Category

geoblocking

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?

“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.

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

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.

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 internet censorship?

what is internet censorship

What is internet censorship? 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.