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[liberationtech] 'Internet in a Suitcase' ready for field testing

Joel Harding joel.k.hard at gmail.com
Sun Nov 11 09:12:22 PST 2012


'Internet in a Suitcase' ready for field testing

Posted By John Reed   Monday, November 5, 2012 - 6:38 PM

http://killerapps.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/11/05/internet_in_a_suitcase_ready_for_field_testing

When will rebels, dissidents, and activists be able to safely voice dissent
and coordinate their activities online in the face of a government equipped
with Western technology designed to snoop on all types of electronic
communications? Maybe in as little as a year, according to Sascha Meinrath
of the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, the man leading
the effort to field the so-called Internet in a Suitcase.

Internet in a Suitcase is basically a software program aimed at giving
people in conflict or disaster zones the ability to establish a secure,
independent wireless network over their computers and cell phones.

While the system (which, despite its name, involves neither hardware nor a
suitcase) is being tested and is usable right now, Meinrath and his team of
developers around the globe are holding off on releasing it to groups like
the Syrian rebels until they are confident that it can resist large-scale
hacking by governments.

What "we're now working on is the due diligence and doing an international
deployment, not in the world's hot spots but rather in a post-conflict sort
of area, maybe a Libya or an Egypt or another location where the benefits
would be very great, but the risk to users in case, say, one of the
authentication systems or part of the security mechanisms failed, would not
be great," said Meinrath during a Nov. 2 interview with Killer Apps.

This will allow the system to be used in the wild and expose any potential
weaknesses without exposing users to the wrath of a state security agency.

"Once we [feel] comfortable that the system [is] decently secure, then and
only then would we be looking at deploying it to one of the world's hot
spots; so a Syria or a North Korea or a China, or a Tehran kind of
scenario, that kind of work, and that's probably still a year out from now,
"said Meinrath. "Our focus first and foremost is, do no harm."

This means that in the not-too-distant future, rebels, dissident groups,
and even disaster workers will be able to use the secure wireless network
designed to resist government eavesdropping.

Internet in a Suitcase received a lot of attention earlier this year when
it was listed as one of several U.S. government funded projects aimed at
providing wireless communications networks for people in conflict zones or
places rife with government monitoring of the Internet.

"It's a series of software packages that can run on things like laptops or
cell phones, whatever devices happen to be available on the ground -- wifi
routers, whatever -- and allows them to communicate directly and securely,"
said Meinrath. "Instead of having to go through existing infrastructure"
that could be downed by a disaster or monitored by a government "you can
create alternate infrastructure."

Downloading the project's software would let a rebel or activist use their
cell phone or laptop to communicate directly to other users' machines via
the devices' wifi chips. Since these ad hoc wifi networks feature no
central control system or administrator, they are much more difficult to
monitor, according to Meinrath.

"This is a completely ad hoc network, there's no dependency of any device
on any other device and that eliminates a central point for command and
control surveillance and monitoring," said Meinrath. "We also have
authentication between each hop on the network and encryption across each
hop."

Basically, data being transmitted is passed through a number of different
machines on a network before it reaches its destination. Each of those
machines asks the data for information saying that it is trustworthy. Each
time the data moves, it is encrypted at multiple levels to protect against
someone eavesdropping on the airwaves over which the data moves.

This type of encryption is important since "we assume that a malfeasant
power would be able to compromise [a device on the network] or put up their
own node into a network of this sort, " said Meinrath.

These mini Internets -- that, in some places where they already exist span
entire metro regions -- can host a number of locally developed apps that
can do everything from video and audio file sharing to tracking where
vehicles and people are.

"Inside that network, things are incredibly fast, often an order of
magnitude faster than most people's Internet connections, and the latency
is very low, so you can do all sorts of really interesting big broadband
kind of services and applications if they're housed locally" on members'
computers, smart phones or even a USB stick, said Meinrath.

Even better, all of that connectivity is free since it is completely
independent of any Internet or telecomm provider.

"The killer app that I talk with a lot of folks about is, if you have a
system like this, there's no reason you would ever need to pay for local
phone calls again" once you've downloaded the software allowing your device
to join the wifi network, "because you're just pinging machine to machine
over a local network," said Meinrath.


Joel Harding
Information Operations Holistic Organizer (IOHO)
http://toinformistoinfluence.com
(703) 362-8582
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