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decentralised vpn

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.

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

Top 5 online hackathons; cure your quarantine boredom with bounties

Virtual is the new black.

As more and more of the world makes a pact to #StayTheFHome this COVID19 season, all planned conferences, meetups and hackathons are adapting their events for the online domain. 

So switch off Netflix and polish up your webcam – there’s hacking to be done, things to learn and bounties to win.

Funding the Future Virtual Hackathon

Organised by: Gitcoin 

Dates: March 16 – 30th

Prize: Up to $6500 per challenge

Gitcoin is a platform for you to get paid for working on open source projects. They’ve built a strong community of developers who collaborate and monetize their skills. 

They frequently host online hackathons and bounty programs, so you can check out the full list of current and upcoming virtual events, including their Funding the Future Hackathon. 

This two-week virtual hackathon features sponsors and projects from across the emerging decentralized finance (DeFi) space. Hackers will work together to build projects and tools that create, grow, and share value in brand new ways.

They’re also running a Blockchain for Social Impact hackathon, with 4 different categories: Sustainable Cities, Plastics and Pollution, Carbon Footprint, and Celp Peace and Prosperity. Winning ideas receive $6,500 in prize value (and runner up gets $1,500). Not a bad sum for trying to fix the planet. 

Can’t Be Censored Challenge

Organised by: Mysterium.Network

Dates: Applications close April 14th

Prize: Up to $5000 (first prize)

Calling all devs who give a sh*t about keeping the internet accessible and free. 

Mysterium Network is a distributed, permissionless privacy network. We’ve grown a large residential IP network for all kinds of next-gen privacy applications to be built on top of. 

Enter our “Can’t be Censored” challenge by submitting an app/DApp that fits into one of the featured categories and ultimately helps global citizens access the internet, no matter where in the world they are.  

We’re looking for new application ideas that span across iOS, Browser Plugin, Android TV, Bitcoin’s Lightning Network, Windows – or anything you like that you can build on our Network. 

Use code (and your brains) to put an end to internet censorship, data breaches and the abuse of our privacy rights.

International Women's Hackathon 2020

Organised by: HackerEarth

Dates: March 8th – April 30th

Prize: Up tp $3000

The annual International Women’s Hackathon has returned for 2020! This is its 6th edition, an all-women event and platform to showcase talents and build ideas for the Financial Technology, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Blockchain industries.

The IWH 2020 supports the UN’s theme for International Women’s Day – “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change,” and promote women developers around the globe. 

It invites women innovators, developers, creators, designers, and hackathon enthusiasts to showcase their projects to the world and take them to the next level.

GitLab Hackathon

Organised by: GitLab

Dates: May 13th – 14th

Prize: $100 to spend at the GitLab store

If you’re a dev, then you definitely have a GitHub or GitLab account. Easily join the GitLab community for this 2 day virtual event.

The Hackathon is open to anyone who is interested in contributing code, documentation, translations, UX designs and more to GitLab. Prizes are given to participants for having Merge Requests (MRs) merged and there may also be special award categories at each Hackathon.

You can choose an existing issue to work on, or file a new one. If it’s your first time contributing, a good way to join the Hackathon is to pick and fix a bite size issue. There are also issues for more experienced contributors.

Hack Quarantine

Organised by: Hackathons UK

Dates: March 23rd to April 12th

Prize: Cure the world and get to go outside again… (i.e Non-monetary)

Fight the flu! With your brain?

This fully-online, people-focused hackathon brings people together to use their skills to help combat the issues the world is facing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Work with medical professionals who will provide the knowledge and tools to empower all hackers to work on improving health, remote working and helping vulnerable populations.

Instead of having different challenges, the hackathon has separate “tracks”. Your project doesn’t have to fit perfectly into one track, it could be a mix and match of several (or all of them). Tracks were chosen based on areas where tech could be used to help solve some of the problems that the world is currently facing with the ongoing pandemic.

And for Data Scientists with a little more time on their hands…

Microsoft’s AI for Earth awards grants to support projects that use AI to change the way people and organizations monitor, model, and manage Earth’s natural systems. They’ve  already awarded 508 grants to projects with impact in 81 countries, and the list of grantees continues to grow. The four categories cover climate, agriculture, biodiversity and water.

Microsoft also offers awards to support environmental technology projects. They work with partner organizations to distribute special grants, including cash awards. You can check out these opportunities and learn how to apply. 

 

Best cybersecurity tips and tricks for a new digital decade

best cybersecurity tips

In a time when cyberattacks have reached an all-time high, it’s best we all clean up our act and give ourselves a good cyberscrub. So here are some cybersecurity tips to take you into 2020.

Good web hygiene leave no trace for advertisers or businesses to target you. But more importantly, they make it troublesome for hackers to find you.

Most hackers are lazy. They want minimal work for maximum return. If you’re an easy target, they’ll find out very quickly. If it will take even just a little effort to target you, they’ll move on to someone else. 

Don’t let yourself become a statistic in 2020. Put aside 5 minutes every day to tick each of these simple things off the list… 

The most important cybersecurity hack - secure passwords

Passwords are the first line of defence in cybersecurity, yet are often the weakest. In fact, approximately 80 percent of all data breaches are due to weak or reused passwords.

cybersecurity tips

If you use the same password across multiple accounts, that’s bad. If you use the SAME password for EVERY account – that’s just asking for it. It’s likely your email/password combination has been stored in a database that’s been hacked.

You can check here if you’ve been “pwned” (have an account that has been compromised in a data breach). You bet some hacker out there will try to use the same combination to gain access to your email or online banking. They can steal your money or even your identity – identity theft is on the rise.

Do a password audit. If you have Gmail for example, this can be done by going into your account settings and doing a general security check. Make sure each password is different for every account. 

Find out if your passwords have been compromised and if so, immediately change all of them. 

Google chrome can suggest new strong passwords. You can also set up an account with 1Password, which can generate and store all of your different passwords. A lot of people ask are password managers safe?

If you can’t remember or understand your password, that’s best. Memorable or human-readable passwords are weak. 

Create different emails for different purposes

It’s easy to create new, separate email addresses which can be used for specific reasons. You can have a private email account that is used for things such as banking, tax, government services and medical accounts. 

Use a different email to deal with work, clients and customers – it’s a great way to separate your personal data from your professional life. 

Have an everyday account for things like online shopping, subscription services. That way, if this kind of database is hacked (more likely than your banking or government accounts), your email won’t be traced back to those important accounts. 

Wipe cookies, clear cache, and always go incognito

Cookies are the little crumb trails that websites leave behind in your browser or device. They are user-specific, so it helps the website remember you and keep track of your activity, such as saving your login details for next time. Cookies can be harmless – but some are rotten. 

There are third party tracking cookies which can track your physical movements and see your browsing history. In one extreme case in 2016, Verizon was fined by the FCC over a “supercookie” technology which allowed third-party advertisers and websites to “assemble a deep, permanent profile of visitors’ web browsing habits without their consent.”

Safari, Firefox and Chrome are all taking measures to phase out the use of tracking cookies, with the latter starting a privacy-first initiative to make these third-party cookies “obsolete” by 2022

Due to GDPR, you would have noticed that most websites now ask you to accept their cookie settings.

what are cookies computer

Try always to choose only the necessary or required amount – this will be the least invasive. And most importantly – go “incognito” whenever you can. This will stop those pesky cookies.

If you’re using Chrome, you can easily check the cookies stored by each browser. Click on the lock symbol in your URL bar and select “Cookies”. You can then block or remove cookies you want. 

Note that this may affect your typical browsing experience. 

You can update or delete your cookies by going into your browser settings:

Offline cold storage - store important files on an external hard drive or USB

Try to store all of your important documents offline, such as scans of your passport, bank statements, contracts and other sensitive information you wouldn’t want to fall into the wrong hands. Every so often, sift through your downloads and move your important things into your hard drive, then delete them off your computer. 

best cybersecurity tips

Turn on 2FA!

Turn on Two-Factor authentication to create one extra security layer – and possibly the most annoying barrier to accessing your devices. If an app or website gives you the option to enable 2FA, always do it! Text message, biometrics, or authenticator code – it costs you nothing except a few extra seconds and is probably the one hurdle a hacker won’t be bothered to jump over.

Don’t save card details online

This one is a given. When a website asks if you’d like to save your card details for the sake of convenience – just don’t. 

Some web browsers, like Google Chrome, will auto-fill your details. You can stop that here.

Turn off location services

This one’s easy. Go into your app settings and disable location services for every app that does not require it to function. Some apps, though need your location to work correctly like Uber or Maps, can often have the setting “only track location while using app” – switch to this if possible. 

iPhone users follow this guide. 

Android users, here’s all you need to know.

why use a vpn best free vpn

Don’t use public wifi - unless you’re using a VPN

Last but not least – if you’re working from a cafe, browsing online at the airport or just connecting to some shady public wifi that pops up – try to avoid using it all. 

If you MUST, avoid doing anything particularly private, like logging into your bank account. 

If you connect to public wifi regularly, then use a good VPN (like Mysterium’s free VPN for Android) every time you need to connect to public wifi. 

Learn more about our free VPN. It was the world’s first decentralized VPN, too.

Time to clean up your act!

Get hack-proof best cybersecurity tips

Get hack-proof best cybersecurity tips

Opensource VPN partnership alert 🚨🎉 Portals builds on Mysterium Network

open source vpn

Portals VPN builds on top of Mysterium Network

We’re excited to announce the first project building on Mysterium Network! Mysterium Network is building a decentralised VPN, but we are also fundamentally an open source VPN. 

Portals has built on top of our open-source infrastructure to bring consumer VPN users into Mysterium ecosystem.

To celebrate this new milestone, Portals is offering a discount to all Mysterium users who’d like to sign up and give their Android application a go.

Related: What is a VPN connection? And why is it needed as our internet splinters apart?

What is Portals?

Portals is a dVPN application that plugs directly into Mysterium Network’s pool of nodes. Yes, you heard correct – a business, building on our infrastructure and sending traffic to our node network. And it doesn’t stop there.

Portals are focused on consumer adoption. They offer a subscription service, with monthly or annual payments. This means that Portals users can pay not just with cryptocurrencies, but with cold hard credit cards. Under the hood, this will drive traffic into Mysterium Network and tokens into Mysterium node runners’ pockets. Once a user signs up for Portals, all they need to do is pick the country they’d like to connect to. Portals’ built-in algorithm selects the best nodes for them to connect to based on quality, and the service the user is looking to access. 

Portals also offer live chat, which means anyone with issues getting their dVPN application up and running will have a helping hand.

A small step for dApps, a giant step towards mass adoption.

With Portals, users will be able to access the benefits of Mysterium Network’s pool of residential IPs without having to even know what ETH or MYST is! More users and traffic will flow into Mysterium Network, without all that crypto mumbo jumbo needing to be explained to people who just want an app that’s easy to use.

Portals app is available on Android, Mac and Windows. Check them out here.

open source vpn

Check out PORTALS VPN,
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Why are decentralized VPNs important?

Centralized VPNs today have full access to the history and metadata of what we consume online.

“The websites we browse, torrents we download, movies we watch on Netflix, the time we spend playing games, watching Youtube, idling on social networks – we can only imagine (and know from certain instances) how this data is used to track us and eventually influence our behaviour,” says the team behind Portals VPN.  

“This influence is so strong yet so concealed, that we have the right to replace the term “influence” to the term “control” in this context.”

Portals VPN is built on the belief that the more Internet users become aware of this control that centralized VPN providers have, the more they will turn to decentralized solutions. 

Why is this step important to Mysterium Network?

Mysterium Network is building a distributed VPN node network. 

While we have a reference implementation of our technology available, as an open-source VPN one of our goals is to help create tooling that allows for easy integration into our node network.

This means that we can continue to focus on building our node software, nurturing our community of nodes and helping developers build apps that drive traffic through the network.

Portals building on top of Mysterium is an important step for us as it will help us with the following:

  • Getting feedback on our developer documentation to ease future open source adoption of our technology;
  • Building processes to help onboard open-source talent more seamlessly into first learning about Mysterium technology, and then building on top of it;
  • Gaining a new channel through which traffic will enter our network and gets distributed across our node runners.

An open Internet for all

Portals and Mysterium are just two of the many projects pioneering decentralization. The ecosystem is made up of a range of companies, initiatives and projects all working together to create a better Internet for all. 

The magic of decentralized technology means that different platforms complement each other, merging to form a new Internet that is as accessible, interoperable and open – as if it were one. 

Related: Read our behind-the-scenes look into how networks like these are built.

Stay tuned for our developer bounties

Portals is the first of many projects that we hope will join us in building Mysterium’s wider ecosystem.

We will be announcing developer bounties on the 1st of March through our blog and community channels, so stay tuned to find out how you can contribute to a more free, more open Internet – and earn while you do it.

March 2020 updates – How to sell internet bandwidth

Mysterium Network is building a decentralised VPN. If you’re wondering how to sell internet bandwidth and earn crypto, check out our definitive guide to becoming a Mysterium Node.

Before we provide you with our latest update, we’d like to thank our growing community of nodes for their ongoing support, contributions and feedback. We value your time and effort in working with us to launch the next generation of the internet.

What’s changing in our March proposal:

A recurring piece of feedback we had from Mysterium Node Runners was to remove caps on Residential IP nodes which would be paid out monthly.

At this stage real traffic is not paid, and completely subsidised by Mysterium Network.

We are currently on test net. MYSTT is not a scarce resource as we need an abundance for testing purposes. This means that we will have a lot of users testing our mobile application (and desktop apps in the near future) with free MYSTT. This is necessary for our current stage of testing. This also means a lot of unpaid traffic within Mysterium Network, completely subsidised by us.

Before presenting our proposal one of the options we were considering was having a bounty pot that would be split by all node runners. But we came to the conclusion that this would have incited a lot of frustration as there would be no way to guarantee the exact value of earnings until the very end of the month.

We are happy to take any suggestions on board that takes us closest to a free market system. This is why we are making an amendment to our March proposal of bounty rules. 

Instead of having an individual cap of nodes per target region, we will have a total cap of 250 nodes paid out for the following regions: the UK, US, Italy, Germany, Australia, Netherlands.

The rest of “Residential IP bounties with payout caps and rolling payments + New countries  🇦🇺🇳🇱” remains the same.

To reiterate again – we reserve the right to not pay. We will be cross-checking traffic and identifying bad actors and disqualifying them from our bounty program. 

For some consumers of Mysterium Network, different types of IPs are both useful and important. This is why we are looking to grow the number of data center, residential IPs, and mobile IPs we have in our network across the globe. Nothing changes with our second bounty. 

how to sell internet bandwidth

Overarching themes from feedback gathered from you:

Fix discrepancies as to how data is calculated between my.mysterium.network and our leaderboard on test net.

We will ensure that there will be a single source of truth by the beginning of March. This will be my.mysterium.network

Ensure fair distribution of traffic across all nodes within Mysterium Network

  • Filters and randomness
  • Removal of the list of nodes with the ability to favourite nodes within our MysteriumVPN on Android.

Our bounty proposal takes us much closer to real-world environments. We are considering several means of data balancing for nodes but this goes against the ideology of a permissionless network.

A consumer will choose nodes that provide stable service at an acceptable price for them.

This quarter, we will be focused on growing consumers within the network which will directly impact the volume of traffic flowing through Mysterium Network.

Create more whitelisting tools for node runners

Longer-term (not this quarter), we are working on advanced whitelisting solutions that will be an additional tool that allows providers to grow the volume of traffic they allow through their node. This will also make it much easier for consumers to find nodes providing the type of service they are looking for.

This is a huge technical challenge as users do not only browse one service at a given time. This will mean we need multi-hops between data center nodes which provide access to the wider internet. We will also need to ensure that only specific types of traffic are sent to Residential IPs.

Another consideration is to have multiple connections to providers so that they are able to browse freely without having to reconnect to nodes based on the specific service they are looking to unblock. This is a huger technical challenge – opening several VPN tunnels to different providers and balancing between them

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on how we aim to achieve this and the challenges we expect to face.

Provide stable and working Linux software and repositories. Or just remove this platform.

Our Linux node installed via Debian packages or compiled binary on your machine has proven to be the most stable platform for the Mysterium Node.

It seems our community is seeking docker support. There are technical limitations of supporting docker due to the complexity of it’s networking set up. It is possible to run Mysterium Nodes within docker containers. This will work if it is a node with a direct external IP – most likely a data center IP. If it’s a local network set up, our docker support is at beta stage and needs advanced configuration.

Some of you are using install scripts and running it on unsupported platforms. We are only supporting LTS of Ubuntu and Debian at this stage.

We are going to work on our documentation to help our community, but cannot guarantee that this will work with each unique configuration.

Changes of the bounty system need to stabilise as no one is currently able to cost-benefit.

We are currently running the Mysterium Node Pilot as a research and development initiative to understand network dynamics before we move to main net. This means expecting rapid changes.

We will be moving to main net in 2020, and once this happens Mysterium Network will become a peer to peer system. This will mean no more bounty rules and limitations of the number of nodes which are eligible for payouts. This is because in a peer to peer system, you will be paid directly by a consumer of your service. You will also be able to set pricing as you see fit.

We understand that the changes to bounty rules of the Mysterium Node Pilot can be frustrating. If this is the case, we urge you to stay tuned and join us when we’re on main net where you will be able to provide VPN service directly to a free market.

The above is not exhaustive, and all feedback has been shared with our internal teams to help us with prioritising feature updates. 

Addressing some repeating questions:

1. What is the MYSTT / gigabyte conversion?One gigabyte will earn you 0.07 MYSTT.
You will earn 0.0005 MYSTT / minute of each session your node accepts.
This is a default setting. In the future, Mysterium node runners will be able to fine-tune and set their own pricing.

2. Will you no longer be paying for any node runner availability?No. Calculation of availability is both difficult and not a real-life scenario. It was temporarily required as our payments system was not ready for testing yet. To reiterate, Mysterium Node Pilot is a Research and Development initiative. This means we are shaping bounty rules based on quickly evolving technology and hope you will stick around for the journey.

Thank you for your contribution to an open internet for all

You can find a detailed break down of both February and March Node Pilot bounty rules on my.mysterium.network. Wondering how to sell internet bandwidth? Start running a node today, and join us as we gear up towards our main net release.

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.

A strategic look into how networks are built

Mysterium Network was started with a purpose. That purpose was and continues to be: create a network that ensures surveillance-free communication and access to the internet for all. How to sell bandwidth on our marketplace? Check out our definitive guide to becoming a Mysterium Node, or simply get started here.

The internet is becoming an increasingly fragmented place. This was not intended by the founders of the internet. Those in power know that when you control information flow, you control people. 

This is neither fair nor ethical. And this problem begs a solution. Mysterium Network is building a technological solution to a social problem – with your help. 

Mysterium Network is equally a research and development project. 

  1. Research – because we are building new technologies from scratch, even if separate components have existed for a while
  2. Development – because technology alone will not solve this problem. Instead, a distributed node network in place, and in action can solve a big part of the problem. 

Related: What is the splinternet, and how can decentralisation fix it?

What is Mysterium Network comprised of?

To truly understand what we’re working on at Mysterium Network we must divide our network into different components for clarity.

1. Base Layer

Our base layer is comprised of our core technology. This is our node software, payment hub and discovery service. This is the layer that addresses how to sell bandwidth within a bandwidth marketplace. All these components are currently being built and tested through the Mysterium Network Node Pilot. 

Related: Introduction to micropayments on Mysterium Network

2. Infrastructure Layer

The infrastructure layer makes it easier for other application developers to plug into Mysterium Network and access our pool of residential IPs. As we create tooling that makes it easier for developers to build on Mysterium Network, this will help to drive more traffic through our network

Our infrastructure layer comprises of different components such as a quality oracle, identity pool payments management, automatic exchange tool and much more. Some of these components are being built as we speak, with much more coming up as we continue to work with partners who help us identify needs with feature requests.

We are also working on enterprise client software for VPN businesses which will allow them to become consumers in our network. Our goal is to progress this client software to potentially allow these VPN businesses to also become providers within Mysterium Network.

We will dive deeper into each of these components, and what they will mean for corporate partners and app developers in a later blog post. Sign up to our newsletter to hear it first.

3. Apps Layer

With our application layer, the goal is to drive incoming traffic into Mysterium Network so nodes can earn from real users. Our application layer comprises of our own reference implementation, Mysterium VPN on android. It’s free – so give it a whirl.

It could also stretch to include anything from mobile and television applications through to web scraping tools which utilise our network of nodes. Interested in building on Mysterium Network? Jump into discord, let us know how you’d like to contribute to building an open internet for all and let us know how we can help. 

Stay tuned for some exciting announcements on developer bounties to encourage building on Mysterium Network! Want to hear about it first? Join us on discord and telegram to connect with both core team members and the wider Mysterium community.

Join us in bootstrapping this research project

To build towards a successful permissionless and decentralised virtual private network, we have a three-pronged strategy: 

  1. Build an initial network of nodes and embed them with an open Mysterium protocol (an evolving one). The aim is that each node is able to provide any user of the network with access to the open internet and/or a line of secure communication.
  2. Provide this network with an incentivisation mechanism. This is where payments come into play. Once peer to peer payments are live, network users will be able to pay a node directly for its service. To test our network, we needed to get some real-world data and input. Hence the Mysterium Network Node Pilot was born.
  3. Build and encourage an ecosystem of apps. Without this, Mysterium Network loses its diversity of use and robustness. This is where our infrastructure and apps layer comes into play. We are building all kinds of tools – amongst them our own reference implementation of apps using the network. Check out Mysterium VPN on Android – which both showcases Mysterium Network’s potential while providing real-world value to its users. 

Related: Tor vs VPN vs dVPN

Mysterium Network Node Pilot.

Through the Mysterium Network Node Pilot, you join us in the research phase of our project, which means you should expect rapid changes. 

We have just released our proposed Mysterium Node Pilot bounty updates for the month of March. We are doing so with a 30-day lead up so that we can gather feedback from our community and shape these rules with them. 

You can find our proposal for March’s bounty rules here. As we build a network for the people, by the people – we need your feedback to understand how best to shape incentive mechanisms that create a robust network that is resilient against bad actors.

Mysterium Network - The Network will always come first

Our Node Pilot and evolving bounty rules are designed to bootstrap the evolution of Mysterium Network.

We will continue with bounties to strengthen key areas of Mysterium Network, reshaping areas which are underdeveloped and exploring new geographies or communications protocols which can bypass censorship. Eventually (with the implementation of peer to peer payments) the network will become self-sufficient – meaning that users will pay nodes directly. 

With March’s iteration of bounty rules, we are hoping to move closer to market conditions. We have a limited budget for bounties, and this is one of the reasons we are proposing a cap on the number of nodes we will pay monthly. In real market conditions, all nodes who collect tokens will be paid. This is why we have proposed rolling payouts – which means you can combine your tokens from several months to allow you to rank amongst the top nodes within your region and get a payout. 

In saying all this, we urge you to be prepared for changes within bounty rules, as the focus will shift depending on the data uncovered during our ongoing research phase.

Help us create a sustainable robust network which places privacy and openness at the forefront. Give us feedback on our proposal, join the community and run a Mysterium Node.

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.

Decentralised VPN (dVPN) Comparison 2020

dvpn comparison

Decentralised VPN (dVPN) Comparison

The following is a continually dVPN comparison is a resource tracking the differences between emerging decentralised virtual privacy networks in the market.

Last updated: 19 May 2020

If you would like to see an additional dVPN compared here, please do get them to reach out to us, we’d love to continue to develop this as an educational resource for end-users to make educated decisions on their digital lives.

Related: Tor vs VPN vs dVPN – what are the differences?

Network Design

Mysterium Network

A global collection of nodes power a VPN network by sharing bandwidth P2P in exchange for cryptocurrency.

Users can easily become a node and also download the free VPN app to select from a global menu of IP addresses/bandwidth providers.

Orchid

VPN users connect to bandwidth sellers (nodes) using a directory. Node providers stake tokens to advertise these services.

Users install the Orchid VPN, add OXT to their wallet, and can then access the internet through their preferred path (single or multi-hop).

Sentinel

P2P VPN network also functioning as an SDK. Allows anybody to become a “resource node” by selling their unutilized computing resources in the marketplace.

Users mask their Internet traffic through a series of nodes.

VPN

A global VPN service which can provide Dedicated IP address, Double VPN, Onion Over VPN and connection to the Tor anonymity network. 

As well as dedicated data centre servers around the world, centralized VPNs also allow P2P traffic on certain servers  – there are hundreds of them in different locations around the world, optimized for file sharing.

How are nodes incentivised or rewarded?

Mysterium Network

Pilot program
Monthly bounties for UK, US, Italian and German participants, earning up to $600 in ETH per year. Only an email and IP address is required.

P2P payment network
(coming soon)
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.

Orchid

Stake-weighting
Anyone can operate an Orchid Node, but must first stake (lock up as collateral) the native OXT cryptocurrency. The more OXT that is staked, the more traffic they can receive, and the greater the chances of reward in the Network.

Orchid uses an advanced payments architecture known as probabilistic nanopayments for per-packet network payments.

Sentinel

Resource Nodes can earn the native $SENT token in return for contributing network bandwidth and other resources by hosting a Service Node for the dVPN Service.

VPN

Nodes are not incentivized in centralized VPNs as these businesses own the infrastructure and charge end users for the service.

Node Onboarding

Mysterium Network

Anyone can run a node using their computer, mining equipment or compatible hardware such as a Raspberry Pi. Link your node to your Ethereum wallet address via an easy to use dashboard, My.Mysterium.Network to track your earnings.

No staking is required to be a node – sign up is free.

Orchid

Anyone can run a node by signing up to the stake registry and provider directory on the blockchain.

However, all new nodes must purchase and stake OXT to start receiving traffic.

Sentinel

Running a node requires technical knowledge of how to install a docker and configure a node. At present there is no user-friendly dashboard or application for download.

VPN

No need to onboard. By paying for the service, users get access to the VPN service, but do not help power it.

Costs & fees

Mysterium Network

While on testnet, the VPN is currently free to use.

Once live, users will pay in cryptocurrency for only the bandwidth they consume on a pay-per-use model.

Nodes pay no fees and earn cryptocurrency directly from users of this VPN service.

Orchid

Users pay for the bandwidth in OXT.

Nodes pay OXT to advertise their services.

Sentinel

Using their on-chain, inbuilt ‘Token Swap’ feature, users can privately purchase $SENT tokens to access any service on the Sentinel network.

Running a node is free.

VPN

Monthly subscription model, rather than a pay-as-you-go structure. Users get access to a VPN service where they can select from IP addresses based all over the world to suit their browsing needs.

VPN Security

Mysterium Network

Layered protection protocols built to protect any individual or organization. Mysterium is a fast and scalable transport security layer to reinvent privacy via VPN. Traffic is encrypted and sharded into separate pieces, filtered in an unrecognisable form through the distributed node network — without the possibility of being traced or censored.

Orchid

Users can select single- or multi-hop onion routed circuits by selecting nodes randomly weighted on stake and filtered by price, location, etc. A single hop route has the benefits of a normal VPN connection, creating a tunnel to route your traffic over a public network or your ISP, while a multi-hop connection provides additional privacy benefits by securing your network data from any one provider.

Sentinel

Swixer is Sentinel’s first utility that allows anybody to simply convert their cryptocurrency tokens online while keeping their data away from prying eyes.

User’s privacy is enhanced by Swixer’s cross-chain swaps between the Ethereum chain and other blockchains which possess a working zero-knowledge protocol or privacy layer within the protocol.

VPN

Traditional VPN services route all users’ internet traffic 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.

Logging policy

Mysterium Network

no logs! Mysterium protocol removes any technical possibility for collecting or storing logs centrally.

Orchid

No logs.

Sentinel

No logs.

VPN

In theory, a centralized VPN *could* keep logs, but most state they are committed to a zero-logs policy.

Node Security

Mysterium Network

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.

Orchid

Users can prevent certain kinds of attacks from malicious exit nodes by using a default exit node whitelist consisting of trusted VPN partners. Users can use their own whitelists, and eventually well known third parties will emerge as whitelist curators.

Sentinel

Sentinel is developing a relay network, where participants in the network can choose to be a relay or an exit node on which encrypted tunnels traffic between the VPN paid user and an exit node.

It will also involve the use of governance nodes which will dictate path of packet transmission between user and exit node.

VPN

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

Ease of Use

Mysterium Network

VPN is a simple to use and free desktop or mobile application.

New nodes can get set up in just 5 minutes and 5 steps via a simple, user-friendly dashboard. There is a knowledgebase and support team on hand to help.

Users will need to have some basic understanding of cryptocurrency and must have an Ethereum wallet set up to receive payments.

Learn more about upcoming features.

Orchid

VPN app designed for mobile and desktop. People wishing to be nodes must register and have some prior knowledge of cryptocurrency and staking.

Sentinel

Sentinel is not user-friendly and is better suited to more technically proficient users or those intuitive with Ethereum DApps and blockchain platforms.

VPN

Smart algorithms automatically select the best VPN server for you based on location, loads, or your special requirements.

They also have a dedicated support team.

Scalability

Mysterium Network

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 faster and more scalable.

Orchid

Orchid uses a probabilistic payment system which scales to millions of transactions per second, enabling a highly liquid bandwidth market without a trusted central party.

Sentinel

Sentinel’s “multi-chain architecture” secures data exchange between people and both centralized and decentralized applications meaning. This is meant to solve problems with infrastructure and scaling.

VPN

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

Social following

Mysterium Network

11.3K Twitter Followers

2000 Medium Followers

2088 Telegram Members

Orchid

27.1 K Twitter Followers

235 Medium Followers

4381 Telegram Members

Sentinel

3,392 Twitter Followers

336 Medium Followers

2946 Telegram Members

VPN

Not applicable.

Compatible with

Mysterium Network

Android, Mac, Windows, Linux.

Orchid

iOS, Android, Mac, Linux, and (soon) Windows.

Sentinel

Mac, Windows, Linux, Android.

VPN

Android, Windows, Mac, iOS, Chrome/Firefox extension, Linux.

Decentralised?

Mysterium Network

You bet.

Orchid

Of course.

Sentinel

Of course.

VPN

Nope. Decentra-what?

Network status

Mysterium Network

Testnet live – 900 residential nodes, with more than 300 live at any given point.

Orchid

Between five and 10 node providers at launch, including players from both the traditional VPN world and “new entrants from the crypto space.”

Sentinel

83 nodes in the network, with an average of 28 at any time

VPN

Choose from over 5200 servers in 59 countries.

Also – several cases of being hAcKEd

Open Source?

Mysterium Network

Transparent and collaborative from Ground Zero – check out Myst codebase.

Orchid

Duh. Everything to see here.

Sentinel

Yep. Peek under the hood here.

VPN

No – centralized VPNs are proprietary and closed source.

What is Mysterium Network?

Mysterium Network is one of several emerging networks enabling decentralisation of the internet. Find out how you can contribute by running a node. Or download our dVPN and give it a whirl.

Related: Tor vs VPN vs dVPN – what are the differences?