The Mesh Net:
Will It Replace the Internet?
If I were to tell you that the Internet might become a thing of the past, you would laugh at me. But then, after your chuckles died down, I would clarify; the Internet will become a thing of the past because something else, something better, is going to replace it.
This something will remove governments and corporations from the equation of digital connectivity. The NSA wouldn’t be able to watch anyone’s digital life. There wouldn’t be centralized Internet Service Providers (i.e. the companies you pay to connect you to the Internet) — no national companies who store the information of millions of users. No IP addresses.
And this something will be able to continue functioning amidst major disasters — something the current Internet often cannot do.
It’s called the mesh net.
That name may or may not change (it’s already changed once), but there’s a better word for all of this.
That is the one word that could very well sum up the 21st century — the word that will capture the zeitgeist, the grand technological narrative of our modern age.
Decentralization means we no longer look to central organizations to handle the transactions of our lives, whether communication, currency, transportation, or housing. If that sounds loony, it’s really not. It’s already begun.
The revolution of decentralization started in currency with BitCoin, a form of digital currency that could be the eventual doom of fiat currency (i.e. paper currency created and regulated by central banks and governments).
The death of central banks? That sounds like a fantasy, right? Central banking has been a pillar of civilization for centuries. Well, those days could be coming to an end. If you don’t believe me, read this.
It’s more likely that cryptocurrency, as it’s called, will coexist with traditional currencies for some time, but if digital currency becomes prevalent enough, all bets are off. Uber and Airbnb have already begun to decentralize transportation and the travel industry. All of these things are in their infancy. Who knows what we’ll have a few years down the road.
But let’s get back to the mesh net. What is it exactly? Essentially, it’s peer-to-peer computer connectivity: no middle-men, no central hubs, just individual users connecting to other users in an immediate area using radio nodes. Every connective “transaction” is handled with top-notch encryption. Your computer, once it’s set up properly, only has to reach the next node in your local area to gain access to the mesh. From that point, your encrypted data can be sent around the world through mesh networks of local nodes like the short hops of a rock skimming across the water — from local node to local node, user-to-user, completely encrypted, and — most importantly — completely external to the Internet and the various agencies and companies that have now swallowed it whole.
Like cryptocurrency, the mesh net will most likely just coexist with the Internet for a long time before anything gets replaced, but it will at least provide an alternative to the Internet.
Here’s how TechDirt defines the mesh net:
Wireless meshes allow ad-hoc networks to be set up independently of the Internet’s main wiring by hooking together a local collection of suitable devices. Mesh networks can be thrown up and torn down quickly; devices can join and leave them dynamically; and they can recover from breaks in the wireless links by setting up alternative paths.
From the Project Mesh Net site:
Recent events around the world have demonstrated the importance of the free flow of information in regards to human rights and the free exercise thereof. Unfortunately, existing infrastructure is susceptible to a number of critical flaws that render it vulnerable to disruption. This project hopes to supplement the current infrastructure to create a secure, independent network that can operate under any condition including natural disaster or general failure of existing infrastructure.
You can join Project Mesh Net and start living the Internet-alternative dream by using Hyperboria. From the Hyperboria page:
Hyperboria is a global decentralized network of “nodes” running cjdns software. The goal of Hyperboria is to provide an alternative to the Internet with the principles of security, scalability and decentralization at the core. Anyone can participate in the network by locating a peer that is already connected.
So what about security? Well, the earlier mesh networks like Commotion 1.0 were susceptible. But after the Snowden revelations came to light, techies began laboring to build a much more secure mesh network. Here is how Project Mesh Net explains their vision:
Imagine an Internet where every packet is cryptographically protected from source to destination against espionage and forgery, getting an IP address is as simple as generating a cryptographic key, core routers move data without a single memory look up, and denial of service is a term read about in history books. Finally, becoming an ISP is no longer confined to the mighty telecoms, anyone can do it by running some wires or turning on a wireless device. This is the vision of cjdns.
The New Scientist sums up the security: “Instead of letting other computers connect to you through a shared IP address which anyone can use, cjdns only lets computers talk to one [another] after they have verified each other cryptographically. That means there is no way anyone can be intercepting your traffic.”
Here’s another brilliant explanation of the mesh net from InfoSec: “mesh networking topology…demands that every node must not only capture and disseminate its own data, but also serve as a relay for other nodes in the same network. This architecture makes mesh topology completely decentralized, (i.e. without any centralized authority) thus making it impossible to censor any form of data.”
Although the current Internet infrastructure has played a role in Project Mesh Net’s early testing stages, they have some ambitious goals, as InfoSec explains:
Project Meshnet is still in its alpha stages and is available for testing purposes to its users. The future aim of the project is to use a combination of hardware (called mesh islands) and software (called CJDNS) to set up a decentralized Internet. CJDNS is a routing engine which helps us communicate over the mesh network. Right now, the communication happens over the current Internet infrastructure over a network called Hyberboria. The future aim of the project is to set up its own hardware across the globe through which the communication will take place.
The link above also has handy instructions for installing CJDNS on Mac OS X.
Right now, all of this requires some skillful computer know-how to install and implement (as you’ll see in the instructions for installing cjdns), but even if you’re not a coder or computer engineer it’s not impossible to learn if you’re determined enough.
And as mesh networks like Hyperboria evolve, the procedures for getting into the mesh net will likely become more user-friendly. Eventually — hopefully — the average person who has minimal computer skill will be able to jump in.
And hopefully the Internet privacy issues we encounter today will soon become a thing of the past.