This Maker Builds a Post-Apocalyptic Internet

The internet is great, but the internet is down. Disasters, government intervention, and simple technical difficulties have often become the most powerful means of communication ever created. One man wants to change that, and is building what he calls “the developer version of the internet.” It’s called the Reticulum Network Stack, and it’s designed to exist alongside or on top of the traditional internet.

Reticulum is intended as a simplified communications tool that can be deployed quickly in the event of a systemic telecommunications failure, with minimal overhead and a strong focus on encryption and privacy. All of this is built behind an entirely new protocol that aims to be more durable than IP, or the Internet Protocol, a set of software rules that govern the flow of data on the internet.

“There are a lot of fragmented solutions and limited tools, but what was really missing was a complete communication stack designed to be used by normal people without any centralized coordination,” said the designer of Reticulum, which works on “signless token”. Reddit thread announcing the project. “A system that allows anyone to easily build secure and robust long-term networks with simple, accessible tools. Systems that will work and allow secure and private communications [shit hits the fan.]”

unsignedmark is Mark Gvist, a computer engineer who has spent his life building and managing computer networks. “I once ran a small-scale rural ISP, bringing high-speed Internet service to one of the many areas completely neglected by larger service providers,” he told Motherboard. “While it’s certainly not the most lucrative thing in the world and it’s quite challenging work, it’s also been a very rewarding and incredibly fun learning experience.”

Reticulum can run on almost anything, including the young Raspberry Pi Zero. According to Gvist, people with minimal telecommunications and computer skills can use Reticulum to create a long-range messaging system for their community in about an hour, communicating with network peers over any number of available channels.

“Would you like to extend it to the next town over VHF radio?” Qvist said on Reddit. “If you already have a modem and radio, it takes 5 minutes to install. I really tried to make it as flexible as possible, but also very easy to use if you have some computer and radio experience.”

Qwist isn’t the first to build a community-oriented internet replacement. In New York, the NYC Mesh project is building a network that delivers broadband to people throughout the city. But what Qwist has built is different. While many mesh projects exist to connect users to the regular internet, Reticulum is essentially designed to support a post-apocalyptic scenario. It is built with encryption and privacy in mind, is open source, and is primarily designed to forward digital information between peers without going through a server or service provider.

“Reticulum is an effort to create an alternative base layer protocol for data networks,” Qvist told Motherboard in an email. “So it’s not a single network, it’s a tool for building networks. This is comparable to the IP that powers the Internet, the Internet Protocol stack, and 99.99% of all other networks on earth. In essence, it solves the same problems that the Internet Protocol stack does, getting digital data from point A to point B, but it does so in a very different way and with very different assumptions.

“The real power of the protocol is that it can take all kinds of different communication media and combine them into a consistent network.” “Can use [long-range] transmitters, modems, ham radio, ethernet, wifi or even a roll of old copper wire if you have that.

Decentralization and privacy are just as important to Qwist as disaster resilience. “Without such an effort, our communications infrastructure (even if it runs on entirely private overlapping networks) will always be at the mercy of various governance complexes,” he said. “For example, the power to simply disconnect the entire civilian population of a region from the Internet is readily available and has been used many times.”

It is his desire that people adopt the Reticulum and use it to build networks on top of existing structures.

“We don’t need one big network that overlaps on the Internet, we need many networks, and we need to connect them in countless ways. We need thousands of networks without kill switches and controls, and we need to connect them across, around, and beyond the Internet.” “We need a Hypernet that is constantly changing and evolving, reconnecting, healing and evolving itself. We need to give people the tools to build their networks anytime, anywhere, and connect them as they see fit without arbitrators, gatekeepers or outside oversight. The Internet is great, but we need more than one of them.”

Gvist said Reticulum is very much in the early days and needs help to develop and improve it. Indeed, the project documents state that it has not been externally verified for security guarantees and that “there may be bugs that violate privacy.”

“There may be security issues that have yet to be discovered, although great care has been taken to make it secure from the ground up, something IP is not.” “You can’t run existing applications over Reticulum because it’s a completely different protocol stack than IP, which is used by almost every other networking application in the world. New software needs to be written that uses Reticulum instead of IP, and at this point there are very few such programs.”

Reticulum is available through Qvist’s Github. There is a guide that can help new people get started working with the project. “Although it is still in its infancy, it shows promise, and I am now fully convinced that it can become the powerful tool I envision,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot more work and effort, but it’s at least steadily moving in the right direction.”

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