extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera, to guarantee you’re browsing the encrypted version of the website. 

Circumvention Tools and Proxies

Circumvention tools help you bypass censored websites and anonymously browse the internet. They can help you become undetectable to ISPs and governments. Users channel their traffic via a different computer – called a proxy. 

Psiphon is an award-winning circumvention system that leverages open-source web proxies, helping you skirt around content-filtering systems. 

Lantern is another open-source proxy software application for desktop and mobile. It provides users access to the open internet. Lantern is different from other tools as it leverages peer-to-peer connections for internet connectivity when servers are not available. 

Tails is an operating system that allows you to browse the internet on any computer. It uses cryptographic tools to encrypt email messages and files.

Tor Browser is a tool for accessing blocked websites without being tracked. It routes your traffic through a global node network run by volunteers, much like a decentralized VPN. This prevents surveillance of your browsing habits or tracing your location. It is very popular among journalists and privacy advocates. It’s available for Linux, Mac, Windows, and Android. 

Whonix is a free and open-source desktop operating system (OS) that is specifically designed for advanced security and privacy. The software helps you run your apps anonymously, anonymising everything you do online. The project suggests it’s the best way to use Tor, as it provides the strongest protection of your IP address. Whonix is available for Windows, macOS and Linux.

The Guardian Project also offers apps such as Orbot that help you access the internet anonymously by encrypting your internet traffic.

Use censorship-resistant websites and networks

Unstoppable Domains is a platform to launch uncensorable websites. The domain runs on the blockchain (decentralized and permanent) and is stored in your cryptocurrency wallet, so no one can take it down but you. You can also use their chat and email functions, so you can communicate directly peer-to-peer. 

I2P is an anonymous network built on top of the internet. It allows users to create and access content and build online communities. It is intended to protect communication and resist monitoring by third parties such as ISPs. All data is wrapped with several layers of encryption, and the network is both distributed and dynamic, with no trusted parties. 

Freenet is a peer-to-peer platform for censorship-resistant communication and publishing.

The software lets you anonymously share files, browse and publish “freesites” (web sites accessible only through Freenet) and chat on forums. Freenet is decentralised to make it less vulnerable to attack, and if used in “darknet” mode, users only connect to their friends, making it very difficult to detect. Communications by Freenet nodes are encrypted and are routed through other nodes to make it extremely difficult to determine who is requesting the information and what its content is.

Communication Tools - encrypted and offline

There are messaging tools that are designed for private and censorship-proof communications. Popular apps like Telegram encrypt your messaging, including client-client encryption with Secret Chats. Signal is also well-known for its encryption and security.

Vuvuzela is a private chat application that hides metadata, including who you chat with and when you are chatting. Vuvuzela supports millions of users and is secure even if the network and a majority of the servers are compromised.

There are also offline communication tools that don’t require any internet access, but you’ll have to download and set them up when online.

Tools like Briar and Firechat are encrypted messaging platforms and rely on peer-to-peer networks. Moreover, they’re free and open-source.

Another project is Bridgefy.me that works on a mesh network (more on these below). This helps you use applications without an internet connection. Available on both iOS and Android, it covers thousands of users at the same time. 

While you’ll be unable to browse Facebook and Google, you can create a chat room and voice your message there during an internet shutdown.

Mesh networks

In certain scenarios, governments can also shut down central telecom systems. This can cut off all connection, or reduce its quality so much that it’s barely useable. This creates a need for an entirely new network altogether. 

Instead of connecting to the internet through your ISP, mesh networks enable direct connection between devices, without any middlemen. Mesh networks automatically reconfigure connections, depending upon the availability and proximity of bandwidth and storage.

As they are decentralized networks, it isn’t easy to shut them down. One possible way to do it is by shutting down each node, which is near impossible. Hence, mesh networks are robust and resistant to internet shutdowns.

Mesh networks are a relatively new concept and haven’t been implemented on a wide scale use yet. However, projects like Commotion are accelerating the adoption of mesh networks. You can easily set up your own network using their technology.

More Resources

There are lots of great resources that can link you to even more tools. Check out these guides and lists, but note some of these apps and software are a bit more advanced to set up and require more technical knowledge;

Internet Blackout Toolkit – Mysterium Labs

GitHub – Danoctavian – Awesome Anti-Censorship

GitHub – Kevin Coleman Inc – Awesome Privacy 

GitHub – Lissy93 – Personal Security Checklist

Along with all this knowledge, also be sure to install antivirus software. This guarantees that there is no malicious software on your laptop. Ephraim Muchemi, who conducts training in digital security with the US-based non-profit International Research and Exchange Board, states that antivirus is the key to everything. Some suggested options are MalwareBytes and HitmanPro.

Organisations

There are also many organisations out there fighting for your digital freedom and human rights. You can learn about the work they’re doing, and often collaborate or get involved in advocacy work; 

Access Now is a group that defends citizen’s digital rights across the globe, with an objective to abolish the practice of internet shutdown. They are a great resource for learning about internet shutdowns. 

Article19 – works for a world where all people everywhere can freely express themselves and actively engage in public life without fear of discrimination.

We do this by working on two interlocking freedoms: the Freedom to Speak, and the Freedom to Know

Human Rights Watch – We advocate for laws and policies that promote privacy, digital inclusion, and respect for human rights by social media platforms.

Electronic Frontier Foundation – leading nonprofit defending digital privacy, free speech, and innovation

Internet Society  – a global nonprofit organization empowering people to keep the Internet a force for good: open, globally connected, secure, and trustworthy.

Unblock the future

Recently, students from London’s Imperial College and Royal College of Art have developed a system, called Fallback, which offers access to news coverage through a portable satellite modem during internet shutdown. 

The tool is a subscription-based model that enables users to pre-select the news websites they usually read. During a shutdown, news articles can be encrypted and delivered to them via satellite. 

A portable server helps decrypt the data, and viewers can read on any Wifi-enabled device using a simplified user interface. Fallback works on a forecasting algorithm that can anticipate which nations are most at risk of an internet shutdown. Right now the team are trying to get the system up and running in countries where it’s needed most. 

An internet shutdown can be very daunting. But you rejoin the digital world by using the above tools and platforms. 

If you have a project or application that should be added to this list, please get in touch! We will be constantly updating it. 

What is the Web 3.0?

web 3 mysterium

Will all technology eventually become obsolete, replaced or abandoned? Or are some things so deeply rooted in our world that they can only evolve, just as we do? 

It’s hard to imagine the internet as a technology of the industrial revolution. This giant and permanently entangled web of wires, routers, servers, towers, and electric currents passes information at a speed somewhere between that of sound and light.

This internet infrastructure exists everywhere, a cloud that lets us carry “the web” in our pockets and power our homes with smart devices. It’s no longer one technology, but an undefinable mesh of countless technologies, protocols, software and hardware, interoperating and speaking to each other.

We are all now connected by the Internet, like a neurons in a giant brain.

stephen hawking
Hundreds of thousands of kilometers of submarine cables connect us, but will these age well? 

And yet the internet we know today - referred to as the Web 2.0 - is falling apart.

Over-centralization has become a threat to its accessibility and democracy. Officially governed by “no one”, the internetit has flourished into a commercial machine which serves a handful of powerful and self-interested businesses. Corrupt governments can cut off their citizens from the internet altogether. And if your personal data hasn’t been hacked yet, it’s only a matter of time

But rebuilding the internet itself seems an impossible task. Instead, we can decentralise it.

New technology can help change how we build business, how we design our governance systems, and how we operate global organisations.

Juan Benet

The decentralisation of the web is a global movement, led by many different groups all working towards the same objective; to ensure equal, free and uncensored access to the web for all. We do this by taking the same physical pieces that make up the internet today, and repurpose them so they protect and serve users.

Before, we were merely plugged into the internet. Now we can become the internet itself.

Important sidenote – the internet and the web are two different things; when we refer to the internet, we mean the physical infrastructure – the wiring and protocols governing how computers communicate with each other. The “web” is made up of websites, web applications, web browsing. It’s a platform which hosts documents and applications, with clickable hyperlinks.

Weaving the World Wide Web

Before we dive into Web 3.0 and its mechanics, let’s take a brief look at the history of the internet.

In its early stages, the internet was made up of a distributed network of computers. Its original architects, including founding father Tim Berners-Lee, envisioned it as inclusive and open. To access and be part of this network meant to contribute directly to its growth and development, with everyone sharing responsibility equally. Each user could communicate with each other directly, without the need for third parties or businesses, such as ISPs today. 

Towards the end 1990, the first web page became available on the open internet. 

In 1991, this Web 1.0 was launched as a public domain, a digital and shared space like a public library or park. Users anywhere were invited to join this new online community.

In the mind of Berners-Lee, the internet was designed to be “a collaborative medium, a place where we [could] all meet and read and write.” But as more people connected and the network grew in size, Berners-Lee understood that to unlock the power of the internet, it had to be “permissionless”, meaning no one had to seek permission to join. 

Had the technology been proprietary, and in my total control, it would probably not have taken off. You can’t propose that something be a universal space and at the same time keep control of it.

Tim Berners-Lee

However, the web at this time was mostly static, offering read-only content. There were very few content creators, with most users of the internet “acting as consumers”. The internet was soon taken over by the first internet businesses like AOL and Yahoo, who became the gateways to the web.

In 1994, Netscape launched the first commercial-grade web browser, and the dot-com explosion began. 

Web 2.0 - Users at the bottom of the internet foodchain

In the early 2000s, the internet became more interactive. The evolution of the read-only Web 1.0 to the read-write Web 2.0 brought us the “web as a platform”. Users could easily start creating and publishing content themselves, even learning HTML (HyperText Markup Language, the markup language for the web) to build their own websites. 

As an interactive and dynamic system where anyone could participate, this read-write web is what catalysed the birth of many new systems and applications which today have become some of the biggest businesses in the world. Participatory social networks like Facebook and Myspace, online marketplaces like Amazon, AirBnB and Uber, content creation and entertainment – all these plug into Web 2.0, creating new economies and standards for socialising, communication and business. Social media in particular has reinvented the way we shop and consume news.

Unfortunately, the business models propping up the internet today are as exploitative as they are successful. It exists to serve those “who have something to sell”, who even in the 90’s were predicted to become the main beneficiaries of the web. Companies rely on user-generated content to keep their platforms running, yet our personal data is harvested and sold to companies we’ve never even heard of. 

And if it’s not monetized, our personal information is routinely hacked due to the insecure centralized systems that have led to countless data breaches in the past year alone, exposing millions of records. These centralized databases are gold mines, making us targets for cybercriminals who can steal our personal information, banking details or simply sell our identities on the dark web.

So despite the internet being hailed as the greatest technological advancement of all time, it turns out corporations have really made a mess of things (but earned billions in the process). We desperately need to protect users and preserve the future of the internet itself, before it’s too late to turn things around. 

There are many teams working to restore the internet to its former glory. The resurgence of decentralized, P2P technology has meant we can rewire the internet so that it becomes private, safe and accessible by default. It will protect and compensate users, instead of milking them for data and profit. 

A slight digression… what is the “other” Web 3, the “semantic web” ?

It was once thought that the evolution of the Web 2.0 into Web 3.0 would bring us the “semantic web”. 

The semantic web was to improve web technologies so they can “understand the meaning of words, rather than on keywords or numbers… In this version of the Web 3.0, computers can understand information like humans in order to provide faster and more relevant results. They become more intelligent to satisfy the needs of user.”

Tim Berners-Lee described this web as a “Global Brain” which could process content in a human-like way, interpreting the nuances of concepts and information. Though billions of dollars were invested to develop the semantic web, it has not been brought to life (at least for now).

The decentralized web - a digital rebellion

The best way to think of the Web is as a direct-to-customer distribution channel, whether it's for information or commerce. It bypasses all middlemen. And, it turns out, there are a lot of middlepersons in this society. And they generally tend to slow things down, muck things up, and make things more expensive. The elimination of them is going to be profound.

Steve Jobsin a 1996 interview with Wired, about the impact and future of the Web

The “new” Web 3.0 is often referred to as the decentralised web, as this is the main underlying technological and theoretical standard which powers it. As we shift into a new internet era, this adaptation of the Web 3.0 actually draws it closer to its original roots. 

One of the biggest problems with the internet today is that it is heavily centralized, with a small collection of companies storing and powering the web via privately owned servers. Remember Web 1.0? That was a decentralized system, with a network of computers (and their users) storing that same data. There was no long line of middlemen, queuing up to connect us and take their cut. With that version of the web, no one had to pay a company or service to join, there were no centralized nodes, servers or governance systems, no single point of failure, and no “kill switch”. These are all qualities and components that the decentralized web hopes to restore.

But how does the decentralized web “work”?

The Web 3.0… an inclusive set of protocols to provide building blocks for application makers. Present a whole new way of creating applications. These technologies give users strong and verifiable guarantees about information they are receiving, what information they are giving away, what they are paying and what they are receiving in return.

@GAVofyork

With the introduction of new technologies like blockchain and distributed ledger technology, we can decentralize many different systems that were once dependent on centralized methods. (This can also be applied to systems beyond internet protocols, such as law and economics, but that’s a story for another time.)

Blockchain technology has democratic and self-governing architecture. Take the Bitcoin blockchain, for example; as a peer-to-peer system, it is run by its own users, who are rewarded when they help keep it running. Due to its heavy encryption and clever mechanics, it is practically incorruptible. And the best part is, a blockchain is available for anyone to verify and anyone to join. 

Learning all the lessons of what Bitcoin did to money, we’re starting to do this to all other kinds of services. Torrents and other file sharing sites kickstarted the P2P revolution. Bitcoin entered the scene providing the final piece that was missing all those years ago – incentivisation. Blockchain’s economic model has changed the game, and makes it far more scalable.

And with the advent of smart contract technology, we can ensure the benefits of decentralized protocols are easily passed onto the user. (Smart contracts are pieces of code that can automate and self-execute tasks based on an agreement. And since the smart contract acts as the “middle-man”, it doesn’t need to be paid). 

Now we take these unique protocols and plug them into the web itself. Instead of centralised servers, we can create peer to peer systems which allow people, not business, to securely share and store data online. Your computer becomes a node, acting as a miniature server (node). As a node, you help power the entire network by directly sharing your excess resources, such as bandwidth or processing power. And as a decentralized system, it runs without any kind of official host or authority at all, making it stronger from a security and network health standpoint, with no single point of failure. The bigger this distributed network grows, the faster it becomes.

Learn more about P2P networks

Much, much bigger than the cloud.

You can imagine the decentralized web as a new layer, one which still utilises all the existing infrastructure of the internet today, but “rewires” it on a technical level and reimagines it on a social one. This new layer relies on people, not business, to keep it powered, open and free. In this way, the Web 3 alters the very way we access the internet, retrieve information and operate online. One of the best promises of this tech is its ability to return sovereignty over data ownership. Now we can truly own, protect and profit from our own data. 

And perhaps the most important and new property introduced by the decentralized web is verifiability. It enables any user to verify and confirm the claims of the services they are using. 

We can now check that services are being delivered in the way they’re promised, and that our data is being handled securely.

Pieces of the decentralization puzzle. 

Some Web 3.0 companies.

Much of the decentralized community is already committed to open-sourcing their code, but with Web 3 platforms and apps, this transparency is often built into the technology itself. Verifiability is embedded in the infrastructure. Users no longer have to trust the teams and spokespeople behind the platforms, as the technology itself is trustless by design. This is a far cry from the current state of Web 2.0, where online businesses hide behind terms of service and codes of ethics, and we just have to take their word for it.

P2P privacy

The Web 3.0 enables anyone to build all kinds of autonomous applications and networks. The practical use cases of blockchain and DLT have made their impact on industries from health, law, finance, energy, the sharing economy. 

Mysterium Network is one such network that is helping to weave together this second layer of the internet. As a permissionless, decentralized network with a focus on censorship-resistant web applications, it helps us reformat the web, allowing people like you and me to own and manage the internet. The first app to be utilise the network is a world-first decentralized VPN (dVPN). 

As with other decentralized apps and platforms which make up the Web 3.0, a dVPN service is powered entirely by other web users like you. Each person rents out their IP address and bandwidth to others in this P2P network, earning crypto in exchange. Due to its distributed infrastructure, none of your data can be physically stored anywhere, and all traffic being routed through these personal nodes is heavily encrypted.

You can use this Web 3.0 app to bypass unethical censorship and surveillance. Governments everywhere regularly attempt to prevent the use of encryption tools and anonymity in any form. With over a quarter (27%) of the world’s internet users living in places where they can be arrested for posting, sharing or even “liking” something on Facebook, it’s time to fight back. The Web 3.0 can protect its users, keeping them anonymous while they browse the web openly and safely. 

We don’t have to keep making new privacy tools that can be blocked – we change the very nature of being online in the first place. We’re building safer roads, not inventing safer cars. 

It’s invisible and undeletable internet infrastructure. 

The decentralized web is an equitable and open space where everyone can contribute, build and reap the rewards for themselves. 

You can join it for yourself, just by downloading this app we made just for you 🙂 It’s free to use for only a short while longer.

Learn about the upcoming launch of Mysterium Network on mainnet. 

What is a peer-to-peer network?

What is P2P (Peer-to-peer) technology?

For centuries, human connection has never been a simple equation. 1+1 often equals 3, sometimes more. We had messengers who carried sealed letters, phone operators who connected our calls, and now Internet Service Providers who hook us into a matrix of other businesses, platforms and infrastructure owners just to send a simple email.

Perhaps the most perplexing and inconvenient way of communicating – the singing telegram…

Yet with the dawn of peer-to-peer (P2P) technology, the role of these middlemen (and women) has perhaps become obsolete.

P2P networks (and P2P software) allows 2 devices (and therefore, two people) to communicate directly, without necessitating a third party to ensure it happens. The technology has often been rejected and buried in the darker corners of the web, especially as corporations have taken over our communication channels. These businesses have dictated how we connect and communicate with one another for decades.

But before the web was ruled by the corporate letheans of today, it was once powered by the people who used it. This P2P ecosystem meant that users could connect and communicate with each other directly. The bluetooth in your phone functions similarly to this – you airdrop files directly between devices, with no need for any intermediary to facilitate or even see what files you’re sharing.

Maybe you remember Napster. They popularised P2P music file sharing. While you were downloading and sharing files from this platform, you were also spreading a new phenomenon which the internet made possible – community-powered, governed and owned technology that stretched into our social and economic realms.

Vintage P2P network. A window you recognise, even if you never used it. Source.

But first - what is the client-server model?

The internet that we know today is mostly made up of the client-server model. All machines or devices connected directly to the internet are called servers. Your computer, phone or IoT device is a client that wants to be connected to the web, and a server stores those websites and web content you want to access. Every device, whether client or server, has its own unique “address” (commonly known as your IP address), used to identify the path/route for sending and receiving the files you want to access

How does the internet “work”? A look at the client-server network model.

Servers store and control all this web information centrally. The biggest and most widely used ones are owned by companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon. These possess the computing power, memory and storage requirements that can be scaled to global proportions. It also means that a single server can also dictate the consumption and supply of resources and websites to users (clients), like you and me.

What is a peer in networking? How does P2P work?

Peer-to-peer infrastructure transforms the traditional role of a server. In a P2P system, a web user is both a server and a client, and is instead called a node. (Your computer or device technically acts as the node.)

Related: The ultimate guide to running and earning with a Mysterium node by sharing your bandwidth.

Nodes power the network by sharing their resources such as bandwidth, disc storage and/or processing power. These can be shared directly and information is distributed evenly among all nodes within the network. These sorts of decentralised systems use shared resources more efficiently than a traditional network as they evenly distribute workloads between all nodes. Together, these computers equally and unanimously power web applications. Because there is no need for a central host or server, these networks are also less vulnerable from a security and network health standpoint, as there is no single point of failure.

What is an example of a peer to peer network? what is P2P used for?

“Peer-to-Peer mechanisms can be used to access any kind of distributed resources

There are many uses for peer-to-peer networks today. P2P software have characteristics and advantages that are missing from the web today – trustless and permissionless, censorship-resistant, and often with built-in anonymity and privacy.

P2P file sharing BitTorrentsync-and-share P2P software which allows users to download “pieces” of files from multiple peers at once to form the entire file. IPFS has also emerged, where users can download as well as host content. There is no central server and each user has a small portion of a data package. IPFS is the evolution in P2P file sharing and functions like BitTorrent and other torrent protocols. IPFS mimics many characteristics of a Blockchain, connecting blocks which use hash-function security. However, IPFS does support file versioning, while blockchain is immutable (permanent).

P2P knowledge – Decentralised Wiki (Dat protocol)an article is hosted by a range of readers, instead of one centralised server, making censorship much more difficult. 

P2P money – Bitcoinwhere value is digitised, encrypted and transparent – and as easily transferred as an email. Computers or machines (nodes) with enough GPU power maintain and secure the network. Peers can store and maintain the updated record of its current state. 

P2P computing power – Golemdecentralised supercomputer that anyone can access and use. A network of computers combine the collective processing and computing power of all peers’ machines. The connection grows stronger as more computers join and share resources.

P2P communicationSignalperhaps the most popular communication app with end-to-end encryption and architecture mimics P2P tech. Their server architecture was previously federated, and while they rely on centralised options for encrypted messaging and to share files, this facilities the discovery of contacts who are also Signal users and the automatic exchange of users’ public keys. Voice and video calls are P2P however.

Peer-to-peer in many ways is human-to-human. These virtual and collaborative communities hold us accountable to each other and the technology we’re using. They offer us a sense of responsibility and comradeship. They have been called “egalitarian” networks, as each peer is considered equal, with the same rights and duties as every other peer. If we’re all helping to keep something sustained – a living digital community where responsibility is equally shared yet belongs to no one – then perhaps we can emulate these same lines of thought beyond our technical networks and into our political and social worlds.

Can a P2P network teach us about purer forms of digital democracy? 

“In peer-to-peer networking, an algorithm in the peer-to-peer communications protocol balances load, and even peers with modest resources can help to share the load.”

Popular peer to peer networks and platforms

The theory of P2P networking first emerged in 1969 with a publication titled Request for Comments by the Internet Engineering Task Force. A decade later, a dial-up P2P network was launched in 1980 with the introduction of Usenet, a worldwide discussion system. Usenet was the first to operate without a central server or administrator.

But it wasn’t until 1999, some 20 years later, that a P2P network really proved its potential as a useful, social application. American college student Shawn Fanning launched Napster, the global music-sharing platform which popularised P2P software. Users would search for songs or artists via an index server, which catalogued songs located on every computer’s hard drive connected to the network. Users could download a personal copy while also sharing music files.

Napster Super Bowl XXXIX Ad “Do The Math”

Napsters experiential marketing tactics during the 2004 super bowl, when they abandoned their P2P network to paid model. 

Napster was the dawn of P2P networks “as we know them today”, introducing them to the mainstream. It has been suggested that peer-to-peer marketplaces – some of the most disruptive startups to grace the web – were inspired by the fundamental values and characteristics of Napster. Businesses such as AirBnB and Uber kickstarted the new sharing economy, but sold us the illusion of community. As conglomerates who are simply the middleman between our peer-to-peer transactions, we also become their hired workforces without realising it. This business model relies on us to supply our own homes, cars and time to create the sharing economy, while they simply facilitate the transactions (and take a cut).

With P2P systems, we can remove them from the picture altogether. If we decentralise the sharing economy, you become the user, the host and the network itself. As peers, we are incentivised to contribute time, files, resources or services and are rewarded accordingly, with no one taking a cut. Decentralised P2P networks are transparent, secure and truly community-run systems.

A strange sharing economy infographic by Morgan Stanely, who thinks everything can be shared – including pets? Source.

Jordan Ritter (Napster’s founding architect), was quoted in a Fortune article:

“As technologists, as hackers, we were sharing content, sharing data all the time. If we wanted music… It was still kind of a pain in the ass to get that stuff. So Fanning had a youthful idea: Man, this sucks. I’m bored, and I want to make something that makes this easier.”

Napster soon became the target of a lawsuit for distributing copyrighted music at a large scale, and was consequently shut down just 2 years later. Yet this “clever-if-crude piece of software” demonstrated new possibilities for applications, and “transformed the Internet into a maelstrom, definitively proving the web’s power to create and obliterate value…”

Corporate profit, infrastructural control

While digital networking has led to an unprecedented evolution of our social and professional lives, the potential of peer networks to power those daily interactions took much of a backseat as the web started to take off in the early 2000’s. While protocols of the early Web 1.0 were founded upon decentralised and peer-to-peer mechanisms, centralised alternatives eventually took over.

Related: What does internet censorship look like in 2020. And how can decentralisation change it?

Yet since centralised systems began to plant their roots deep into our internet infrastructure, the web has been slowly rotting away underneath shiny user interfaces and slick graphics. They make the internet less safe, with servers that are routinely hacked. It makes the internet far less private, enabling mass-surveillance conducted by cybercriminals and organisations alike. It makes the internet segregated and broken, rather than unified and democratic, with nations building impenetrable firewalls and cutting off the outside world altogether.

It’s said that P2P money poses a large threat to governments, who seem concerned that without regulation and oversight, these “anarchist” networks could grow beyond their control. The crackdown on cryptocurrency in countries with rampant human rights violations, corrupt governments and crippling economies only lends to the theory that peer to peer systems undermines the very foundations of traditional government structures.

Places where cryptocurrency seems to thrive, are often the same where censorship, corruption and economic instability. 
 

First P2P Money. Next, P2P Internet.

Yet the common, centralised standards which were born out of corporate and political needs are failing us today.

It’s time to turn the tides if we want to surf the web on our own terms.

Peer-to-peer networks have opened up entirely new philosophies around social and economic interactions. Researchers from a 2005 book exploring the potential of Peer-to-Peer Systems and Applications believed that these networks “promise….a fundamental shift of paradigms.” The applications which formed in the early 1980s “can no longer fully meet the evolving requirements of the Internet. In particular, their centralised nature is prone to resource bottlenecks. Consequently, they can be easily attacked and are difficult and expensive to modify due to their strategic placement within the network infrastructure.”

In the past decade, we have seen a re-emergence of P2P protocols. These new community-powered networks are creating entirely new systems and services, that are evolving beyond the traditional concepts of P2P. This was kickstarted in many respects by Bitcoin. Its underlying blockchain technology redefined our understanding of P2P, merging it with game theory, securing it with cryptography and expanding its network with a common CPU (in the first few years, at least).

P2P access

There are many P2P “layers” that can restructure the internet itself. A decentralised VPN is one such layer, offering P2P access to information.

This dVPN utilises a blockchain (the technology underlying Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies). Anyone can be a part of the network; your computer becomes a node, acting as a miniature server. This means it can help power the entire network by directly sharing its bandwidth or IP address – and be paid for it. There is no need for a host or intermediary. The bigger this distributed network grows, the stronger and faster it becomes. Its democratic and self-governing architecture creates an open marketplace that serves a global community in need.

This is what a future without internet censorship looks like… An internet powered by people is the next stage of its technological and social evolution.

A community-run VPN is different to a regular VPN in a few different ways. VPNs are businesses which exist to turn profit. Common VPNs own or rent servers that are centrally owned, and which could store logs of all your traffic without anyone knowing (in theory). You simply have to trust that they won’t do anything with this info. And while your data is encrypted, there have been cases of past hackings.

A P2P VPN instead leverages a decentralised network so that your encrypted data passes through a distributed node network, similar to Tor. A single node will never be able to identify you or your online activities, nor can authorities and third parties. In its decentralised form, a VPN pays people (nodes) for providing the privacy service. And as with most P2P systems, a decentralised VPN has no single point of failure or attack, making it safer and stronger than centralised alternatives.

Related: VPN vs TOR vs dVPN. What’s the difference?

Power of the P

Often perceived as a more rudimentary technology, the potential of peer-to-peer technology has been shoved to the digital back shelf for some time. But as the internet evolves as a social and economic landscape, it’s slowly starting to take its rightful place in the online realm. In its simplicity lies its beauty. The most complex and honest human interactions are always the most direct and transparent.

A P2P VPN is just one example of these many different applications. You can try the Mysterium VPN for yourself and experience how P2P works. There are versions for  AndroidMac and Windows, currently free before our full launch.

What does a VPN do for anonymity in the surveillance era?

Is there such a thing as true anonymity anymore?

It is an interesting time in history to delve into the value of anonymity (and privacy). With a pandemic rampantly spreading through the world, we are seeing thoughtless relinquishing of both our physical and digital freedoms. Some are warning that increased surveillance during the coronavirus outbreak may lead to long-lasting erosion of civil liberties.

But how can we remove ourselves from an ‘Architecture of Oppression’ if it is being built around, by and for us?

In the original 1993 Cypherpunk Manifesto, Eric Hughes wrote that “privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age…” – Here he’s starting to address the concepts that will help us frame the answer to the question  “What does a VPN do?”, or rather “What should a VPN do”.

People have been defending their own privacy for centuries with whispers, darkness, envelopes, closed doors, secret handshakes, and couriers. The technologies of the past did not allow for strong privacy, but electronic technologies do.

Eric Hughes

Decades have passed, yet these “electronic technologies” have not brought the salvation that Hughes had hoped for. Technologies of the future seem to have taken away much of our privacy, instead of strengthening it. The internet is becoming less free, with increased online election interference and increased government surveillance “spreading on social media platforms”.

Related: What is happening to the internet? And what does VPN have to do with it?

The more we migrate our lives into the digital realm, the harder it becomes to control our privacy at all. The line between our private and public lives has become so blurred by technology, that the online representation of ourselves is often more intimate and more exposed than our real life personas.

A continuous and permanent catalogue of our lives is inscribed in the history of the internet forever. Your life is quite literally an open book.

We’ve been conditioned to hand over personal information to every platform or service we sign up to, or we are simply locked out of “the system”. We sacrifice more and more details about ourselves unnecessarily, so businesses can manipulate us into buying more things.

This underground trade of our personal data has been commercialised and, as with all valuable commodities, weaponised. The 2019 Freedom of the Net report revealed that of the 40 countries examined, 89 percent of internet users, or nearly 3 billion people, are subject to instituted and advanced social media surveillance programs.

Related: What does anonymity in a surveillance era look like?

“It’s Facebook’s ad policy that allows politicians to spread lies or Amazon’s growing relationships with police departments that use its Ring smart doorbells and associated social media products to surveil communities.

what does a vpn do

East meets West

China’s social credit system is a real life experiment of how our own personal data can be turned against us. Citizens are each given an identity number, all linked to a permanent record – one that expands “to all aspects of life, judging citizens’ behaviour and trustworthiness. Caught jaywalking, don’t pay a court bill, play your music too loud on the train — you could lose certain rights, such as booking a flight or train ticket.”

In the time of Coronavirus, this meticulous social control means that social credit-related regulations now “include spreading rumours that disrupt efforts to control the epidemic, hoarding, upsetting market order, making fake or poor quality masks and other medical supplies.” 

Yet in the West, the pervasive monitoring of our online behaviour – in the name of national security – means our online activity can be legally tracked by our ISPs and governments. While the technology still evolves, there are “no rules” when it comes to facial recognition, with police running pilot programs for real-time surveillance monitoring before the law has time to catch up with the ethics of it all. 

As the world turns digital, it’s more critical that our online identities, privacy and freedoms remain in our control. 

Privacy is a basic human right, and our digital privacy is an extension of that right. We are not detached from our online identities – just ask someone whose life has been destroyed by identity theft. 

No matter how much information we volunteer online, privacy should be the core foundation of a strong and open internet.

Anonymity

what does a vpn do

I don’t know why people are so keen to put their details of their private life in public; they forget that invisibility is a superpower.

Banksy

The fundamental difference between privacy and anonymity

There is an important distinction to be made between privacy and anonymity. Privacy keeps your behaviour and activity hidden, yet you can still be identified. An example is your private banking, where you can send and receive money but your financial transactions are only yours to see. The same applies to your emails, your social media profiles, your text messages – you remain identifiable, yet can choose what is shared and what is not.

what does a dvpn do

Anonymity is almost this concept in reverse. Being anonymous means your identity is hidden but your actions can be seen. Others can see what you do, just not who is doing it. Blockchains are pseudo-anonymous, meaning you can view every transaction that takes place, but should not be able to link an identity to the sender nor receiver. 

Anonymity tends to be stigmatised, as anonymous behaviour is often associated with illegal activity. The dark web has emerged, home to online black marketplaces such as Silk Road, whose creator is serving a life sentence in prison.

Silk Road was supposed to be about giving people the freedom to make their own choices, to pursue their own happiness, however they individually saw fit. [It] turned out to be a naive and costly idea that I deeply regret.

RossIn sentencing letter to his judge

But historically, anonymous figures have contributed much to society – artists, writers, journalists, political and human rights activists. Even superheroes are anonymous to protect themselves from evil villains and persistent ex-girlfriends. Banksy’s visual messages are louder and more profound because he refuses to let his identity hijack the narrative.

anticensorship vpn

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.

Oscar Wilde

Anonymity enables this freedom of expressions and speech. It means you can speak your mind without retribution. It means you can whistleblow and expose corruption in its darkest corners. It means a free press, where newspapers can investigate and publish without fear of being persecuted

It also means hate speech and cyberbullying is harder to control, but this is the double edged sword we must accept in the ongoing battle for free and open discourse.

An idea can be the most powerful thing in the world

For many in heavily censored regions, to be anonymous simply means to be free. Part of the Charter of Human Rights is the fundamental right of freedom of expression, which encompasses the freedom to “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

The UN urges the protection of anonymous expression online. To evade the grasp of “broad and intrusive government surveillance”, we must defend the online privacy and digital autonomy of human rights activists, journalists and silenced citizens. This includes “freedom from surveillance, the right to use encryption, the right to online anonymity, the right to online protest”.

Despite these universal efforts to promote human rights in the online environment, it appears that policy is not a cure. Over a quarter (27%) of the world’s internet users live in places where they can be arrested for posting, sharing or even “liking” something on Facebook. Social-media related arrests relating to political, social, or religious speech have been made in 47 countries. WIth true anonymity, words can be used to liberate people, not used against them. You can’t put ideas in prison. 

Research from ARTICLE 19 Policy Paper shows that anonymity is the vital component in protecting both the right to freedom of expression and the right to privacy. It “allows individuals to express themselves without fear of reprisal, and is especially important in those countries where freedom of expression is heavily censored.”

The right to privacy is being pulled away from Hong Kong citizens in a unique, almost science fiction display. As Hong Kong is “handed over” to China geopolitically, what was once a place which enjoyed the more liberal, political philosophies of privacy, is now faced with harsh surveillance and censorship policies. The ongoing protests are an attempt to slip through “Beijing’s tightening grip on their city”, which includes aggressive measures like the expulsion of a foreign journalist, the jailing of young activists and curbs on electoral freedom.

In this ongoing battle between political protesters and police, identities have already become weapons. In the protests itself, police allegedly tracked protest leaders online, seeking out their phones and using the biometric logins to single out targets for arrest.

The age of surveillance

But censorship and surveillance isn’t just a reality found in dictatorships. Governments everywhere regularly attempt to prevent the use of encryption tools and anonymity in any form. This is to hinder unlawful activities, such as terrorism and drug trafficking. In the past decade, the US Drug Enforcement Administration has seized more than $4 billion from citizens based on their suspicions of criminal activity. Yet over 81 percent of these seizures have never led to formal charges. 

In many cases, the US government can legally request digital data held by companies without a warrant. The EARN IT Act is currently being debated in congress, and if passed, could “handcuff companies to a difficult-to-modify set of procedures. One item on that checklist could be eliminating end-to-end encryption in messaging apps, depriving the world of a secure communications tool.”

A few years back President Donald Trump passed a law which allows internet service providers to gather and share their customers personal data without their consent, like your web history and what apps you use. The UK’s Snoopers Charter grants the government the right to legally monitor the internet usage of its citizens. The general message is that if you’re a law-abiding citizen, there’s nothing to worry about.

Related: What is geoblocking?

Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say.

Edward Snowden
what is privacy

But it should be the government’s motive for wanting your personal information that is questioned – not your right privacy.

Use your digital freedom to fight back

In a digital utopia, anonymity, privacy, security and anti-censorship would blend together to form a perfect internet. 

But how do we make the internet safe, and your privacy a default setting? The laws which govern our privacy and help us freely voice our opinions have mostly benefited corporate needs, governments and their agencies. We can’t depend on laws to change, or for our internet service providers to serve in our interests. A decentralized VPN (dVPN) is one way to take back control.

Related: dVPN comparison – See how new decentralised technologies stack up against each other.

Over a quarter (25%) of the world’s internet users already use a VPN. The main motives for using one include accessing social networks and news services (34%), to keep anonymity while browsing (31%), to hide web browsing from the government (18%) and to access Tor browser (17%). Yet in countries where citizens need a VPN the most – Venezuela, China, Russia, Turkey, Iran, UAE – naturally they are forbidden. 

A dVPN was designed for these victims of censorship and surveillance. A regular VPN connects you to data centers managed by businesses, which makes them detectable to governments and ISPs. These services are also often slow, limited and most worryingly, they keep logs of all their users’ online activity in centralised servers. A study of 62 commercial providers showed that many VPNs leak user traffic “through a variety of means.

With a dVPN, the service is powered entirely by other web users like you. You can select from a global menu of residential IP addresses, so it’s almost impossible to trace or be shut down by governments. A dVPN is a technological remedy for anti-privacy and anti-anonymity. If you live in a country which enjoys internet freedom, you can choose to rent out your IP address to others in this P2P network and earn crypto in exchange. Due to its distributed infrastructure, none of your data can be physically stored anywhere, and all traffic being routed through these personal nodes is heavily encrypted. 

A dVPN is more than just a service though – it’s a global network, a second layer of the internet that ensures it remains a public domain – a space for new ideas, collaboration and connection. This general decentralization movement empowers people to take control of their digital lives.

Mysterium’s own dVPN was the world’s first. We use layered protection protocols so anyone can browse the web anonymously. Your identity and IP are always hidden so anyone can bypass unethical surveillance. We also whitelist everyone who wants to become a node or access our VPN, protecting the network from bad players. Try out our free VPN for Android

You can also join our node network and help us safeguard anonymous expression online, protecting the identities of journalists, activists and victims of censorship and surveillance around the world.  

Related: The definitive guide to running a Mysterium Node

It’s time we vindicate the cypherpunks – the technology which allows us to build their envisioned, anonymous systems has finally arrived. After all, “we cannot expect governments, corporations, or other large, faceless organizations to grant us privacy … we must defend our own privacy if we expect to have any.” 

Onward.

VPN vs Tor — which is better?

VPN vs Tor

VPN vs Tor vs dVPN - What are the real differences?

The internet was not built to be private and secure by default. This means no matter what you do online, there’s always some new malware or cybercriminal trying to get to you.

In this VPN vs Tor vs dVPN comparison, you’ll learn just how good these security tools are when it comes to hiding your information and keeping you safe online. Learn the difference between TOR and VPN:

Want to skip the read? Check out this video where we sum up the VPN, Tor browser and dVPN solutions.

What is TOR - is TOR a VPN?

Tor is a privacy project that launched in 2002. It’s an open-source and free browser that enables anonymous communication online. It was first developed by Syverson and computer scientists Roger Dingledine and Nick Mathewson, who originally called it The Onion Router (Tor) project, due to its “layers” of encryption.

Tor browser and VPNs are similar in their aims but not in their technological approach. While both are great at hiding your identity and ensure your browsing activity is kept private and encrypted, there are certain advantages and disadvantages to each. That’s why using the two systems together is your safest bet for securing your digital privacy.

VPN vs Tor

How Tor works

The Tor network utilises a system that was originally developed by the US Navy to protect intelligence communications. It “bundles” your data into smaller, encrypted packets before it begins routing these through its vast network of nodes, which can be run by anyone for free.

The chosen path is randomised and predetermined, and your traffic will pass through a minimum of three relay nodes before it reaches a final exit node.

Each time your traffic passes through a relay node, a “layer” of encryption is removed, revealing which relay node the traffic should be sent to next. Each relay node will only be able to decrypt enough data to identify the location of the next relay, and the one before it who passed on the traffic.

Exit nodes, however, remove the last layer of encryption. It can’t see your location or IP address, but it is possible for an exit node to see your activity if you visit an unsecure website (one that is not HTTPS).

VPN vs Tor

How does a VPN work?

A regular VPN seems much simpler, because a company simplifies everything with a nice user interface and additional features. You can run an app in the background, or connect through a browser extension, while you access sites around the world.

Your VPN provider will keep you hidden and encrypt all of your data, directing all your traffic to a remote server owned or hired by them. You can usually choose from a list of servers located across the world, so you’re able to access the internet via a secure and private connection, and unblock your content based on where a website is located. However, your protection has its limits, and you won’t be completely anonymous.

What is a dVPN?

A decentralized VPN mimics the architecture of Tor more closely, but has the same ease of use as a VPN. As a peer to peer system, you plug into a global network of nodes run by people voluntarily. Unlike Tor network, all nodes are paid for providing the VPN service and keeping the network powered and safe.

One example of this in action is Mysterium Network. This dApp (decentralized application) allows people to select the connection from a list of available nodes (mostly providing residential IP addresses) from around the world. Traffic is encrypted and directed through the network, and users pay the provider for the minutes they are connected and the traffic they’re sending through those nodes.

But how do all these popular privacy tools really compare?

This breakdown explores the most important differences between VPN, Tor and dVPN, comparing new features, access, connecting speed, rewards and more.

For this comparison, we use Mysterium as an example of a dVPN, though there are other projects out there, each with their own technical approaches, solutions and advantages.

Network design

dVPN

A global collection of nodes (usually run in people homes) power a VPN network by sharing their bandwidth P2P in exchange for cryptocurrency. Anyone can easily become a node and also download the VPN app to select from a global menu of node IDs.

Tor

The main goal of Tor is privacy and anonymity. It’s a browser that anonymizes your web browsing by sending your traffic through various nodes in the Tor network, which can be hosted by anyone. Traffic cannot be traced as each node encrypts it and hides the source IP.

VPN

Not a network, but more a global, centralised service that uses dedicated data center servers around the world in hundreds of different locations. Centralized VPNs also allow P2P traffic on certain servers and can additionally provide Dedicated IP address, Double VPN, Onion Over VPN and connection to the Tor anonymity network.

How are nodes rewarded?

dVPN

Nodes set their own price based on supply and demand. This unique micropayments system utilises cryptocurrency payments, so nodes can sell their bandwidth in small intervals, ensuring security and convenience.

Tor

Tor doesn’t have incentivisation. All nodes are operated by volunteers. This lack of incentivisation for nodes in the network has meant it remains relatively small (after 10+ years of development, it still only has 6500 exit nodes).

VPN

No rewards or incentive – centralized VPNs are businesses who own the infrastructure and charge customers for the service.

Node onboarding

dVPN

Anyone can run a node using their laptop, or even mini computers such as a Raspberry Pi. (In theory, even mobile devices can run one). Node runners can link their crypto wallet address via an easy to use dashboard, and track earnings.

Tor

Anyone can create and run a Tor node. However, there are various technical requirements and it’s recommended that you do not run a relay (non-exit) node from a consumer-level route, as it may overwhelm it.

VPN

VPN companies manage their own servers/exit nodes, so all setup and maintenance is done by company’s employees. By paying for the service, you get access to the VPN service, but do not help power it.

Costs & fees

dVPN

Users pay in cryptocurrency for only the bandwidth they consume on a pay-as-you-go model. Nodes earn cryptocurrency directly from users of this VPN service. They will pay a small fee to payment hubs for validation of their payments, similar to paying miners for processing transactions in a blockchain network. (Mysterium is currently free to use while in BETA)

Tor

Tor is free to use.

VPN

Monthly subscription model, rather than a pay-as-you-go structure. Sometimes users are even motivated to pay for a 3 year subscription in advance.

User Security

dVPN

As a fast and scalable security layer to reinvent privacy via VPN, it’s built so that different protocols can be plugged into the network.

A traffic slicing solution could send traffic to different services via different nodes. Thanks to Wireguard and OpenVPN protocols, it’s already encrypted, so even ISPs can’t view what is in there.

Tor

While Tor has better privacy properties, offers protection via anonymity, it’s not risk free. Your ISP can still see that you’re connected to Tor. This could lead to surveillance, as US government agencies (FBI/NSA) are constantly trying to crack Tor and discover its users web activity. Note that installing Tor is not illegal, but if you’re looking at things you shouldn’t, keep in mind arrests have been made in the past linked to Tor users’ browsing activity.

The owner of an entry node will be able to view your real IP address. After this node hides your address, the rest of the nodes will no longer know who you are or what sites you visit. The last node will see what you’re looking at, but not your identity. This presents some risks when using the network, but in terms of fully private internet access, it is the best available option at the moment.

VPN

Traditional VPN services route all their customer’s data through a remote server, hiding IP addresses and encrypting all incoming and outgoing data. For encryption, they use the OpenVPN and Internet Key Exchange v2/IPsec technologies in their applications. One company admits their servers were hacked due to an expired internal private key being exposed, potentially allowing anyone to spin out their own servers imitating their own.

Additionally, a VPN exit node knows a user’s IP, destination addresses, and in many cases (because of fiat payments) even user’s identity (name, email, etc.). If that destination is not encrypted (e.g. not using HTTPS), they can see the content you’re accessing, which may compromise your security.

Logging policy

dVPN

No centralized logs! The distributed architecture removes any technical possibility for collecting or storing logs centrally.

Tor

Some hypothesize that a number of nodes are run by malicious actors (eg. the NSA) who could potentially control enough nodes to effectively track users. The network itself is unable to store logs, however a Tor entry and exit node may be able to see your activity or IP address, but actually piecing the information together to identify you would require a lot of effort.

VPN

In theory, a centralized VPN *could* keep logs of a user’s activity, but many state they are committed to a zero-logs policy. However, nobody can be really sure that they’re not cooperating with governments or not selling user’s browsing data to 3rd parties.

Node Security

dVPN

Mysterium allows users to select whitelisted traffic only, designed to protect nodes. However nodes can choose to accept any kind of traffic and increase their earning potential. They’ll soon identify and block bad actors from the network through the use of registered identities and reputation system.

We are currently in R&D for a traffic slicing solution which will allow node runners to preselect the type of traffic they are willing to run through their node – i.e. social media, blogging, streaming, etc. while the remaining traffic could be sent forward into Tor or rejected.

Tor

Running a node can be risky, as you can potentially receive a lot of shady outbound traffic as an exit node. Being an exit node comes with the highest legal exposure and risk, so you should not run a node from your home. Your ISP may disconnect your service and you may receive some letters from various authorities.

VPN

Nodes are protected as the centralized VPN assumes all security and legal risks.

Ease of Use

dVPN

Simple apps can be used on desktop or a mobile device.

New nodes can get set up in just 5 minutes and 5 steps via a simple, user-friendly dashboard. There is a knowledgebase with all relevant guides and information, and support team on hand to help. Users will need to have some basic understanding of cryptocurrency, and how to keep it secure. An Ethereum wallet is easy to set up and you can receive payments any time.

Tor

Anyone can download and install Tor browser to connect to the internet (similar to any other browser).

However, browsing is quite slow (as all your traffic has to pass through numerous nodes first). Its practical usability suffers (e.g. not being able to unlock media content) but this drawback is the exchange for better anonymity and protection. A Tor relay must be able to host a minimum of 100 GByte of outbound/inbound traffic per month.

VPN

Many VPN services offer apps or browser extensions for instant security. Some VPNs have features such as smart algorithms that can automatically choose the best server for you based on location, time, or your special requirements.

You can use a VPN because they’re easier to navigate, allow convenient payment methods (eg. via credit card) and have 24/7 user support. However, they may slow down your speed and don’t always have unlimited streaming options.

 

Scalability

dVPN

As with most P2P infrastructure, the more participants which join the network, the stronger and more robust it becomes.

Mysterium’s micropayments system is a homegrown Layer 2 solution. It was built to handle large volumes of users and transactions, making the network fast and more scalable.

Tor

Tor is currently used by a couple million people. Due to its distributed nature, the network can (in theory) grow larger. However it would require a much higher number of nodes. Unfortunately, despite its millions of users, Tor has not had huge growth in nodes due to its being a free service run by volunteers. Without incentivisation for nodes, it can only grow so fast.

VPN

The service depends on high bandwidth throughput and fast connection speeds to provide an optimal service for customers. Often use multiple tunneling protocols to ensure their network can scale and can adapt to various needs.

Compatible with

dVPN

Mysterium – Android devices, macOS, Windows, Linux for desktop. Apps for iPhone coming soon.

Tor

Tor for Android, Windows, Mac, Linux and as a separate tab in Brave browser.

VPN

Currently offers the widest choice for connecting; Android, Windows, Mac, iOS, Chrome/Firefox extension, Linux.

Open Source?

dVPN

Yes — always transparent and collaborative from Ground Zero. Check out Myst codebase.

Tor

Yes – open source pioneer.

VPN

No – centralized VPNs are proprietary and closed source. You can only imagine what they do with your collected data stored in their servers.

Decentralized?

dVPN

You bet.

Tor

Yes, but it doesn’t use blockchain for payments.

VPN

Nope. Decentra-what?

Network Status

dVPN

In the case of Mysterium, the testnet has 900 residential nodes, with more than 500 live at any given point.

Tor

Approx. 6500 exit nodes.

VPN

Depends on size of VPN provider, but biggest can provide over 5200 servers in 59 countries.

So, Tor or VPN - why not both?

Tor and VPNs/dVPNs are complementary solutions, so they can work together to enhance your privacy and security even more.

There are two methods for merging Tor with VPN:

VPN on Tor: connect to the Tor browser, then use a VPN. This is a more complex method as it requires some manual configuration. As your VPN server acts as the final exit node, Tor’s own exit nodes will not be able to peel back the final layer of encryption to reveal your activity. While your ISP can tell that you’re using Tor, it wouldn’t be able to trace you and keeps your IP address hidden from your VPN service.

Tor over VPN: Connect to your VPN, then use Tor browser. Your VPN will encrypt your traffic before it enters the Tor network, and also hides your IP address. It also hides the fact you’re using Tor from your ISP. However, if your VPN provider chooses to keep logs, it can see that you’re using Tor. This is why it’s best that you use a decentralised VPN, which cannot keep user logs.

Both Mysterium and Tor can be pieced together to ensure full privacy coverage and secure internet access. One of Mysterium’s most considered features is to extend our whitelisting in such a way so that your traffic would only exit via a Mysterium node’s IP, while the rest would be forwarded throughout the Tor network. In this way, Mysterium users will get to unblock content, and our node runners will not risk unwanted content passing through.

 

how to build a blockchain app

The Bigger Picture

Decentralized privacy networks like Mysterium and Tor are grassroots, open source technologies who have managed to grow large community-driven platforms without any corporate backing or support.

However, we have one point of difference; while regular VPNs offer to protect you for a price, we believe the fight against surveillance and censorship is a shared one.

Regular VPNs do nothing to address the infrastructural flaws of the internet, instead they apply a quick fix solution. We want to rebuild the internet itself, creating people-powered networks that are immune to corporate or government control.

In the case of Mysterium, our trustless, P2P payment network (currently on testnet) will be the first of its kind. It allows users of our global, distributed VPN to pay each other in short and frequent intervals, whenever they “rent” a VPN service from each other. We believe this is the missing link for current privacy solutions – mutual incentivisation, and the goal of restoring the internet to its former glory.

Tor helped kickstart this grassroots anonymity revolution and now the dVPN industry is taking it even further.

You can try dVPN apps for Android. You can use Tor browser for android.

Try our free dVPN app for Android. You can also decide which tor browser for android to use.

Check us out our Github or join our Discord to ask our developers any questions directly. 

Join the Mysterium Army here

The coronavirus cover-up: A closer look at internet censorship in China

I am writing this in transit between Helsinki and Vilnius. I’ve got a mask on, and it’s uncomfortable. But I shouldn’t complain – the mask itself was a godsend – given the nationwide shortage of masks, hand sanitiser and antibacterial wipes in Singapore. 

Corona virus vpn

My flight taking me from Singapore to Helsinki may as well have been a private jet for the number of people on board. One of the perks when travelling while the world is gearing up for a pandemic.

The coronavirus is quickly spreading through Asia, and onward into the US and Europe. 

do I need a VPN

What does this have to do with freedom of speech? And how does this answer the question “Do I need a VPN?”

Just about everything. 

Dr Li Wenling - the coronavirus whistleblower - is now dead.

I landed in Helsinki to the news of Dr Li Wenliang’s death. 

Dr Li was one of the first people who tried to issue the first warning about the coronavirus outbreak. 

On the 30th of December, he sent a message to fellow doctors in a medical-school alumni group. In this message, he warned his fellow medical practitioners that seven patients had been quarantined at Wuhan Central Hospital after coming down with a respiratory illness similar to the SARS coronavirus. 

Four days after this, he was summoned to the Public Security Bureau where he was coerced to sign a letter. This letter claimed that he was “making false comments”. 

According to the BBC, the letter he was told to sign read: 

“We solemnly warn you: if you keep being stubborn, with such impertinence, and continue this illegal activity, you will be brought to justice – is that understood?”. 

Dr Li contracted the coronavirus himself, after treating people who had it.

After contracting the virus, Dr Li continued to post to his Weibo account. “I was wondering why [the government’s] official notices were still saying there was no human to human transmissions, and there were no healthcare workers infected,” Dr Li wrote on January 31 from his hospital bed.

Officials in Wuhan initially played down the threat and censored information on the spread of the disease. “I think it would have been a lot better. There should be more openness and transparency”, Dr Li told the New York Times. Dr Li was one of the eight people arrested for speaking out on social media.

The death of Dr Li Wenliang is a heartbreaking moment for China and a neon sign pointing at the failure of Chinese leadership. 

The following are censorship instructions on how to deal with reporting on Dr Li’s death – issued to the media by the Chinese authorities. If you’re asking yourself the question, “Do I need a VPN?”, this is an indicator you should consider.

Do I need a VPN

The rapid-fire spread of the coronavirus in China, alongside with this sad event, is a clear example of how transparency and openness can save lives, while censorship can lead to global disaster. 

Keeping a deadly disease hidden from the public consciousness only lets it fester and spread silently. Censorship has fed this infection to pandemic proportions. 

The state of the internet in China

The internet first arrived in China as a tool for the emerging “socialist market economy”. In 1998 the Golden Shield project was created. The Golden Shield project was a database project which gave the Chinese government the power to not only access the records of each citizen but to delete any comments online that were considered harmful to the Chinese government. 

https://media.torproject.org/image/community-images/

The image above showcases a simplified topology of the great firewall of China.

In a white paper, released by the government of China, it clearly states that “within Chinese territory, the internet is under the jurisdiction of Chinese sovereignty. The internet sovereignty of China should be respected and protected”. Here’s a direct link to a copy of the whitepaper.

I call bullshit. And so do a growing number of “dissidents” of the Chinese government. 

Looks like the citizens of China are finally getting woke - after decades of attempted brainwashing.

Government agencies have weakened the check-and-balance function that true journalism brings. “The local government’s tolerance level of different online voices is way too low,” wrote Hu Xijin on his social media – editor of the Global Times, a nationalist and party-controlled outlet.

“The current system looks so vibrant, yet it’s shattered completely by a government crisis…We gave up our rights in exchange for protection, but what kind of protection is it? Where will our long-lasting political apathy lead us” – writes a user on Chinese social media. This post was shared over 7000 times and liked 27,000 times. Then it was deleted [censored].

Zhang Ouya, a senior reporter at the state-run Hubei Daily wrote that “For Wuhan, please change the leadership immediately” – on his verified Weibo account. This post was shortly deleted, but not before a screenshot was circulated widely. This was followed by a leaked official document where the newspaper apologised to Wuhan officials with a promise that its staff would only post positive content. Only positive content – with a growing death count in China. 🙄🙄🙄

This outbreak is not only a national crisis – it’s a global health crisis with epic repercussions. On China Central Television, the state broadcaster shows a banquet held by leadership to celebrate the country’s successes. 

“Chinese social media are full of anger, not because there was no censorship on this topic, but despite strong censorship, it is still possible that the censorship will suddenly increase again, as part of an effort to control the narrative,” said Xiao Qiang, a research scientist at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley. Critics are finding new ways to dodge censors, referring to Xi Jingping, China’s top leader as “Trump” and/or comparing the coronavirus outbreak to the Chernobyl catastrophe. 

This week, police in the port city of Tianjin detained a man for 10 days for “maliciously publishing aggressive, insulting speech against medical personnel”. He had been critical of the response to the coronavirus outbreak in a WeChat group he shared with his friends.

China’s online censorship system, unaffectionately known as the Great Firewall, is also censoring any information the Chinese government deems a rumour.

What is classified as a rumour?

  • Posts of families with infected members seeking help
  • Posts by people living in quarantined cities documenting their daily lives
  • Posts criticising the way the Chinese government is handling this outbreak

The Chinese government has even announced that anyone attempting to disrupt social order by posting information with sources that are not from state-run media, will face three to seven years in jail. What the actual …fudge.

This censorship is not just a problem for Chinese citizens. It affects us all.

The World Health Organisation has declared a global health emergency. As the coronavirus spreads it becomes clear that one governments’ actions can have a global impact. 

A choke-hold on transparency, openness and the free flow of information does not just affect the country being censored. This is one of the reasons we must take a global stance against internet censorship as more and more countries draw borders around the flow of information.

China may be one of the worst offenders but it’s not alone. Still asking yourself “Do I need a VPN?” 😭

The internet as a means for openness and transparency

This is a very personal cause for me. I grew up in a country where freedom of speech wasn’t a given. The soft power that countries with authoritarian and totalitarian governments have increasingly global impact at the speed at which globalisation is moving. 

This is one of the many reasons I wake up every day to work on Mysterium Network. You can’t put a price on the work that our community is doing to ensure an open internet for all. It’s not just so you can stream shows you like, it could save lives, prevent pandemics and overthrow totalitarian governments. 

Mysterium Network is building a permissionless and distributed virtual private network. Mysterium Network will allow end-users in heavily censored regions access to the open internet.

Our network is for the people, by the people. What do we mean by that? Most nodes in our network [nodes provide IPs that open up the internet for end-users using MysteriumVPN] are residential IPs, meaning they are run in the homes by our community of hacktivists across the globe.

Join us on our mission to open the internet for all. Run a node.

In a region with internet censorship? Give MysteriumVPN a whirl – it’s free while we’re in the testing phase.

Ecoin and the rise of corporate cryptocurrency: Did Mr Robot get it right?

Is Mr Robot a glimpse into our tech-onomic future?

The internet’s favourite fictional Robin Hood (Elliot Alderson) – the guy who showed us why to use a VPN, has finally hung up his hoodie, forcing us to return to our own parallel reality. 

For those who have not yet plugged into Mr Robot (using a dVPN?), the series follows hacktivist group “fsociety” who are on a mission to take down conglomerate E Corp and consequently erase the world’s debt. 

The narrative picks apart some of society’s deepest flaws – including the growing divide between the top 1% and 99% at the hands of modern capitalism – with philosophical intensity.

It tells us the world’s financial and corporate structures as made of glass. The hammer that can shatter them to pieces is made of code, clever social engineering and anarchism. 

And with most systems already migrated to the digital realm, just one man and his keyboard can bring a global powerhouse to its knees. 

Back in the real world, hackers launched a ransomware attack against Travelex, the foreign currency company. The hack has crippled their worldwide systems, forcing their stores, airport counters and exchange services offline and leaving customers stranded.

Life imitating art? 

Mr Robot predicts a haunting future for our tech-dependant society based on these very real events; the modern-day revolution is digital, technology is the weapon, and everyday people are still the casualties. One of the many reasons why to use a VPN.

Related: What is happening to our internet? And can we even stop it?

Cash is dead

The world economy falls apart following fsociety’s 5/9 hack against E Corp’s global banking network. The CEO swiftly launches a new digital currency for its clients and millions of customers, a substitute for fiat cash.

There are blunt negotiations with the US Treasury Secretary, who is asked to endorse Ecoin as a government-sanctioned currency before the population turns to the alternative – Bitcoin. 

“The problem here is hard cash is fading, rapidly. That’s just the way of the world right now and Bitcoin is spreading, and if Bitcoin takes over we are all in a world of hell…

With “Ecoin” we control the ledger, and the mining servers, We are the Authority. I will make sure you have visibility into every single wallet that is open, every loan, every transaction. You want to regulate it, be my guest… I’ll give you backdoors, side doors, tracers, whatever you want.”

Is this propagandist, American corporate dream already filtering into our financial system? 

The battle against Bitcoin

For anyone familiar with the origins of Bitcoin, they’ll understand that Ecoin is a violation of everything it stands for. 

As the original and most popularised cryptocurrency, Bitcoin is a virtual currency that is issued, managed and used by everyday people. 

Emerging out of the wreckage of the global 2008 financial crisis, it promised a new monetary system that could help people stay afloat as our economies are sunk by corporate greed and government corruption. 

Termed as “the internet of money”, cryptocurrencies shift the value we assign to cash to a digital form that is as fast and borderless, yet more secure than encrypted messaging. It moves throughout a trustless, decentralized network and is secured by a technology known as blockchain. Anyone can take part and help maintain a public blockchain. 

Yet cryptocurrency – and its underlying technology – is already being hijacked by governments and businesses the world over. 

Stranger than fiction? Ecoin already exists.

While extreme libertarians designed the blockchain to decentralize government and corporate power, some fear it could consolidate it instead, undermining cryptocurrency’s anti-capitalist aspirations.

“The same hype driving cryptocurrency speculation has also attracted banks, governments, and corporations—exactly the authorities it was designed to circumvent.” – Ian Bogost, The Atlantic 

Years after Mr Robot premiered its “cash is fading” monologue and postulated Ecoin, JP Morgan announced the creation of JPM Coin, its own digital currency.

As a global lender, JP Morgan moves more than $6 trillion around the world every single day, and they want to move their infrastructure to a company-managed blockchain to instantly settle payments between their clients.  Once launched, JPM Coin will be the first blockchain-based currency issued by a major U.S. bank. 

Facebook too has joined the cryptocurrency party with their infamous Libra Coin, “potentially shaping the already vast powers of the Silicon Valley giants into a borderless, unaccountable techno-oligarchy.” 

With over 2.4 billion monthly active users, Facebook could become the largest (pseudo) bank in the world. 

There are countless other crypto-inspired initiatives being researched or launched by governments – RSCoin in the UK, Venezuela’s Petro, Iran’s Central Bank, The Public Bank of China, Senegal

But cryptocurrency that lives on a permissioned ledger – a privately-run or corporately managed blockchain – centralizes control, removing its democratic, privacy-preserving nature, and therefore any hopes of social and financial empowerment for the individual. 

Money is already seized by governments and banks habitually. Pair this with an ability to continuously monitor, track and block your entire life savings, and your control is complete. This would complement China’s political and economic strategies, which are centred around state-control and anti-privacy measures – such as their social credit system

Sovereign and corporate cryptocurrencies cannot really be considered cryptocurrencies at all. They abandon the integrity of blockchain technology’s breakthrough design; its in-built trustlessness, transparency and immutability. 

With banks, governments and businesses, nothing changes – they control the chain and the currency, from its supply and distribution to its inflation rate and pegged value.

For the hacktivist that lives in all of us...

So Mr Robot got it right. 

In a world where we are being sold the illusion of economic progress, how can we claim back cryptocurrency for ourselves? 

We can start by supporting open-source projects who are building on public blockchain architecture. We can educate ourselves about the non-speculative value of cryptocurrency (and how to use and store it safely). And we can start experimenting with a range of decentralized applications that give its users control while honouring their privacy and autonomy. 

Related: Why use a VPN? And how is a dVPN different?

Our dVPN is a blend of all these things – and more. 

For many of us, the internet is a place to freely roam. But many online citizens are trapped behind digital walls, stopping the free flow of ideas, voices and truths. 

We are building a new online era, democratising the web itself so that it’s free and open for all. Our peer to peer network powers its own VPN while laying the foundations for the new Web 3.0. Everyday web users become nodes to protect you against censorship, surveillance and cybercrime and get paid in cryptocurrency for it. Anyone can become a node to help us fight the good fight. 

There are many exciting other projects out there also trying to make this new online world a reality. 

Related: dVPN Comparison 2020. See emerging privacy-centric technologies and how they differ.

But the revolution starts with you. Will you claim back the internet? 

Join the Mysterium Army and download our free dVPN for Android.

What is geoblocking? How does it impact free speech (movies) online?

what is geoblocking

We’ve all been there; “this content is unavailable in your country.” 

What is geoblocking? For many, geoblocking is an everyday inconvenience. For others, it’s a disguised form of censorship. This widely accepted practice allows companies to restrict access to their service based purely on your location. 

While this is generally for the sake of copyright and basic economics, in some extreme cases, it’s a violation of our human rights – such as the right to access information freely.

Related: How does anonymity work in a surveillance era?

What is geofencing

When the internet turns against you

Just imagine if the next time you went out to see a movie, you and your fellow viewers were each charged different ticket prices depending on your nationality. This is essentially what’s at play with geoblocking – location-based discrimination. And it’s happening to you every time you shop, stream or browse online. 

From Apple to small ecommerce stores, businesses the world over are varying their prices based on what they expect you to afford. Prices may even change depending on what time of day it is or the temperature outside. The digital economy has made it easy for companies to collect this data, later used to exploit your spending habits or socio-economic status. Even if you’re just a few suburbs apart, what price you pay may be vastly different to someone else in your own city. 

Last year, laws were introduced by the Council of the European Union to protect consumers from this kind of discrimination “based on customers’ nationality, place of residence or place of establishment.”

And while these anti-geoblocking regulations may be one initiative for tearing down these digital walls, there’s little to get excited about. These regulations only apply to businesses selling goods and services, but not online content more broadly. And ultimately, it’s up to the governments of its member states to enforce – so it might as well be optional. 

Yes, much of geoblocking comes down to basic economics. But the web was not designed to be segmented this way. It was designed to create a global village, where a user in Tibet had precisely the rights and opportunities as someone in Toronto. In an age where we’re supposedly more equal and connected than ever before, it’s a shame we can’t do better.

We’re still a long way from the equalized cyber utopia the internet promised us in the nineties.

Related: What happened to the internet? A deep dive into internet censorship and how it works.

can you geoblock facebook

Copyright, or wrong?

Some films and TV shows costs hundreds of millions to make. To their producers, these pieces of content are considered investments, which we help pay off everytime we pay to watch them. 

But digital piracy has become a huge problem worldwide, taking a huge cut out of their studio’s profits. Tens of billions of visits were made to media piracy sites worldwide in 2018 alone. If you can watch movies online for free, then why would you pay to see it in the cinema, or subscribe to a streaming service?

This unfortunate trend means the lifecycle of these films become shorter once they leave the cinema. In response, studios have begun selling their movies through on-demand streaming services like Apple’s iTunes store and Amazon Prime. These platforms can also sell ad space, milking more money out of their advertising space. 

But every market demands different content. What is a hit in some parts of the world is a flop in others. And with so much money at stake each time a film is created, studios enforce strict copyright laws to ensure they maximise the return on their investment. Each content-deal is carefully negotiated by territory. Studios charge outlets like Netflix far more to offer certain titles in some countries than others. This is why geoblocking has become such an effective method for honouring these copyright laws and agreements. 

Yet in today’s attention economy, the ultimate goal is to get as many eyes on a piece of content as possible. The more eyes, the more content can claim to be worth in ad revenue. If you geoblock something that a customer is willing to pay for with their potentially undivided attention, you may be sabotaging a potential revenue stream. This kind of thinking is surprisingly alien to those stuck in the ages of traditional television.

In fact, reports suggest that removing “unjustified geoblocking…could foster growth and increase consumer choice throughout the internal market.”

what is geoblocking

Free streaming - or freedom of speech?

Geoblocking is an inconvenience for those of us fortunate enough to access most content online. In some parts of the world, its use is far more sinister. Governments are even forcibly removing content from streaming services to aid their political agendas. 

In Turkey, for example, streaming services were previously allowed to operate outside the country’s censorship rules. But since September, every streaming service will now have to apply for a license which complies with government enforced internet regulation. The aim is to inhibit dissent, in all its digital forms. 

Content providers must now “navigate different political and moral landscapes” as calls for censorship expand worldwide. With a flick of a switch, businesses can willingly convene with oppressive regimes to prevent free access to information. Geoblocking has no longer become a method for business, but a veiled form of censorship. 

Our constant battle for free speech has become more obvious in the digital world. The open sharing of ideas built the privileged world we live in. Companies should be encouraging, not hindering, the flow of cultural and artistic exports around the world. In fact, this 2018 annual SEC report lists both censorship and “the need to adapt content… for specific cultural and language differences” as a commercial risk for these entertainment businesses.   

But more importantly, if we shelter society from alternative or diverse ways of thinking, we risk a cultural vacuum where nothing is challenged or changed. If censorship had its way, the civil rights movement would never have happened and we may still be convinced that the Sun orbits the Earth

freedom of speech online

The bird is the not the word

Geoblocking can also serve as a tool of government oppression, putting a chokehold on democracy. A prominent example is Turkey, where the government demanded that Twitter withhold hundreds of accounts affiliated with voices opposing the current regime.  

Similar injustices included blocking Twitter entirely just two weeks before the 2014 general election, and later again in the wake of a coup attempt against the Turkish president.

In his words;

Related: What is the splinternet, and how can decentralisation stitch it back together?

We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic.

Situations like these, in many ways, say more about the alarming power of the big media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter than anything else. They’ve become as influential as a utility company. When paired with an unscrupulous government, the internet’s potential for fostering free, diverse discourse is starting to dwindle.  

When it comes to protecting free speech and human rights, the internet has the ability to be the world’s superhero.  

But this kind of geoblocking, and censorship more generally, is very much now the kryptonite slowly killing this hope.

what is geoblocking

Help us sink the Censorship - the power of the free VPN

It’s unlikely that governments and media platforms will support an open internet. If we’re to figure out this mess, our only hope is to find our own ways of circumventing unethical geoblocking and creating an internet that we all deserve. 

The world is well aware of this too. In fact, one quarter of the world has used a VPN in the last month. Looking at the leading markets of VPN usage, Asia Pacific leads the demand. This is closely followed by countries such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia (no surprises there). Wherever there is high tech and low freedom, demand for VPNs blossom. 

In today’s world VPNs are essential for online security and privacy. But the risks that occur with your typical VPN are more apparent than ever.

Related: VPN vs Tor. What is the difference? And can you use them both? 

Enter the decentralized VPN. While your typical centralized VPN will merely morph your current IP address into a new one, a decentralized VPN uses layered protection protocols to hide both your identity and location from any geoblockers or prying eyes. Doing this adds an extra layer of security and privacy; previously one’s only option was for our identities to pass through a centralized VPN, having them store our information in the process. This process meant that our identities were, all too often, protected by unreliable security measures

When you use a decentralized VPN, the service is powered entirely by other web users like you. Each person can rent out their IP address and bandwidth to others in this P2P network and earn crypto in exchange. Due to its distributed infrastructure, none of your data can be physically stored anywhere, and all traffic being routed through these personal nodes is heavily encrypted.

Related: dVPN comparison – an online resource comparing emerging decentralised virtual private networks. 

The more nodes that join help increase the network’s speed and efficiency. So by simply offering up your spare bandwidth, you enable fellow Mysterium users to browse freely, avoiding geoblockers and every other force that quashes a free and open internet.

 The more nodes we run, the freer and more private our online lives become. It’s that simple.

We already have 812 nodes in our network and we’re growing fast. Check out our network dashboard to see all our nodes around the world

Find out if you’re eligible to become a node get paid for your excess internet.

What is a VPN connection? And why is decentralisation important?

Where did the World Wide dream go?

What is a VPN connection? And why is it so important that you need one in this strange new world?

The Internet was meant to be a great equaliser. An entangled mesh of online cultures, content and information, it promised to dissolve our physical and social boundaries, creating a digital democracy of which we are all citizens.

Now the World Wide Web is breaking apart. A free and open internet is slowly disintegrating in the hands of governments and corporations. More and more countries are fencing off their own closed, national internets, for reasons that seem purely political at best and authoritarian at worst. 

As business starts to migrate online, governments are naturally trying to extend their powers into the digital realm. ISPs and web infrastructure companies are subject to the local laws where they are based, meaning there is no way for the internet to exist outside the control of self-serving lawmakers.

This ‘cyberbalkanization’ of cyberspace goes against its founding philosophy and original vision of “openness, co-operation and creativity.”

Related: What happened to the internet, and is there a way back?

Weapons of mass control?

The power of a shared and open internet to affect real-world politics became most obvious during the Arab Spring. Twitter and Facebook played a pivotal role in restoring democratic processes and accountability. These social media platforms transformed into tools for coordinated activism and freedom of expression, pushing their uprisings into the global spotlight. In turn, governments are ripping these kinds of tools from their citizens hands. 

In May this year, Russia passed a law which gives its own government broad powers to control their citizens access to the internet. ISPs are now required to route all web traffic through nationally censored nodes under full state control. This “sovereign internet” could then be disconnected from the global web.

China has one of the most sophisticated censorship cultures in the world and have spent decades perfecting their Great Firewall. Citizens are blocked from foreign news websites and social media platforms like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Automated, real-time censoring has been built into the domestic web infrastructure, so that even local websites are monitored 24/7 using specifically designed programs. VPNs are banned, cutting off the only digital portal to the outside world. 

China is proactively exporting this technology to other Asian countries to create a ‘top-down’ effect and spread these arbitrary practices throughout the region. There are dozens of countries which have become unfortunate social experiments for how censorship affects society, with most of them are regressing into an Orwellian dystopia of 1984. 

In these kinds of places – where democractic practices such as protest, free speech and a free press are forbidden – the internet is the only glimpse into any alternative political and social reality. The web is home to freedom of expression, self-education and a variety of opinions which help us strengthen our autonomy and critical thinking. 

Controlling access to the internet, or carefully defining its parameters, is a strategic and incredibly effective form of oppression.  

Censorship is a tool for keeping people in the dark, until nobody remembers how to turn on the lights again. 

Related: What does anonymity mean in a surveillance era?

What is a VPN connection

The dreaded 404 - Keep Out

Authoritarian regimes aside, there are a number of ‘liberal’ countries and businesses based in the west which are also territorializing the internet, rather than creating a unified, open online world. It’s just as easy to keep people out as it is to confine them within digital walls – a catalyst for division, rather than unity.

Cutting off access to users based in other countries is known as geoblocking. Web hosts can revoke or prevent access for IPs based in one country, keeping out entire populations.

Reasons for geoblocking vary, but often it boils down to laziness or money – it may be easier to flip this switch than it is to consider any legal requirements when opening up your website’s borders.

Granted, it requires a lot of effort to accommodate a global userbase; every country has different rules for the use and movement of data online. Over 30 global regions and nations already impose their own ‘data sovereignty’ regulations. Some might live in jurisdictions that have strong privacy laws. This includes the EU, who last year introduced their GDPR laws designed to protect all users based in the European region. Now, any business which has customers or users based in the EU must either comply, or put up a digital fence.

But geoblocking is ‘ineffective’. The use of VPN services has risen dramatically – almost 25 per cent of the world’s entire internet population uses one. But traditional VPNs are expensive and slow. And while you might be wondering what VPN works with Netflix, you should be more concerned with their tracking of your online activity and behaviour. (More on this below.) 

To make the internet truly IP agnostic and censorship free, we just need to do a little rewiring…

Related: What is Geoblocking? And how does it affect your access to information?

If you want something done right, do it yourself

It’s unlikely that government involvement will lead to the kind of internet that we deserve. As with any movement rooted in social, political or economical progress, people are the answer. So what does all this have to do with a VPN connection? An internet powered by and for the people is the next step of the evolution of the internet. 

Everyday internet users – just like you – can fight unethical censorship and surveillance. Decentralised technologies  are designed specifically for this purpose. Through them, we can restore the internet to its former glory, where no one owns or controls it, and users can roam freely.

A decentralised VPN (dVPN) is one of these tools helping to rebuild an internet that is safe, accessible and borderless.

What is a VPN connection? In essence, a VPN connection offers a safer browsing experience. VPNs can also be used to access region-restricted content, shield your browsing activity from hackers on public Wi-Fi and much more.

Related: Want to understand what is a VPN connection? Compare Tor, traditional VPNs and dVPNs

With regular VPN connection, you have to pay for a subscription to use the service. These services are also often slow, limited and most worryingly, they keep logs of all their users’ online activity in centralised servers. A study of 62 commercial providers showed that many VPNs leak user traffic “through a variety of means.” Many also misrepresented the physical location of their vantage points, and appear to be hosted on servers “located in countries other than those advertised to users.”

With a decentralised VPN, everyday web users power the service, turning their computers or devices into ‘nodes’. It’s impossible to store data or keep logs, as traffic is routed through these residential nodes in a heavily encrypted, unrecognisable form. 

Mysterium’s own dVPN was the world’s first. We use layered protection protocols so anyone can browse the web anonymously. Your identity and IP are always hidden so anyone can bypass unethical censorship and surveillance. We also whitelist everyone who wants to become a node or access our VPN, protecting you and the entire network from bad players. 

But what is most unique about this dVPN is that it’s powered by a global network of everyday web users. Anyone can become a ‘node’ and share their unused bandwidth whenever it suits them. Nodes can earn up to $600 worth of ETH in a year through simple plug and play devices, like the RaspberryPi and AvadoBox

Related: The definitive guide to becoming a Mysterium Node.

Uniting the WWDW

But Mysterium is just one of the many projects pioneering decentralization. The ecosystem is made up of amazing companies, initiatives and projects all working to fix our broken, vulnerable online world. 

There are numerous dVPNs and bandwidth marketplaces now entering the fold. While we’re all somewhat different, we’re all building upon the same vision. 

All these different, decentralised platforms compliment each other, coming together to form a new internet that is as accessible and open as if it were one. Everyone will have the freedom to choose between these different ecosystems, jumping from one to another easily. 

And while we may provide the infrastructure and tools, it’s our communities which will make the decentralised web a reality. The more people running a node at home, the faster, more stable and censorship resistant the internet becomes.

So what are you waiting for – help us stitch the web back together.

What is internet censorship?

what is internet censorship

What is internet censorship? How does internet censorship work? To understand this, we need to understand the history of the Internet. In its very early days, the Internet was decentralised. It was a public place where computers spoke to each other directly. Anyone could build upon open protocols that were governed by a small community of users — just like Mysterium Network (or see our definitive guide to becoming a Mysterium Node Runner).

This accessibility invited companies to contribute, to experiment, and develop fast. Direct peer to peer file sharing was born during this time, in the late 90s. The first Internet businesses began to emerge, and they soon abandoned the open protocol design in place of their own centralized alternatives.

The Internet today is now governed by a handful of these businesses. Tech empires — Google, Amazon, Apple, Yahoo, Facebook — with their privately owned servers and infrastructure power the web for everyone. With this power comes unchallenged and uncapped control. If the Internet were a nation state, it would not be a democracy.

“If the Internet were a nation state, it would not be a democracy.”

While they operate mostly in the online domain, the decisions and actions of these tech giants affect our privacy, security, our access to information and to each other. Their carefully programmed algorithms design our world view, and most of our news is filtered through very few platforms. We can only trust that Google will act ethically as a gatekeeper to the world’s information. Facebook has already betrayed our trust, yet we continue to log in each day without any reasonable alternative. The internet, which is “owned” by no one, has been monopolised.

Governments and their agencies have attempted to exert some sort of influence and keep these companies in check. Legislations like the GDPR are meant to protect us, but the laws which govern the privacy of our personal data have largely benefited corporate needs.

“We pay Internet Service Providers to get us online, yet they continue to sabotage our privacy in exchange for greater returns.”

What does centralisation have to do with internet censorship?

The flaws with a centralised internet are deeply embedded within its infrastructure:

  1. Servers are vulnerable to hacks or network failure
  2. Our personal data is readily available for advertisers
  3. Content is blocked or censored against our will.

Related: A comparison between dVPNS.

“We have normalised the trading of our privacy in exchange for convenient services”

We pay Internet Service Providers to get us online, yet they continue to sabotage our privacy in exchange for greater returns. Your every email, purchase, google search, upload and friend request is translated into data that is collected and stored in their centralised servers. All this personal information is monetised without your knowledge, your online habits and movements sold to advertisers and businesses who thrive off our profiles. Just this week, Bloomberg reported that businesses can buy information about our locations and movements with ease.

These servers are regularly hacked and sensitive data leaked, often without real consequence. In 2018 alone, over one billion people were victim to these data breaches. You may have been affected without knowing (but you can check using certain tools, including this one). This is why it is important for you to understand the difference between anonymity and privacy.

What’s more concerning is the ease with which governments can access this same information. Tech companies allow the NSA to access their servers and collect data through formalised arrangements. The UK’s Snoopers Charter grants the government the right to legally monitor the internet usage of its citizens.

We have normalised the trading of our privacy in exchange for convenient services, forgetting that it is a basic human right. The UN urges the protection of our privacy and anonymity online to evade the grasp of “broad and intrusive government surveillance.”

Part of the Charter of Human Rights is the fundamental right of freedom of expression, which encompasses the freedom to “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Yet many jurisdictions around the world confine their citizens within digital walls, inhibiting the free flow of truths and voices. This online censorship erodes democracy and equality in the real world.

The Web3 revolution starts with you

We’re now entering a new era of the internet, one which honours its original, decentralised roots.

“To decentralise the internet is to democratise it”

New technology offers us an opportunity to re-engineer the foundations of the web today; it withdraws commercial influence and government control, distributing this power among users instead. To decentralise the internet is to democratise it — to break apart the infrastructure of a corporately managed internet, and assign this responsibility to us.

Blockchain has already begun facilitating this through its democratic and self-governing architecture. Instead of centralised servers, we can create peer to peer systems which allow people, not business, to securely store and share information online.

Anyone can be a part of this decentralised system. Your computer becomes a node, acting as a miniature server. This means it can help power the entire network by directly sharing its excess resources, such as bandwidth or processing power. We can do this without any kind of official host or authority at all — and be paid for it. The bigger this distributed network grows, the stronger and faster it becomes, and a bandwidth marketplace can flourish. This is what a future without internet censorship looks like.

An internet powered by people is the next stage of its technological and social evolution. An ambitious few have already started to jumpstart this transformation. The creator and “father” of the Internet himself, Tim Berners-Lee, is now the co-lead of the Decentralized Information Group at MIT, working to reverse the trend of centralisation and restore “net neutrality”.

“An internet powered by people is the next stage of its technological and social evolution.”

Momentum is building. Countless other entrepreneurial teams around the world are building the decentralised applications (dApps) and open-source tools which will empower a global community of users to govern and sustain the internet.

What can a node “do” about internet censorship? A dVPN use case

A strong node network can solve the failings of our centralised internet. One of its many real-world applications is in being the foundation of a strong, community-run VPN. Learn more about becoming a Mysterium Node.

Think of a VPN as a failsafe against the various threats which undermine an open and democratic internet. It allows you to connect to servers located around the world, hiding your IP address and identity — a technological remedy for censorship, surveillance and firewalls.

Yet common VPNs utilise servers that are centrally owned and run by businesses, and they can store logs of all your traffic without anyone knowing. You have to trust that they won’t do anything with this data, nor that they’ll hand it over to authorities if asked to. While some of your data may be encrypted, lots of it can still be revealed.

We can instead leverage decentralised networks so that your encrypted data is sharded into separate pieces and filtered in an unrecognisable form through a distributed node network — without the possibility of being traced or censored. A single node will never be able to identify you or your online activities, nor can authorities and third parties.

In its decentralised form, a VPN pays people (nodes) for providing the service. And as with a decentralised internet, a decentralised VPN has no single point of failure or attack, making it more robust than centralised options. It creates a secure and accessible online space, enhances user privacy in the truest sense, and is strengthened by the mutual trust and shared interests of a global community looking out for each other.

 

Related: Tor vs VPN vs dVPN – a comparison so you understand the nuances.

Become a Mysterium Node Runner

https://mysterium.network/node/

Decentralisation still has a way to go. It may take decades for the internet to migrate onto a P2P network, but we are already crafting the tools to make it a reality. We can rewire the internet so that it becomes a public domain once again — a space for new ideas, collaboration and connection.

This is just the beginning. You can help us democratise the web, one node at a time.

Join our node pilot by downloading our node for Windows, Mac and Raspberry Pi.