September 13, 2000

The Freenet Project: File trading anonymously

Author: JT Smith

By Tony Granata
News Editor

Worried about your personal security on the Internet? Is your email being monitored, the sites
you visit being recorded, crackers obtaining your financial information? For the average person
probably not, but the potential for these activities does exist.

Have you thought about your free speech rights lately? Again, the average Internet user probably doesn't think much about it, but the technology does exists to link any piece of information on the Internet back to its owner by way of the server that hosts the information. The mere presence of this electronic trail is a silent form of censorship that, in some cases, can carry a heavy hand of retribution.

Out of these issues and others grew The Freenet Project, an Open Source file-sharing program. The original Freenet protocol was created by Ian Clarke as his final year project for a degree in artificial intelligence and computer science at Edinburgh University in Scotland. In his paper "A Distributed Decentralized Information Storage and Retrieval System" he wrote: "Improvements over this existing system (World Wide Web) include:

No central control or administration required;
Anonymous information publication and retrieval;
Dynamic duplication of popular information;
Transfer of information location depending on demand."

What is Freenet?

Freenet is a peer-to-peer network designed to allow the distribution of information over the Internet in an efficient manner, without fear of censorship. Freenet is completely decentralized, meaning that there
is no person, computer, or organization in control of Freenet or essential to its operation, unlike centralized services Napster and, which have been fighting lawsuits for distributing music files. The Freenet Project aims to create an information publication system similar to the World Wide Web, but with several major advantages. What makes Freenet better, according to the Web site:

The lack of centralized control or administration leads to increased reliability and reduced vulnerability to attack;
It will be virtually impossible to forcibly remove a piece of information from Freenet, making censorship of information virtually impossible;
Both authors and readers of information stored on this system may remain
anonymous if they wish, protecting users of the system from censorship of any form and permitting freedom of information;
Information will be distributed throughout the Freenet network in such a way that it is
difficult to determine where information is being stored, protecting those who allow their computers to be part of Freenet from attack;
Anyone can publish information. They don't need to buy a domain name or even a
permanent Internet connection, meaning that people's ability to communicate ideas is not dependant upon
their personal wealth;
Availability of information will increase in proportion to the demand for that
information, meaning that extremely popular information will always be available;
Information will move from parts of the Internet where it is in low demand to areas
where demand is greater, making more efficient use of network bandwidth.

The Project

Theodore W. Hong, who is part of the Freenet project, explains in his paper
"Freenet: A Distributed Anonymous Information Storage and Retrieval System," "We are developing Freenet, a distributed information storage and retrieval system designed to address these concerns of privacy and availability. The system operates as a location-independent distributed file system across many individual computers that allows files to be inserted, stored, and requested anonymously."

Freenet is currently being developed as a free software project on Sourceforge, and a preliminary implementation can be downloaded from Clarke is the project coordinator, and other developers are listed on the Freenet web site, and will change from time to time as volunteers join and leave the project. If you have Java programming experience, or are familiar with cryptography then you would be particularly useful, but everyone is welcome to become involved in the project.

How far along is it?

In his paper, Hong states, "Initial deployment of a test version is underway, and is so far proving successful, with over 15,000 copies downloaded and many interesting files in circulation. Because of the nature of the system, it is impossible to tell exactly how many users there are or how well the insert and request mechanisms are working, but anecdotal evidence is so far positive."

To find out more, take a look at the Freenet homepage. From there you will be able to view other documents about Freenet, news concerning Freenet, view or join the discussion groups, and download software.


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