Freenet

Freenet logo

The Freenet logo

Purpose:

Freenet is a peer-to-peer platform designed to enable the anonymous publishing and retrieval of information, in order to counter the censorship of information on the Internet (FRE01).

Freenet is not a proxy for accessing the Internet anonymously; it allows access only to content that has been inserted into the Freenet network. It is not an application, but rather an application-neutral, anonymous transport layer that many different applications can use (FEH01). Users of these applications can publish and view websites, download files, use email and bulletin board systems, and other things that can be done on the Internet. In this respect, Freenet is similar to Tor’s hidden services. Freenet can be thought of as an anonymous Internet within the Internet.

Capabilities:

  • Peer-to-peer – Information inserted into the Freenet network is distributed around the network and stored on several different nodes. Anyone can run a Freenet node, and users of the network are encouraged to contribute resources to the network by running their own nodes.
  • Friend-to-friend – Each node may operate in ‘darknet’ mode, in which case it will only communicate with nodes that have been personally chosen by its operator, or ‘opennet’ mode, in which case it will communicate with any nodes it can find. The existence of darknet nodes that are only known to chosen individuals may make it harder to monitor the network.
  • EncryptionContent inserted into the network is encrypted to prevent nodes from knowing what content they are storing and forwarding. Information travelling between nodes is encrypted to prevent external observers from determining who is inserting, requesting and storing content.

Surveillance mitigation:

  • Decentralization – Having no central servers, Freenet is not controlled by any one individual or organization, including the designers of the platform. There is no single point where content can be removed or access to the network can be blocked.
  • Anonymity – Relaying information through the network makes it difficult to determine who inserted content into the network, who requested content, or where content is stored.

Vulnerabilities:

  • Harvesting – It is very easy for an attacker to find Freenet nodes and connect to them, because every ‘opennet’ node is continually attempting to find new connections (FRE03). Nodes that operate in ‘darknet’ mode are more difficult to find.
  • Sybil attacks – Peer-to-peer networks are vulnerable to ‘sybil attacks’ in which an attacker creates multiple identities in order to have a disproportionate influence on the operation of the network.
  • Data loss – If data is not accessed for a long time Freenet will no longer retain copies of it, resulting in the platform ‘forgetting’ data (FRE03).
  • Traffic analysis – By observing encrypted traffic passing between Freenet nodes, it may be possible to determine who inserted or requested content, or where the content is stored.
  • Full list: https://freenetproject.org/faq.html

Layers of operation:

Background:

Freenet is an overlay network that is constructed on top of the Internet. It was created to mitigate censorship and to facilitate the free flow of information and freedom of speech. A driving factor for developing the platform is that “you cannot have freedom of speech without the option to remain anonymous” (FRE02).

Sources:

Freenet (FRE)
1) https://freenetproject.org/whatis.html
2) https://freenetproject.org/philosophy.html
3) https://freenetproject.org/faq.html

Freenet Help (FEH)
1) http://www.freenethelp.org/html/FreenetForDummies.html