A new technology is emerging that will allow individuals to use their computers to access and deliver information without fear of censorship, government-mandated blockages, or other threats to individual liberties.
ZeroNet is a decentralized web-like network of peer-to-peer users. The software involved is fully open source, and relies on a private key system, similar to bitcoin, instead of the traditional IP address based internet. In ZeroNet, there is no need for web servers. No big corporation (Google, Facebook, AT&T, Verizon, etc.) can control access to information. No government agency can order Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block access to certain web sites simply because the technology doesn’t allow for blocking web sites. In fact, there are no web sites! Repressive governments (including China, Russia, the Arab countries, the United States of America, and others) will not be able to decide what their citizens may or may not see.
In fact, these same repressive governments cannot block their citizens from publishing information or from carrying on e-commerce as they wish. The reality is that all users of ZeroNet will be free from censorship and the various regulatory bodies cannot trace the ZeroNet site owners or users. The ZeroNet’s web publishers will instead depend upon decentralized bodies to trust the integrity of the publisher(s).
ZeroNet performs this privacy-enhancing feat by throwing away one of the basic building blocks of today’s Internet: I.P. addresses. Since the first days of TCP/IP networks, I.P. addresses have been fundamental to the network’s operation. In the TCP/IP protocol, the unique identifier for a computer is called its IP address. IPv4 uses 32 binary bits to create a single unique address on the network. An IPv4 address is expressed by four numbers separated by dots. Each number is the decimal (base-10) representation for an eight-digit binary (base-2) number, also called an octet. For example: 126.96.36.199.
NOTE: IPv6 is the newer standard but is not nearly as popular today as is IPv4. In any case, ZeroNet does not use either IPv4 or IPv6.
The I.P. address defines the electronic address of every server and user in today’s Internet. I.P. addresses can be traced to eventually identify the location of the servers and users in today’s Internet.
In contrast, ZeroNet doesn’t even identify individual servers. Instead, it identifies FILES. Each data file is identified by a bitcoin public key.
Also, servers and users do not have I.P. addresses that are visible on the network. Instead, ZeroNet websites, called “zites,” are completely untraceable in nature and are not hosted on a centralized server that may store valuable user data. Instead, the platform utilizes an innovative approach: merging the concepts of Bitcoin and BitTorrent. The data is transferred in today’s TCP/IP network in an encrypted TOR tunnel. The I.P. addresses of individual computers are not important and are not tracked by ZeroNet computers.
Because there are no centralized servers (such as in today’s versions of Google or Facebook), all data is exchanged amongst users’ individual computers in a peer-to-peer network. Individual files are copied from one user’s computer to another. Popular files are “hosted” on dozens, possibly hundreds, of individual computers, including desktop, laptop, and even tablet computers, all connected to the ZeroNet. If any one computer or even if dozens of computers suddenly go offline because of a network failure or simply because the owner(s) turn off their computers, the information is still available from other computers in other locations that each have their own copies of each file.
NOTE: Corporations, non-profits, governments, and other organizations are free to publish information on ZeroNet. However, these publishers will save a lot of money simply because the need for large data centers with thousands of servers is reduced. While the publishers of information will still need to have sufficient disk space to store their information, they will not need as many servers and high-speed network connections to transfer that information on demand to users. Instead, the information will be “seeded” (or replicated) to hundreds or thousands of users’ computers and continue be available to all even if the publisher’s computers go become overloaded or go offline for some reason. That is a major benefit of peer-to-peer networks.
If somehow a government does track every zite’s peer, which is technically impossible, all it takes is for one person (perhaps in another country) to continue ZeroNet seeding, to ensure the zite is fully functional and running. When a user accesses ZeroNet, his or her computer downloads the particular zite being visited and the new the visitor’s computer now acts as a “peer.” The user’s computer then starts seeding zite data, which allows for other users to download, access, and “visit” that zite, even if dozens of the computers are offline.
ZeroNet files are continuously updated with user activity, allowing for comments and other changes being updated on each peer of that zite’s network. The major drawback of this system is that the peer-to-peer network results in a considerably slower version of what we today call the Internet.
If a user has sufficient disk space, he or she may (optionally) clone entire websites in one click. Once that is completed, the web site now has a second copy online which then may be cloned by still additional users. If the user does not choose to clone an entire web site, the individual computers may still clone some of the individual files that the users visit. Popular web sites probably will have dozens of copies in operation, located in different countries around the world. None of the locations of the copies can be identified by I.P. address or any other method. All copies are everywhere.
When some other user retrieves a file, whether that user is a private user, a government spy, or a hacker intent on doing malicious acts, he or she has no method of determining which computer(s) supplied the data he or she is retrieving.
ZeroNet’s principles allow for the creation of forums, media sites, e-commerce sites, and other services to be created without the fear of a regulatory ban, government interference, or centralized business owners taking a harsh stand against technologies they do not understand. This bypasses censorship by governments that want to ban the rights of their citizens to free speech. It also guarantees that no one politically biased organization can control the news. Liberal news organizations and conservative news organizations alike cannot control the flow of the news.
The creators of ZeroNet have published the following goals and features:
- We believe in open, free, and uncensored communication.
- No censorship: After something is published there is no way to remove it.
- No single point of failure: Content remains online even if only one peer is serving it.
- Impossible to shut down: It’s nowhere because it’s everywhere. Content is served by any user who wishes to.
- Fast: ZeroNet uses BitTorrent technology to deliver content faster than centralised servers.
- Works offline: You can access the site even if your internet is unavailable.
- Secure: Content ownership is secured using the same cryptography that secures your Bitcoin wallet.
- Easy, zero configuration setup.
- Password-less BIP32 based authorization: Your account is protected by the same cryptography as your Bitcoin wallet.
- Real-time updated sites.
- Namecoin .bit domains support.
- SQL Database support: Allows for easier site development and faster page load times.
- Anonymity: Full Tor network support with .onion hidden services instead of ipv4 addresses
- TLS encrypted connections.
- Automatic, uPnP port opening.
- Plugin for multiuser (openproxy) support.
- Works with any browser or operating system.
ZeroNet is in its infancy today. It cannot even be called beta test. Instead, it is an early alpha service; much of the required software has yet to be created. However, hundreds of programmers are working together to create a robust and uncensored network service.
This article only “skims the surface” of ZeroNet’s technology and use. You can learn a lot more about ZeroNet at: https://zeronet.io/. You can also find many more articles describing ZeroNet by starting at: https://duckduckgo.com/?q=zeronet&t=hh&ia=software.