Tagindie web

Meet Briar, an Open Source “WhatsApp” for Activists

Briar diagram

My latest for Wired:

Private messaging apps like SnapChat and WhatsApp aren’t as private as you might think.

SnapChat settled with the Federal Trade Commission earlier this month over a complaint that its privacy claims were misleading, as reported by USA Today, and last week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation published a report listing the company as the least privacy-friendly tech outfit it reviewed, including Comcast, Facebook, and Google. Last year, WhatsApp faced privacy complaints from the Canadian and Dutch governments, and like Snapchat, its security has been an issue as well.

When you use messaging services like these, you’re depending on outside companies to properly encrypt your messages, store them safely, and protect them when the authorities come calling. And they may not be up to the task. The only way to ensure your messages are reasonably safe is to encrypt them yourself, using keys that no one has access to–including your messaging service provider. That way, even if hackers bust into your service provider or the authorities hit it with subpoenas, your messages are protected.

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Encryption tools are notoriously hard to use. But several projects are working to change this, building a more polished breed of encryption software that can serve the everyday consumer. A new open source project called Briar is part of this crowd, but it puts a fresh twist on the idea. It doesn’t just encrypt your messages. It lets you jettison your messaging service provider altogether. Your messages travel straight to the person you’re sending them to, without passing through a central server of any sort. It’s what’s known as a “peer-to-peer” tool.

This has a few advantages. You and your contacts keep complete control your data, but you needn’t setup your own computer server in order to do so. Plus, you can send messages without even connecting to the internet. Using Briar, you can send messages over Bluetooth, a shared WiFi connection, or even a shared USB stick. That could be a big advantage for people in places where internet connections are unreliable, censored, or non-existent.

Full Story: Wired: Take Back Your Privacy With This Open Source WhatsApp

Briar is still in alpha and not ready for use for high-risk scenarios. If you’re looking for something immediately, OffTheRecord and TextSecure are worth considering, but of course nothing is perfectly secure.

The Tiny Box That Lets You Take Your Data Back From Google

Indie Box

My lastest for Wired:

The National Security Agency is scanning your email. Google and Facebook are hoarding your personal data. And online advertisers are selling your shopping habits to the highest bidder.

Today, more than ever, people are thinking about how to opt out of this madness without quitting the internet entirely. The obvious answer is to host your own web apps on your own computer server. And thanks to the burgeoning Indie Web Movement, there’s no shortage of open source alternatives to popular services like Google Calendar, Facebook’s photo albums, or Dropbox’s file sharing. The problem is that setting up and managing your own server is a pain in the neck–at least for the average consumer.

For open source developer Johannes Ernst, what the world really needs is a simple device that anyone can use to take their data back from the wilds of the internet. So he designed the Indie Box, a personal web server preloaded with open source software that lets you run your own web services from your home network–and run them with relative ease. Any system administrator will tell you that setting up a server is just the first step. Maintaining it is the other big problem. Indie Box seeks to simplify both, with an option to fully automate all updates and maintenance tasks, from operating system patches to routine database migrations.

Full Story: Wired: The Tiny Box That Lets You Take Your Data Back From Google

Or you can skip straight to the Indie GoGo.

See also:

Genshi Box

Freedom Box

Cozy Cloud

Ethereum: A Platform for Building Bitcoin-style Applicatons

I wrote about Ethereum, next generation cryptocurrencies and distributed autonomous corporations for Wired:

Most people think of bitcoin as a form of money, if they think of bitcoin at all. But 19-year-old hacker Vitalik Buterin sees it as something more — much more. He sees it as a new way of building just about any internet application.

The bitcoin digital currency is driven by open source software that runs across thousands of machines around the globe. Borrowing code from this rather clever piece of software, independent hackers have already built applications such as the Twitter-style social network Twister , the encrypted e-mail alternative Bitmessage , and the unseizable domain name system Namecoin . But Buterin believes that many other applications can benefit from the genius of the bitcoin software, and that’s why he’s joining forces with several other hackers to create something called Ethereum .

He envisions Ethereum as an online service that lets you build practically anything in the image of bitcoin and run it across a worldwide network of machines. At its core, bitcoin is a way of reliably storing and moving digital objects or pieces of information. Today, it stores and moves money, but Buterin believes the same basic system could give rise to a new breed of social networks, data storage systems and securities markets — all operated without the help of a central authority.

Full Story: Wired: Teenage Hacker Transforms Web Into One Giant Bitcoin Network

Cyberpunk Builds Bitcoin Wallet That Even Apple Can’t Ban

kyle_drake-660x440

From my latest “Out in the Open” column for Wired:

Kyle Drake calls himself a professional cyberpunk. He spends his days on the net, writing computer code and trying to stick it to the man. His latest target: the global banking industry.

But he’s not aiming to take down the financial sector with some sort of illegal hack attack. He wants to beat them at their own game with a little help from the world’s most popular digital currency, Bitcoin — a burgeoning system that runs on thousands of servers across the globe without answering to any central authority. “I think Bitcoin is the most important thing I’m going to work on in my life,” Drake says.

His current project is Coinpunk, an open source Bitcoin wallet that he believes will help free the world from both big banks and powerful payment processors like MasterCard and Visa.

Full Story: Wired: Out in the Open: Cyberpunk Builds Bitcoin Wallet That Even Apple Can’t Ban

And in other Bitcoin news Bitcoins in Space: Hacker to Fire Digital Currency Into Orbit. The plan is to use a nanosat to run a Bitcoin server in space:

The notion may seen excessive, but for Garzik — a self-confessed space fan whose dad helped build missiles at the White Sands Missile Range — it has always been an obvious next step for the digital currency. “When Bitcoin came around, it seemed natural to me that you’d want some sort of redundancy out in space,” he says, explaining that this could not only help the peer-to-peer network fend off attack, but give it a lifeline if machines are unavailable on earth.

Garzik, like many Bitcoiners, is an idealist. “If you’re out in a field in Africa or if you’re a researcher in Antarctica, you should be able to have just as much access to Bitcoin as someone in the better-wired portion of the world,” he says.

Photo by Aaron Parecki / CC

Meet the Hackers Who Want to Jailbreak the Internet

Harlan Wood

My article for Wired on the Indie Web movement and the IndieWebCamp event:

One guy is wearing his Google Glass. Another showed up in an HTML5 t-shirt. And then there’s the dude who looks like the Mad Hatter, decked out in a top hat with an enormous white flower tucked into the brim.

At first, they look like any other gaggle of tech geeks. But then you notice that one of them is Ward Cunningham, the man who invented the wiki, the tech that underpins Wikipedia. And there’s Kevin Marks, the former vice president of web services at British Telecom. Oh, and don’t miss Brad Fitzpatrick, creator of the seminal blogging site LiveJournal and, more recently, a coder who works in the engine room of Google’s online empire.

Packed into a small conference room, this rag-tag band of software developers has an outsized digital pedigree, and they have a mission to match. They hope to jailbreak the internet.

They call it the Indie Web movement, an effort to create a web that’s not so dependent on tech giants like Facebook, Twitter, and, yes, Google — a web that belongs not to one individual or one company, but to everyone. “I don’t trust myself,” says Fitzpatrick. “And I don’t trust companies.” The movement grew out of an egalitarian online project launched by Fitzpatrick, before he made the move to Google. And over the past few years, it has roped in about 100 other coders from around the world.

On any given day, you’ll find about 30 or 40 of them on an IRC chat channel, and each summer, they come together in the flesh for this two-day mini-conference, known as IndieWebCamp. They hack. They demonstrate. They discuss. They strive to create a new set of tools that can give you greater control over the stuff you post to the net — the photos, the status updates, the blog posts, the comments. “The Indie Web is a community of folks interested in owning their own content — and identity — online,” says Tantek Celik, another developer at the heart of the movement.

Full Story: Wired: Meet the Hackers Who Want to Jailbreak the Internet

See also:

List of Indie Web projects

Wiki Inventor’s Latest Creation Decentralizes the Web

Open Source Project Mimics Yahoo Pipes on Your Own Machine

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