The takeaway sale:
- Administrators of 8kun, the anarchic bulletin board formerly known as 8chan, experimented with blockchain and p2p technologies to create a Web site resistant to exhaustion and censorship.
- They have found an open source blockchain aligned ideologically, but developers do not seem eager to protect 8kun against attacks from activists.
- Ron Watkins, the lead developer of 8kun, plans to launch the mysterious Project Odin to reinforce the hidden and publicly available versions of his site.
8chan, the anarchic Internet forum that sank in the dark in August, came back online this weekend at 8kun. This time, thanks to a decentralized web hosting network, he intends to stay online, regardless of the content offended by its content.
Following firing from El Paso (Texas) and Dayton (Ohio), the Cloudflare hosting service severed its ties with 8chan, accusing its hideous community of anonymous posters for inciting violence.
"8chan has proven time and time again that it is a safe haven," said Matthew Prince, CEO of Cloudflare, the day he ended the service. Other major hosting providers, including Tencent and AliBaba in China, followed. For these giant corporations, 8chan represented little more than a pungent mix of pornography, extremism and racism, and therefore not a brand to which they wished to be associated.
Yet, while his many critics regarded him as a vortex of marginal politics and conspiracy theories in fashion, the others defended him as a beacon of freedom of expression in the era of political correctness and the consolidation of the media. In addition to the terrorist manifestos, there were WikiLeaks-style repositories.
And the founders did not give up.
"We are at the forefront of the war of exhaustion and we are developing tools and techniques that other websites can use when they run out too," said Ron Watkins, 8chans administrator, at CoinDesk .
"Unlike other controversial platforms for banning relatively harmless speech, 8chan represents a total commitment to the promise of the First Amendment," said site owner Jim Watkins. Ron's father) to the Internal Security Committee in an in camera session. September 4th. "At the same time, he has worked responsibly with law enforcement agencies when unprotected speech is discovered on his platform."
The following is an internal account of the rebirth of 8chan, based on interviews with Ron Watkins. It also includes talks with Fredrick Brennan, the now-excommunicated and deeply critical creator of 8chan, who ceased after playing a key role in developing his blockchain solutions.
While the version of the clearnet or publicly accessible site is intermittently shut down and that it is unlikely that it could survive a continuing attack of compromising attacks, Watkins described a strategy to rebuild 8chan through decentralized workarounds instead of relying on consolidated services that become unusable in the face of threats. controversial.
Three months into the night, 8chan's developers turned their backs on traditional Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and found a way to organize offline, decentralized, censorship-resistant online discussions.
The main one among these is an open protocol called Lokinet which will soon be connected to a blockchain. The network, based on a range of the monocrypto currency called Loki, works like the Tor network protecting confidentiality.
Lokinet provides a way to host web content, including decentralized markets, forums, and other Web applications that resist censorship and depletion.
Any website accessible through the ".loki" top-level domain goes through an "onion" -type router that sends back the user's data packets needed to surf the Web, via a distributed network of nodes. to scramble users' destinations and hide them. origins. Loki is open for all to use and the non-profit network maintenance organization was informed of the intentions of 8kun only four days before its launch.
Watkins was clear on the fact that 8kun did not associate with Loki's development team, but instead used the network they put in place and made available to all.
Simon Harman, director of the nonprofit Loki based in Melbourne, Australia, said he was surprised that the network is resisting the influx of new users, many of whom have probably downloaded the software to support the raise of 8chan.
"Asking thousands of users to try experimental software is a benefit," he said. Since the launch of the Lokinet system in 2018, 5,271 router downloads have been made, including 3,600 since September 24th.
Watkins said it has put in place a few Lokinet addresses and frontends that connect to the network and serve the website. Nick Lim, CEO of VanwaTech, also created a content delivery network on Lokinet to serve 8kun's SNApps – private websites or Web services similar to Tor's hidden services – and provide acceptable data.
"We chose Lokinet because, while still experimental, it is already a power plant," said Watkins.
However, over the weekend, an influx of friendly and hostile users flooded 8kun and almost paralyzed the website.
To be clear: Loki (named after a mischievous mythological character) did not choose 8kun. And while antagonistic parties are attacking Lokinet's discussion forum, lead developer Jeff Becker has said he does not "want to get involved."
"I have no intention of trying to remove 8kun or shut down the network, I only fear that it is quite easy (to attack) the network in this early state, and somebody One will probably do it, but he certainly won 't me, he says.
As things stand, Brennan, 8chan's apostate creator, tweeted some potential weaknesses that activists could exploit to remove or slow down the site's clearnet and darknet versions. These include a coordinated distributed denial of service or the flooding of a website from unwanted requests.
"8kun uses a fairly old code base with several vulnerabilities easily verified by anyone on Github," said Gr3y, a web developer who passes @ L33TGUY. on Twitter. A group of opposition hackers are planning attacks on Twitter and Internet Relay Chat (IRC), he told CoinDesk.
Like Brennan, Gr3y is not a friend of 8kun. After Cloudflare dropped 8chan, the two leaders ran a campaign pushing other service providers to knock it off their platforms. They gathered an army of anonymous posters to warn companies about "8Chan, Jim Watkins and his dark history," in Gr3y's words.
"Jim or rather / pol has a lot of enemies, especially far left activists," said Gr3y, referring to the subset of users who publish the most extravagant content (" pol "is the abbreviation of" politically incorrect ", ironic name of a message, advice on the predecessor 4chan). Only 20 minutes after the launch of 8kun, activists have launched DDoS attacks that currently interrupt the 8kun service, he said.
While Loki presents itself as a decentralized protocol, Viktor Shpak, chief technical officer of VisibleMagic, a blockchain consulting company, believes that adoption will be an obstacle for the relatively immature platform. What makes Tor a usable, reliable and secure router is the number of nodes supporting the service, he noted.
The limited number of nodes running Loki will make 8kun highly visible on the network and vulnerable to government crackdowns, Shpak said. In addition, during the testing phase, the developers disconnected the relay from the Loki blockchain.
Watkins said he lost confidence in Lokinet and Becker after the attacks.
"Jeff's actions as a lead developer do not fit well with the stated mission of his project," said Watkins. "User and community-built nodes can support 8kun on lokinet with or without the approval of the lokinet development team," he said.
Watkins said that he had another card in his sleeve if Lokinet proved impractical.
The Odin project, named after the ancient Norse god of wisdom (Loki's brother in mythology), could allow 8kun users to exploit front-end nodes supporting the decentralized back office of the website. Watkins suggests Odin to complement the other security models in his plan by promoting cross-platform interoperability, a shared user base and immutability.
"Activists may be able to temporarily drain 8kun.net, but can they run out of ten thousand mirrors maintained by the community?" Said Watkins.
He claims to be at the ninth iteration of the project. However, no previous version of Odin has been released and only traces of its development are available online. Watkins explained that the fact that users are running their own interfaces poses a potential risk.
With rare details, those who follow the project are left to speculate.
Justin Johnson, a computer security specialist in North Dakota and a regular "chans", has high hopes.
"It's the future of open source that keeps the values of openness and accessibility," he said.
Gr3y is less optimistic. The technology seems to "go way beyond Ron's salary class … at this point, if they are able to have 8KUN available on clearnet permanently, I will be very surprised," said the developer.
Building a network resistant to censorship in the face of feverish opposition is certainly a difficult task. But Odin is not Watkins first rodeo.
In 2018, while 8chan was still alive and in turn horrifying or moving, Watkins and Brennan began developing a blockchain solution known as susucoin.
Motivated by the fear of a consolidation of online publishing within the company, the susu team has created a blockchain protocol "where everyone can express their ideas and opinions in any meaningful way. security, without fear of reprisals, prohibitions or deletions, "according to the white paper on susucoin.
Watkins hoped that susucoin would become a substrate on which a whole ecosystem of censorship-resistant platforms would be born, beyond the reach of authoritarian governments, censor companies and overzealous moderators.
The string-based message board, susucoin, equates to a bitcoin fork that facilitates the exchange of "small text spots", according to long interviews with CoinDesk's Brennan.
On June 26, 2018, the Susucoin team created a genesis block. The idea was to use the exits created during cryptocurrency transactions to archive the publications on the bulletin board. Although the code was based on the main Bitcoin protocol, it included features of the cracked cryptocurrency called bitcoin cash.
Brennan refers to the protocol he built, SUMO (storage utility memory object), as "a slight improvement of the memo system (Bitcoin Cash)."
Like his wrestlers with the same name, SUMO was not handsome. "It's a technical wreck and not at all anonymous," wrote Brennan in an email.
In the new system, users should pay to post. The messages being limited by the field OP_RETURN of 512 bytes of susucoin, a picture of 100 KB would require about 195 transactions, for a total of a few sous in value.
By linking messages to transactions, Brennan explained that susucoin was part of Watkins' broader attempt to monetize 8kun. In fact, before the exhaustion of 8chan, Jim Watkins set up on his website a feature called "The King of Shekel", which allowed users to pay extra to promote their publications.
But Julian Feeld, co-host of the podcast of QAnon Anonymous, who refutes the conspiracy theories of online forums, believes that 8chan users are not interested in downloading new software or paying fees. of publication.
The blockchain has long been portrayed as a boon to freethinkers, but the belief in its powers is not universal.
Blockchains are "slow, expensive, crappy databases that do not adapt to user-generated content on billions of data points," said Andrew Torba, CEO of Gab, a social network that focuses on freedom of speech compared to traditional sensibilities was itself impoverished amid a media controversy.
Ironically, the unpopularity of susucoin and its technological weakness may have avoided any legal risk, namely the consequences of preserving illegal content on an immutable big book.
Although presented as the global paradise for online freedom of speech, 8chan has imposed certain limits on what users could publish. Moderators would remove content that violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and actively monitor child pornography. However, the immutable susuchain would have made these solutions more difficult to develop.
"Everything written in the blockchain will stay there and there is no easy way to remove anything except a hard fork," said Watkins. He added that he had designed susu without the ability to easily post messages other than text, which would complicate the addition of porn to more difficulties.
Although the First Amendment generally protects freedom of expression, there are exclusions to these constitutional covers. Real threats – or statements expressing a serious intent to commit acts of violence against individuals or groups – are not protected, for example.
"For accountability to be respected, it would be necessary, for example, to establish a direct link between the position of a user and an employee of 8kun, or that 8kun was aware of prejudicial behavior on his platform. form and chose not to report it. By and large, 8chan had editorial control over his content, which can be hard to prove in court, "said Nicole Ligon, a lecturer at Duke University School of Law.
Despite this, Watkins does not consider the subject a bitter failure and seeks to integrate the blockchain into the Odin project.
As 8kun's lights went on for the first time Saturday, Mr. Watkins told Twitter subscribers that the new deployment would take a few days to stabilize.
"This first wave of visitors totally crushed our servers," said Watkins.
And that's not the only problem 8kun is facing. While the platform now exists out of the reach of supposedly censorous companies, anyone can attack an open-source protocol. Loki developers have cited denial of service (DoS) as a particular threat, although there are several attack vectors. Worse for Watkins, since Loki is still in the testing phase, the developers are not actively trying to prevent a network torpedo, preferring to remain neutral.
"The risk is that if we can not defend ourselves against the attack, our presence will then be intermittent until we know how to defend it," Watkins said. While he is currently working on technical defenses, he knows that after his deployment, he will "react to the next attack".
Nevertheless, Watkins is optimistic.
"I lead a small team of idealists, who are trying to put a small-scale discussion forum back online as part of a bizarre and unprecedented smear campaign," he said. Where this is only a battle, by developing tools and techniques that other websites can use if they are exhausted, he thinks he will win the war.
Through this process, Watkins began to doubt that blockchain technology could save freedom of speech, let alone save 8kun. Instead, he thinks that this could play a role in building a defensive infrastructure.
"At the moment, all platform-based platform experiments still impose too much technical friction on users, so normal citizens do not bother with them anymore," said Justin Murphy, a independent academic who studies marginal online political groups.
The answer probably lies in the darkness of maligned sites, whether by tor, loki, i2p or zeronet, Watkins said. "What matters in the deepnet is that large public companies are not in control and have no say in online content or not," he said.
Ongoing attempts to resurface against the tide of technocrats, media and politicians may be the last time centralized authorities will be able to close a website on the basis of moral rather than judicial decisions. Now, the technology just has to work.
Pepe the frog image via Twitter