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Introduction to Freenet: A Censorship-Resistant Network

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a fan of censorship; I would think that most privacy-minded Tor users would agree.

If you’re part of this crowd, have you used Freenet yet? Though it functions quite a bit differently than Tor and I2P, it still has its advantages in terms of pseudonymity.

A Brief Explanation

Credit: freesocial.draketo.de

Freenet enables the user (that would be you) to create a fake computer-generated identity so that others won’t know who you are – unless you choose to share that information.

It does this through a system called the Web of Trust (WoT), which helps filter out spam, bots, and other unwelcome identities. The WoT consists of a network of pseudonymous identities generated by the network when you first join.

If you were to create a new identity, it might look something like this: “ap_subgratis.” While you can generate another identity if you don’t like the first one, the developers don’t recommend this, as it could, in theory, break your anonymity.

The WoT consists of these objects:

  • Identities are those using the system
  • Own identities are identities which belong to you
  • Trust values are ratings between pairs of identities. They range from -100 to +100, and any identity in the network can assign a rating to any other.
  • Score values exist between pairs of identities and non-identities; the plugin computes these values for each identity. Only one rating exists for each pair; if a score is negative, clients should not download content from that identity.
  • Puzzles serve the purpose of introducing new identities to the Web of Trust. Types of puzzles include the familiar captcha, as well as audio captchas.

The more puzzles you solve, the more you can gain trust within the WoT (as weird as that may sound).

Credit: freesocial.draketo.de

Privacy Features

If you’re already a Tor user, you might wonder how Freenet is any different. While Tor allows anonymous access to the clearnet, as well as the ability to access its hidden services (a.k.a. onion sites), Freenet is a self-contained network.

It is not a proxy to the clearnet, i.e. you can’t access sites like Google, Twitter, etc. What Freenet does have are its own websites, filesharing, email, messaging, forums, and chat, all hosted within the network.

Freenet uses a distributed data store for keeping and delivering information. In other words, information is stored on more than one node. All Freenet nodes contribute a portion of their hard drive space to store pieces of encrypted files.

Now, some may see this as a disadvantage, but on Freenet, you have little control over what type of content is kept in your datastore. Files are kept or deleted based on their popularity, which is one of the ways that Freenet is kept censorship-resistant.

While it’s not impossible to figure out what encrypted file pieces are kept in your datastore, it would be an arduous process to decrypt them. The point is that if you don’t know what’s being kept in your datastore, it allows plausible deniability.

Communication Breakdown!

Other popular features within Freenet are the Freenet Message System (FMS), and Sone, which is a social network plugin.

FMS is the most widely used forum system on Freenet. However, it’s not part of the official Freenet codebase, because FMS is written in C++, which is less secure than Java (i.e. the codebase for the rest of Freenet).

If you’re already on Freenet and are interested in trying out FMS, use this link: FMS Install.

Sone implements a social network (loosely based on Facebook) on top of Freenet. It requires the Web of Trust in order to connect with other users, so make sure you load that before trying to use Sone. In versions 0.6.5 and beyond, Sone features an FCP interface that allows other applications to access Sone.

So imagine a social network, kind of like Facebook, except everyone on it uses fake identities. I kind of like that idea, personally!

As opposed to Facebook, you won’t have targeted ads showing up constantly (“Got ED? You know you want Cialis!”)

Freedom of Expression

Freenet allows you to publish hidden services anonymously as well, known as Freesites. They’re more or less equivalent to Tor’s .onion sites.

The Freesites are listed in various directories, known as Nerdageddon, Enzo’s Index, and the Censored Index.

Nerdageddon features this description: “Welcome to Nerdageddon. Here we aim to bring you a list of all freesites, both old and new, which could be interesting to political nerds. The links presented here exclude the sites which Linkageddon flags as porn or cp, and those which I perceive as normal.”

Linkageddon, for those of you who don’t know, is an uncensored link list that shows every freesite, regardless of its content. As on Tor, you may find CP or gore on Freenet; the difference with Freenet, I feel, is that it gives you sufficient warning about content that you’re about to view. If it doesn’t, you have the option of mentioning it to the community via Sone or FMS.

Tor, on the other hand, can sometimes feel like the Wild West. There might be shady activity going on all around you, but you’re powerless to stop it!

Speaking of which, creating your own Freesite is quite simple. You can build it using whatever HTML tool you prefer, and then upload it using jSite, a Freesite uploading tool created by developer Bombe. For more details on creating a Freesite, see Freenet Wiki: jSite.

To Join or Not to Join

Whether or not you decide to try out Freenet is a matter of personal preference. Yes, like Tor, it has its downsides, but in terms of privacy and existing within a small, close-knit online community, it’s one of the best.

If you’re merely one of the curious types (especially someone who values privacy and anonymity), I’d say take a look. You may like it after all. It’s available at Freenet Project.

Besides, where else can you get a name like “am_moraphille”?

7 comments

  1. Freenet was extremely difficult to uninstall completely. I also felt the learning curve was too high for the average user. I’d like to see a better designed user friendly version

    • ciphas

      It is more complicated to learn than Tor is, which is probably one of the reasons it’s a little less popular.

      Though it’s been around awhile, I wanted to introduce it to a larger userbase. That’s why I wrote the article.

  2. Freenet has been broken by LE:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freenet#Vulnerabilities

    Use Tails with bridges via anonymous public Wi-Fi with the highest security settings (click the green onion) and in the NoScript embeddings tab, check everything. Backend encryption on a hardware encrypted USB with the Tails persistent storage, and within that, a TrueCrypt volume which you can mount with the Debian cryptsetup (use the “–key-file=” parameter for each key file):

    https://tails.boum.org/doc/encryption_and_privacy/truecrypt/index.en.html

    Passphrases need to be at least 40 characters with multiple keyfiles — Upper & lower case letters, numbers, punctuation characters and a few special characters atop your keyboard.

    • Good point about all of that. I generally use randomly generated passphrases with diceware or via a random password generator offline.

      And I use VeraCrypt for encryption. I don’t use Tails, but I use Qubes, which I believe is just as strong, or almost as strong? Thanks for the tips.

    • Arne Babenhauserheide

      LE can find Opennet nodes (every user can, that’s true for any network where you just start a program to join – including Tor and i2p), and they have strange opinions on what is probable cause (they aren’t really open on their statistical basis – they might be able to track access to specific child-porn material, but their false positive rate is unclear and was left out of the claims to get warrants).

      If you want to be safe, use Darknet (Freenet high security mode in which you connect only to friends – this is what we’ve been saying for years, but most users did not want to ask their friends to run Freenet, too).

      • It’s much more difficult for LEs/TLAs to crack Tor, because, for starters, the Tor network is international, whereas Freenet can be varying and often local, or at least regional. Secondly, Tor network nodes come online and stay online, typically, for weeks or months on end; Freenet nodes are typically short-lived. Finally, Tor is monitored, not only by the Tor Project, but by other users as well; there is no way to tell if LE has penetrated Freenet (they have, of course), and especially, to what extent, unlike Tor where malicious nodes are identified on a regular basis. In short, without some sort of central Directory Authority, which Tor possesses, Freenet is vulnerable to LE.

      • If you want to use Freenet anonymously in opennet mode, there’s a how-to guide at my .onion blog . Basically, the Freenet node is a VM with no public IP address, as suggested by Chris Double . But it can reach opennet peers through a clearnet proxy VPS, linked via Tor/OnionCat. It can also reach peers directly at OnionCat IPv6 addresses.

        My .onion blog: dbshmc5frbchaum2.onion/Freenet-OnionCat.html

        Chris Double’s blog: bluishcoder.co.nz/2016/08/18/using-freenet-over-tor.html

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