How Many “Alternative Networks” Are There?

A couple of my Twitter followers are into the idea of anonymity networks, just as I am. This got me thinking – how many different “anonymity networks” exist?

In total, there are probably too many to count. Groups of independent developers could be working on projects like this all the time. That being said, as I’ve mentioned on earlier posts, the three major networks of this type are:

  1. Tor
  2. I2P
  3. Freenet

Tor is definitely the most widely used and has the largest number of services – thus why people often think of it synonymously with the “dark web.”

btw i use kali

For those of you who forgot, “Tor” stands for “The onion router,” referring to the technique it uses for anonymity (onion routing). I found an excellent explanation of onion routing on StackExchange today that I’d like to share with you:

Tor works by using a technique called onion routing.

Your client sets up a secure tunnel to a relay (its first node). It then uses that tunnel to mask its connection to a second relay (the middle node). It then uses the second tunnel (and thus the first) to create a secure connection to a third relay (a relay that has volunteered to be an exit node).

When you browse a webpage, your request is sent through the three-layer tunnel to the final exit node, who then sends the request out to whatever server you were talking to. The response from the server is similarly routed back through the three nodes to your computer.

In this way, no-one in the connection knows both your IP (the address of your computer) and what you’re browsing for (the site you were talking with). Various parties know one or the other, but barring the various attack models, they cannot correlate the information.

I2P, on the other hand, uses a technique called “garlic routing,” which is message-based. I’m going to quote some technical docs again, so hang on:

The terms “garlic routing” and “garlic encryption” are often used rather loosely when referring to I2P’s technology. Here, we explain the history of the terms, the various meanings, and the usage of “garlic” methods in I2P.

“Garlic routing” was first coined by Michael J. Freedman in Roger Dingledine’s Free Haven Master’s thesis Section 8.1.1 (June 2000), as derived from Onion Routing.

“Garlic” may have been used originally by I2P developers because I2P implements a form of bundling as Freedman describes, or simply to emphasize general differences from Tor. The specific reasoning may be lost to history. Generally, when referring to I2P, the term “garlic” may mean one of three things:

  1. Layered Encryption
  2. Bundling multiple messages together
  3. ElGamal/AES Encryption

As a matter of fact, I found an illustration that makes this explanation rather fun:

Freenet is a bit different, in that it’s based around filesharing and publishing content (albeit anonymously). I managed to find a good description of it on Filesharingtalk.com:

Freenet is free software which lets you publish and obtain information on the Internet without fear of censorship. To achieve this freedom, the network is entirely decentralized and publishers and consumers of information are anonymous. Without anonymity there can never be true freedom of speech, and without decentralization the network will be vulnerable to attack. 
Communications by Freenet nodes are encrypted and are “routed-through” other nodes to make it extremely difficult to determine who is requesting the information and what its content is. 

Users contribute to the network by giving bandwidth and a portion of their hard drive (called the “data store”) for storing files. Unlike other peer-to-peer file sharing networks, Freenet does not let the user control what is stored in the data store. Instead, files are kept or deleted depending on how popular they are, with the least popular being discarded to make way for newer or more popular content. Files in the data store are encrypted to reduce the likelihood of prosecution by persons wishing to censor Freenet content. 

Beyond these three, there are many others, some of which include: ZeroNet, dn42, GNUnet, yggdrasil, and WinNY. With the exception of ZeroNet, I have yet to try these others out, but I plan to in the future. (EDIT: I noticed something funny – WinNY has a geocities site!)

ZeroNet, like Freenet, aims to be an uncensored P2P “internet” which can be used independently of the internet we know (and love, right?). Like Tor, it has many forums, email clients, chat rooms, etc.

I’m planning on writing about its Android app soon, but I haven’t had time to play around with it much.

In any case, does that cover the basics? Do you have suggestions for other similar software I should try out?

*waits for the spam comments to come in*

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