Are There Alternatives to the Internet?
The impact of a lost Internet is becoming more important to each of us everyday. The expanding Internet of Things and Services-on Demand are becoming an integral part of our every day lives. In addition, cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, will continue to play a more significant role in the global economy.
We need to be connected to businesses and individuals. However, the Internet, as we know it, has shown to be vulnerable. The Internet has innocently developed a central point of failure, even though it was meant to be distributed and resilient. The central point of failure has become the domain servers that reconcile domain names into IP addresses. This centralized weakness was exploited in the 2016 attack on the DYN servers.
We can continue to get better at protecting the Internet by predicting and protecting its vulnerabilities. At the same time, we should accept that an attacker could get through our defenses. In that case, we need a ‘plan B’. But, is there one? is there an alternative to the Internet that can provide some or all of the value the Internet provides us today?.
The solution would be an alternative networking capability. This alternate network model would not need to provide all the services we have grown to depend upon initially. But, as time went by, the number of applications and services would be duplicated. The first priorities would be best limited to what is necessary for basic existence. For instance, this would be message alerts and, also, currency to acquire food and supplies. Then there would be access to shelter and safety; and so on.
Necessity has already caused innovative alternative solutions to the present day Internet. One example was when the Chinese government shut down access to the Internet during the Hong Kong demonstrations of 2014. The demonstrators used FireChat to communicate. Firechat is a mobile app by Open Garden that does not require the Internet. It communicates to others on the Mesh Network. Open Garden states:
Our revolutionary peer-to-peer mesh networking technology enables communities, organizations and app developers to create resilient, people-powered networks and services, extending the reach of the Internet.
A mesh network connects to the nearest device that is cooperating in the network. This connection can be using a short distance method, such as Bluetooth or WiFi. Messages can be bouncing from one device to the next with a destination of getting out to the wider Internet. Or it can be fulfilling its goal within the short distance through connected devices sharing critical information with the participants.
Using a Mesh Network on a broad and more permanent way is under development in different locations. An example would be the NYC Mesh project.
NYC Mesh is a community owned network. Our network consists of Wi-Fi router “nodes” spread throughout the city. The network has no central server and no single internet service provider. All nodes cooperate in the distribution of data, also serving as a stand-alone network in case of emergencies or internet shutdown.
The Tor Network
There are other networks available that do not rely upon the native Internet. One is Tor, the network used in the Deep Web. Tor relies on participants to pass on your request of a service to other participants until the request is satisfied. The request is wrapped in encrypted layers so that the participants do not see what the request or response actually is – only the information necessary to pass on the information. Decryption does not occur until the packet arrives at its destination. The O in Tor is for ‘onion’. The network packet is like an onion with many internal layers.
Blockchain Inspired Networks
There are also peer-to-peer networks being developed using Blockchain, such as the Ethereum Virtual Machine;
Like any blockchain, Ethereum also includes a peer-to-peer network protocol. The Ethereum blockchain database is maintained and updated by many nodes connected to the network. Each and every node of the network runs the EVM and executes the same instructions. For this reason, Ethereum is sometimes described evocatively as a “world computer”.
The Internet of Sound
There are many ways to transmit information. Sound was the first in our evolutionary history and now is often forgotten as a viable alternative. However, it is making a comeback. The Internet of Sound uses sound itself as the network. Transmitting information may be restricted at this time to small pieces of information, but it does not take much to transmit a URL. Sound can travel through the air or across telephone lines, of which there are still plenty. This natural duplicity of networks, line and cellular, is attractive when developing a resilient communications method.
Using a cloud service, such as EmailToVoice.Net, allows application to convert the content of an email to a voice and then transmit it as a voice call to places that cannot be reached through other means.This is not a network, but applications such as this can assist in accomplishing tasks through alternative means. Presently, Email To Voice is a popular communications service in Industrial IoT applications.
One or More of These
As the Internet gets more important to our daily needs, we should continue to explore these alternative methods of networking and communications to ensure our security. A comprehensive solution may not be the best solution to explore first. The activities most crucial to our sustainability should be sought initially; then followed by the less critical, but convenient, aspects of our daily lives. One or more of these technologies may evolve into a complete alternative to the Internet.
This is a discussion we should continue to explore.
Denis ONeil CISSP
Founder of OLinks Corp, Creator of EmailToVoice.Net