Freedom Fighters

Will Groundbreaking New Privacy Software Restore Anonymity to the Net?

Not repeating the Helsingius case was a priority for Zero Knowledge, and they've succeeded in making the software court order­proof. It is technically impossible to trace a message over the Freedom Network once it's been sent. No judge could compel Zero Knowledge to turn over its logs or customer list— there are none. And nobody, not even Zero Knowledge, can connect you to your NYM. That only leaves hackers.

"Sure, you could hack the system by taking over the entire Internet, but short of that, probably not," says Zero Knowledge's chief scientist, Ian Goldberg, a 26-year-old cryptography master. He hacked the algorithms used in Europe to protect against cell phone eavesdropping, a standard that had been secure for five years. Goldberg found the flaw in five hours. Their mistake, he says, was developing the security in secret. Zero Knowledge's protocols are open source, and that means the code evolves organically, like Linux does, with the help of the cypherpunk community. A beta version was intuitive to use and simple to set up. But browsing slowed noticeably on a 56k modem. Hill, the Zero Knowledge president, says the lag will be improved in the public version, set for a December 1 release date.

Of course, for every electronic veil that these cryptographers bring to market, some data entrepreneur will embed a serial number in hardware (like Intel infamously did earlier this year) that makes the presumption of privacy moot. And as each new tracking device is discovered, new countermeasures will be taken to cloak the user again. It's going to be a long story, this arms race between privacy and surveillance.

illustration: Limbert Fabian

For the consumer, it often seems like a choice between autonomy and convenience, the security of being unknown and the pleasure of being recognized. But in a pseudonymous world, one can reap the benefits of both sides. We all wear social masks anyway. Maybe Freedom will bring them to the desktop.

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