Anonymous P2P — knowledge base

Motivation for anonymity

There are many reasons to use anonymous P2P technology; most of them are generic to all forms of online anonymity.

  • Censorship at the local, organizational, or national level
  • Personal privacy preferences such as preventing tracking or data mining activities
  • The material or its distribution is considered illegal or incriminating by possible eavesdroppers
  • Material is legal but socially deplored, embarrassing or problematic in the individual’s social world
  • Fear of retribution (against whistleblowers, unofficial leaks, and activists who do not believe in restrictions on information nor knowledge)

Arguments for and against anonymous P2P communication

General

While anonymous P2P systems may support the protection of unpopular speech, they may also protect illegal activities, such as fraud, libel, the exchange of illegal pornography, the unauthorized copying of copyrighted works, or the planning of criminal activities. Critics of anonymous P2P systems hold that these disadvantages outweigh the advantages offered by such systems, and that other communication channels are already sufficient for unpopular speech.

Freedom of speech

Some claim that true freedom of speech, especially on controversial subjects, is difficult or impossible unless individuals can speak anonymously. If anonymity is not possible, one could be subjected to threats or reprisals for voicing an unpopular view. This is one reason why voting is done by secret ballot in many democracies. Controversial information which a party wants to keep hidden, such as details about corruption issues, is often published or leaked anonymously.

Anonymous blogging

Anonymous blogging is one widespread use of anonymous networks. While anonymous blogging is possible on the non-anonymous internet to some degree too, a provider hosting the blog in question might be forced to disclose the blogger’s IP address (as when Google revealed an anonymous blogger’s identity). Anonymous networks provide a better degree of anonymity. Flogs (anonymous blogs) in Freenet, Syndie and other blogging tools in I2P and Osiris sps are some examples of anonymous blogging technologies.

Censorship via Internet domain names

Control over online tracking

Anonymous P2P also has value in normal daily communication. When communication is anonymous, the decision to reveal the identities of the communicating parties is left up to the parties involved and is not available to a third party. Often there is no need or desire by the communicating parties to reveal their identities. As a matter of personal freedom, many people do not want processes in place by default which supply unnecessary data. In some cases, such data could be compiled into histories of their activities.

Effects of surveillance on lawful activity

Online surveillance, such as recording and retaining details of web and e-mail traffic, may have effects on lawful activities. People may be deterred from accessing or communicating legal information because they know of possible surveillance and believe that such communication may be seen as suspicious. According to law professor Daniel J. Solove, such effects “harm society because, among other things, they reduce the range of viewpoints being expressed and the degree of freedom with which to engage in political activity.”

Access to censored and copyrighted material

Most countries ban or censor the publication of certain books and movies, and certain types of content. Other material is legal to possess but not to distribute; for example, copyright and software patent laws may forbid its distribution. These laws are difficult or impossible to enforce in anonymous P2P networks.

Anonymous online money

Functioning of anonymous P2P

Anonymity and pseudonymity

Some of the networks commonly referred to as “anonymous P2P” are truly anonymous, in the sense that network nodes carry no identifiers. Others are actually pseudonymous: instead of being identified by their IP addresses, nodes are identified by pseudonyms such as cryptographic keys. For example, each node in the MUTE network has an overlay address that is derived from its public key. This overlay address functions as a pseudonym for the node, allowing messages to be addressed to it. In Freenet, on the other hand, messages are routed using keys that identify specific pieces of data rather than specific nodes; the nodes themselves are anonymous.

Spam and DoS attacks in anonymous networks

Originally, anonymous networks were operated by small and friendly communities of developers. As interest in anonymous P2P increased and the user base grew, malicious users inevitably appeared and tried different attacks. This is similar to the Internet, where widespread use has been followed by waves of spam and distributed DoS (Denial of Service) attacks. Such attacks may require different solutions in anonymous networks. For example, blacklisting of originator network addresses does not work because anonymous networks conceal this information. These networks are more vulnerable to DoS attacks as well due to the smaller bandwidth, as has been shown in examples on the Tor network.

Opennet and darknet network types

  • In opennet network, peer nodes are discovered automatically. There is no configuration required but little control available over which nodes become peers.
  • In a darknet network, users manually establish connections with nodes run by people they know. Darknet typically needs more effort to set up but a node only has trusted nodes as peers.

List of anonymous P2P networks and clients

Please keep this list in alphabetical order Please do not add any applications which do not allow file transfer without anybody knowing your IP. Having a proxy which takes the blame is NOT anonymous, private nets are NOT anonymous.

Public P2P clients

  • Bitmessage — an anonymous decentralized messaging system serving as a secure replacement for email
  • DigitalNote XDN — an open-source anonymous decentralized encrypted messaging system based on blockchain technology
  • Freenet — a censorship-resistant distributed file system for anonymous publishing (open source, written in Java)
  • GNUnet — a P2P framework, includes anonymous file sharing as its primary application (GNU Project, written in C, alpha status)
  • NeoLoader — a filesharing software compatible with several networks. Anonymous when used with the “NeoShare” feature (that use the proprietary “NeoKad” network)
  • Netsukuku — a peer-to-peer routing system aiming to build a free and independent Internet
  • Osiris (Serverless Portal System) — an anonymous and distributed web portals creator.
  • Perfect Dark — a P2P client which relies on a mixnet and distributed datastore to provide anonymity (freeware, written for Windows)
  • Syndie — a content (mainly forums) syndication program that operates over numerous anonymous and non-anonymous networks (open source, written in Java)
  • Tribler — an open source anonymous peer-to-peer decentralized BitTorrent client
  • Umbra — an open source privacy platform built by the Shadow Project. Features an anonymous decentralized messaging system with private and group chat capabilities.
  • ZeroNet — a decentralized Internet-like network of peer-to-peer users. Allows tunneling of HTTP-traffic through Tor.
  • Classified-ads — a open source DHT-based decentralized messaging and voice app. Allows users to not expose any personal details but does not hide network addresses of nodes.

I2P clients

  • I2P — a fully decentralized overlay network for strong anonymity and end-to-end encryption, with many applications (P2P, browsing, distributed anonymous e-mail, instant messaging, IRC, …) running on top of it (free/open source, platform-independent)
  • I2P-Bote an anonymous, secure (end-to-end encrypted), serverless mail application with remailer functionality for the I2P network
  • I2P-Messenger an anonymous, secure (end-to-end encrypted), serverless instant messenger for the I2P network
  • I2PSnark — an anonymous BitTorrent client for the I2P network
  • I2Phex — a Gnutella client which communicates anonymously through I2P
  • iMule — an aMule port running under I2P network
  • Robert (P2P Software) — another anonymous BitTorrent client for the I2P network
  • I2P-Tahoe-LAFS — a censorship-resistant distributed file system for anonymous publishing and file sharing (open source, written in Python, pre-alpha status)
  • Vuze (formerly Azureus) — a BitTorrent client with the option of using I2P or Tor (open source, written in Java)

Defunct or dormant

  • Bitblinder (2009–2010) — file sharing
  • Cashmere (2005) — resilient anonymous routing
  • Entropy (2003–2005) — Freenet compatible
  • EarthStation 5 (2003–2005) — anonymity controverted
  • Herbivore (2003–2005) — file sharing and messaging. Used the Dining cryptographers problem.
  • Filetopia (1999–2002) — not anonymous but encrypted. File sharing, chat, internal mail service
  • Marabunta (2005–2006) — distributed chat
  • MUTE (2003–2009) — file sharing
  • Nodezilla (2004–2010) — an anonymizing, closed source network layer upon which applications can be built
  • OFF System (2006–2010) — a P2P distributed file system through which all shared files are represented by randomized data blocks
  • RShare (2006–2007) — file sharing
  • StealthNet (2007–2011) — the successor to RShare
  • Winny (2002–2003) — a filesharing software that was very popular in Japan

Private P2P clients

Private P2P networks are P2P networks that only allow some mutually trusted computers to share files. This can be achieved by using a central server or hub to authenticate clients, in which case the functionality is similar to a private FTP server, but with files transferred directly between the clients. Alternatively, users can exchange passwords or keys with their friends to form a decentralized network.

Private F2F (friend-to-friend) clients

Friend-to-friend networks are P2P networks that allows users only to make direct connections with people they know. Passwords or digital signatures can be used for authentication.

  • Retroshare — filesharing, serverless email, instant messaging, VoIP, chatrooms, and decentralized forums.
  • OneSwarm — a backwards compatible BitTorrent client with privacy-preserving sharing options, aims to create a large F2F network.

Hypothetical or defunct networks

Hypothetical

The following networks only exist as design or are in development

  • anoNet — extensible IP anonymizer with steganography support (in development)
  • Crowds — Reiter and Rubin’s system for “blending into a crowd” has a known attack
  • P2PRIV — Peer-to-Peer diRect and anonymous dIstribution oVerlay — anonymity via virtual links parallelization — currently in development and has significant, unsolved problems in a real world environment
  • Phantom Anonymity Protocol — a fully decentralized high-throughput anonymization network (no longer in development)

Defunct or dormant

  • Bitblinder — a decentralised P2P anonymity software program which included Tor but with increased speed. Website is down and clients are no longer functional.
  • Invisible IRC Project — anonymous IRC, inspired by Freenet, which later became I2P (Invisible Internet Project).
  • Mnet (formerly MojoNation) — a distributed file system

Anonymous P2P in a wireless mesh network

It is possible to implement anonymous P2P on a wireless mesh network; unlike fixed Internet connections, users don’t need to sign up with an ISP to participate in such a network, and are only identifiable through their hardware.

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