A team of Microsoft engineers consisting of Peter Biddle, Paul England, Marcus Peinado, and Bryan Willman set out to “investigate the darknet – a collection of networks and technologies used to share digital content”.  their conclusions were published in the report known as “Darknet Assumptions“.

Those assumptions boil down to three basic points.

1.) Any widely distributed object will be available to a fraction of users in a form that permits copying.

2.) Users will copy objects if it is possible and interesting to do so.

3.) Users are connected by high-bandwidth channels.

Recently the EFF took a year end look at those assumptions and came to the conclusions that the Darknet Assumptions are indeed true.

For assumption 1, we see that while 2008 saw music moving en mass to DRM free ways of doing things, movies and in particular, software are still fighting tooth and nail to continue the DRM battle.  One infamous example of this is the Electronic Arts game “Spore” with it’s use of SecuROM DRM.

People all over responded to EA by posting cracked versions of the game all over the place.  It quickly became the most pirated game ever.  In fact, many users even complained that even if they bought a legitimate copy of the game, it would not run properly unless they used a cracked version that had the DRM removed or disabled.

Personally, I’ve seen ads for Spore.  It looks interesting.  However I will NEVER touch a copy of it (or anything else) that has SecuROM on it.  That kind of invasive DRM is going over the line and I won’t have it infecting my system.

For assumption 2, In spite of, or perhaps partly TO spite, content providers that insist on using DRM.  P2P use has continued to increase in 2008.  The EFF correctly points out that it’s not easy to get accurate numbers on P2P useage, however if sites like Pirate Bay claiming 22 million users is any indication, it looks like P2P is definitely on the rise.  Not only that, the results of some informal polls also tend to support the idea that P2P is definitely becoming mainstream.

For assumption 3, All you have to do is look at the ever expanding availability of high bandwidth connections to the average user.  Combine this with the continuing surge in the popularity of high bandwidth internet services, VOIP, video on demand, Etc.  Video sites like YouTube continue to grow in popularity and gain content every day.  Add to that the fact that many of them are now beginning to include High Definition versions of their video players and you have even more demand for bandwidth.

The RIAA, MPAA are not unaware of this, as they are now pushing for ISP’s to filter content.  This has to be a major pain in the ass for them since that means Deep Packet Inspection of every single packet passing through their networks.  Besides which, that sort of filtering would (in my opinion) change them from carriers to editors, making them at least partly responsible for anything they either miss or incorrectly identify as “bad” content.  In spite of this, The RIAA, MPAA and “big content” continue to push ISP’s to get into this filtering and are even trying to push for laws that require it.

The “Darknet Assumptions” document also talks about various file sharing systems and Darknets, including Freenet.  Because I’m more familiar with it than any of the others, I can only comment about Freenet’s Darkenet.

While I’m still a proponent of Freenet 0.5 because of the simple fact that I believe it’s the most stable version in use today, Freenet 0.7 does have some features that, when it reaches a point of stability, will make it the single most secure “bulletproof” anonymous network to date.  It’s strong point is the Darknet.  When running it in Darknet mode, you only exchange node references with people you trust.  Your node then only connects to those nodes and no others.

Once premix routing is implemented, it will become very nearly impossible for nodes connected to you to determine what you are inserting or requesting from the network.

Not that doing so is at all easy now by any stretch of the imagination, it isn’t, not by a long shot.  From what I understand, it would take several evil nodes connected to the same good node to be able to study the traffic going into and out of that good node and some very involved statistical analysis before they could even say that node xyz is *probably* inserting or downloading file x.  Even then they couldn’t be certain.

Premix routing, when it’s implemented, will mean that the first three or four hops outbound from any node will be encrypted with multiple layers of encryption so that immediate neighbor nodes will have no ability to analyze your node traffic and figure out what you’re downloading or inserting.

I have no doubt at all that as Freenet gets closer to 1.0, more and more people will begin using it for their file sharing needs.  Yes, Freenet is slower than other networks.  That’s because of the use of encryption on several levels and the high security built into it’s transport and storage systems.  Then again, as the network continues to grow, it’s performance will continue to improve.  In the meantime there is a growing number of people who have decided that anonymity and security are worth the slower downloads.

The Freenet Project officially discourages piracy and the sharing of illegally copied content on it’s network and will refuse to provide support to or even communicate with people that admit to using it for such.

While they’ve got very good reasons for taking that stance, there will be (and in fact I believe there are now) plenty of Freenet users who have no such policy and will in fact be glad to do anything they can, given Freenet’s absolute anonymity, to support those who are having problems.

It’s also important to point out that Freenet is not just about file sharing.  It also features text messaging systems and the ability of any user to create a Freesite (Freenet website) that is inserted into the network and can then be viewed by anyone who has the link to it which in most cases can be found on a number of indexes located within the network.

One thing that Either version of Freenet has hands down over any other file sharing system that I’ve seen is that once you insert a file into the network, it is possible to shut down your node and the file will still be available.  In fact, once something is inserted into the network, it’s actually impossible to remove it.  Especially since the mere act of requesting a file helps to spread it around the network even more.

Technically, files can “fall out” of Freenet. If they go long enough without being requested and a node needs the space for a more popular file, it’ll get deleted to make room.  In actual practice however, I don’t think this happens much anymore.  Most Freenet users have data stores of 20 or 30 gigabytes or more.  I personally inserted a Freesite back in early 2004 that can still be retrieved today.

Technorati Tags: electronic arts, securom, freenet 0.7, big content, darknet assumptions, anonymous file sharing, file sharing, premix routing, darknet, anonymity, drm, mpaa, spore, eff, riaa, p2p, freenet darknet, bullet proof anonymity

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