July 15, 2004

Geek Night Time Terrors

Posted at July 15, 2004 11:36 PM in Technology .

The strangest things occur to you when you're falling asleep. This is a thought series that I had last night as I waited to drop off.

I started to think about using encrypted NNTP servers as a mechanism for non-email-list-based secure communications (and a storage and conversation mechanism that didn't use a web server). I then thought about ways to encrypt the session by having a tool similar to PGtGM that acts as a local NNTP gateway for your news client. You speak to it via localhost and it has an encrypted backchannel to the server. The question that came immediately to mind is whether using some kind of public key crypto at both ends would be good for this as well, rather than something weak like SSL.

In the light of day, after I woke up the next, the immediate question did arise of "Why not build a webserver and use SSL but that seemed to have its own special issues and problems. The advantage of NNTP servers and the like is that NNTP is a relatively simple protocol and there are numerous different sorts of backends for it. For a web-based solution, you'd have to use some off the shelf discussion board and file hosting system and then hope no one cracked your server or SSL in general. Then you'd have to get a certificate for SSL.

Of course, I did wonder if this sort of thing would be a good modified Freenet application. Could you host some kind of store and forward messaging system with Freenet? This led to thoughts, probably prompted by my recent looking at Bittorrent, about whether there is a way to do the whole backend as some kind of distributed store, which is what Freenet is really for. Rather than having one NNTP server backend, have some kind of data store with your newsgroup/discussion/comment system and whatever files you are wanting to store. You would want some kind of access controls and level of administration though.

What prompted this kind of thinking? I'm involved in fairly heretical, by many standards, spiritual groups. Sure, this is America in the 21st century and no one gives a shit really but 100 years ago I might have been hounded out of job and home in places for what I believe, say, practice and teach. Similarly, some of the other groups that I've been involved with in relation to Burning Man and other activities aren't always socially on the up and up. Having some kind of private discussion and file sharing mechanism that is off of the public radar on some kind of Darknet with the nodes composed only of your krewe and friends seems to be a dandy mechanism for things.

Of course, I don't have the coding ability, right now, to write this sort of thing off-hand but if I can PM it, I can probably pick it up otherwise. I suppose I can have my geek card back for a little while if this is the way my thoughts run when I'm not pondering the nature of Samsara or summoning Goetic demons.

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