Nym, the new dark web from Switzerland, but should not replace Tor

The Tor network is a bridging technology that is facing a shortage of bridges. So the developers of the tried-and-true, proven anonymization tool recently sounded the alarm: the number of so-called Tor bridges has declined since the beginning of this year. But it must keep growing to make Tor truly accessible as an anti-censorship tool anywhere.

These bridges are publicly unlisted access points to the Tor network, which are also available to people in China,Kazakhstan, Belarus or Iran, where known access points are blocked by the network. The coordinates of the access points are obtained on request, so to speak - they work until the censors find the bridges and block them.

As with all nodes in the Tor network, the web bridges are operated by volunteers, and setup instructions can be found here. about 1,200 bridges still existed in mid-November. "Unfortunately," the developers wrote in a blog post, "the numbers have dropped since the beginning of the year. The number of bridges currently in place is not enough, and perhaps sometime they all may end up on the blocked list. That's why we need a steady stream of new bridges that have not yet been blocked anywhere."

Now they're enticing you with a reward: if you operate 10 bridges in a year, you'll get two T-shirts, a hoodie and some stickers with a target graphic. Those who operate fewer bridges will only get a T-shirt and sticker. This is more symbolic given the 24/7 operation required and the associated energy costs.

The Tor project is not for profit and relies entirely on its community, making it difficult for developers to offer more valuable rewards. A small increase can already be seen in the official target statistics, so the campaign seems to be making a difference. But are free T-shirts enough to keep the Internet's most famous censorship-avoidance infrastructure alive?

In Neuchâtel, Switzerland, a startup is already working on an alternative, which it calls the Nym network. Like the Tor network, Nym would be a so-called hybrid network (Mixnet) in which all users' data traffic is routed through several intermediate stations to disguise the sender and receiver. In addition, the data is put into a kind of digital mixer, enriched with random data and short time delays, and then reordered and routed to the desired endpoints. The expected advantage over Tor is that even if the entire network is monitored from the outside, it is impossible to determine which computer is connected to which other one. This is theoretically possible with Tor.

One disadvantage: Due to the built-in latency, the technology is not particularly suitable for accessing websites or even streaming content. Therefore, Nym is more suitable for exchanging (non-instant) messages, files and untraceable transactions. Accordingly, developers should also be able to integrate suitable applications into the network, including the possibility of granting and verifying access without giving up the anonymity of the people involved. Blockchain technology should ensure that there is no one central point where everything can fail. In this way, a new kind of dark web could emerge: a distributed network on the Internet that is not easily accessible or monitored.

Cryptocurrency is a core component of the Nym. This is because the infrastructure's operators are not rewarded with T-shirts, but with internal crypto tokens. Instead, users must not only install Nym software, but also purchase and use tokens to access the network. "If we envision a communication system that operates on a completely voluntary basis for free, we believe this is impractical." The developers write, "Financial incentives are necessary to keep people engaged and prevent abuse. This is why the network needs to use NYM tokens."

Nym is still in the development stage, and it's hard to say whether this is a real alternative to Tor, as the developers claim - having to buy crypto tokens may be a deterrent for many people who use Tor today. But it's entirely conceivable that Nym will find its audience, for whom anonymous transactions are more important than anonymous browsing. At least, investors seem to think so: Nym has raised $19 million this year, and recently raised $16 million from Andreessen Horowitz alone.

That's a figure the Tor Project could only dream of. Last year, the nonprofit didn't even raise $5 million in donations - about half of that was government grants.

Nym's official website describes:

Nym’s mission is to establish privacy as a default for online communications. Only then can people and organizations make meaningful and secure decisions about what, when and with whom they want to share data.

Reckless data harvesting has dominated Silicon Valley business models over the past decade and has rapidly become the norm for monetizing online activity. Understanding and predicting user behaviour is now the primary business model of the Internet. These data-driven models, collectively known as surveillance capitalism, have produced giant tech monopolies and governments that oversee an unprecedented system of manipulation and control, extracting data and value from society.

It is important to realize just how lacking current technology is with regards to maintaining privacy. Even though a private messenger might encrypt a message’s contents, the metadata (for example identifying the timing of the communications, IP addresses, locations, and lots more) is visible to everyone from the Internet Service Provider (ISP) that delivers the message to the messaging application itself. And in this world of big data, metadata is in many ways more valuable than the content of messages. It can be used by sophisticated and ubiquitous analytic systems to determine the nature of your social relationships and thus predict your personal characteristics and preferences.

The necessary technology to guarantee online privacy has remained underdeveloped - until recently. With progress in computing capacity, networking, research and funding, it is now possible to overcome these limits and deploy technology that avoids trusted third parties and is resistant to surveillance.

From:On DarkNet – Dark Web News and Analysis
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