During the Second Iraq War, Chelsea Manning used the Tor anonymization service, among other things, to send around 750,000 sensitive government documents to Wikileaks. 12 years later, the US whistleblower wants to help develop a modern gateway that is easier to use and better shields personal traces on the Internet. The activist envisages a "cryptographic protective shield" that will provide "maximum" protection for users' privacy.
Safer than Tor
Manning recently joined Nym Technologies, a Swiss-based startup, as a hardware optimization and IT security consultant. Tor anonymizes users through multiple layers and jumps, adding virtual noise to the network, the former US Army analyst explained Monday at a panel discussion at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). Nym is also designed as such a "Mixnet" and Virtual Private Network (VPN), but will be "more difficult to deanonymize".
"Cryptography is like a safe," said the 34-year-old, explaining the initiative. You can break them open, the time required for this is getting shorter and shorter. "We need to build a more complex vault," she concluded. The almost four-year-old company wants to "use the technology that we will have available in the next few years". It's about creating a "privacy-friendly browser experience" and building the encryption technology directly into the Internet infrastructure.
The mathematician Harry Halpin, who researched for the web inventor Tim Berners-Lee at MIT between 2013 and 2016 in the field of standardization of cross-browser cryptographic solutions, founded Nym in 2018. Manning is now to ensure that the previously with several thousand nodes in the network tested service will be "faster, more efficient and more secure". For this purpose, the use of special hardware is being tested on various important computers in the data transmission architecture.
Part of the planned mixnet uses a blockchain-like database technology in the form of a "distributed ledger", the IT expert revealed. This is what the token-based reward system for comrades-in-arms who shoulder "large amounts of network traffic" is based on. At the same time, there would be no incentives to mine digital coins like Bitcoin: "It's more of a public service than a cryptocurrency." The tokens could only be used for very specific, network-related purposes. They would be generated "energy-efficiently and in an ecologically sensible way".
According to Manning, Nym should be just as easy to use as a VPN service. The user only has to download an app that works directly. It shouldn't be necessary to understand the technical background. The fact that encryption is currently considered complicated "is the fault of the technicians". It is their responsibility to program solutions that can be used at the push of a button. However, many developers still followed the line of the data octopuses, according to which personal information was a commodity and could be collected without any problems.
Maning at the show
"Nym wants to become more independent, more decentralized," praised EPFL professor Carmela Troncoso, who played a leading role in developing the DP3T open tracing protocol for Covid apps. It also helps here at the protocol level in order to keep the load as low as possible. In contrast to Tor, the new infrastructure should be easy to integrate into other applications. Complete anonymity will certainly not be achievable here either. However, users should be able to "split" identities online just as they can in the offline world: "That makes us free."
Protection against censorship
Manning is also not concerned that Nym could make crime-fighting much more difficult. According to her, anonymity is a philosophical concept. No one who participates in the universe can claim them fully. In addition, with digitization and the data collection associated with it, there have long been "more and more monitoring options". However, the Nym developers reckoned with the capabilities of autocratic regimes such as China and armed themselves against censorship efforts.