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Substratum is the answer to everything (not) →

November 27, 2018

David Petersson for Forbes:

Substratum has used this technique to penetrate China’s Great Firewall. The platform splits transmitted data into several parts and forwards them via nodes, using artificial intelligence to find the fastest routes. Combined with encryption, this creates a secure and uncensorable connection without using VPNs or Tor.

Substratum hasn’t “penetrated” anything except the net worth of their SUB token investors. Regarding China’s firewall, they’ve found a temporary loophole which anyone with an installation of OpenVPN or ShadowSocks on an unblocked IP address can take advantage of.

Combined with encryption, this creates a secure and uncensorable connection without using VPNs or Tor. “Our plan is to implement a term we call masquerading. We encrypt and wrap data into transactions that look similar to other patterns of web traffic,” explains Justin Tabb, the CEO of Substratum. “As we move further we will have more and more masqueraders in the hopes of never being identifiable.”

In the Substratum ecosystem, “masquerading” is just a fancy buzzword that doesn’t actually mean anything once you realize IP discovery can occur internally on the network. VPN and Tor traffic can be identified externally through data packet analysis. If Substratum’s masquerading works, data packets won’t be identifiable externally. However, the IP of the next-hop node can be easily extracted and blocked via a firewall. Presumably, the node would then ping the network to connect to another node on the network. Rinse and repeat until all the IP addresses on the Substratum network are blocked.

Putting this system on the blockchain actually plays a crucial role. Eventually, VPN hosts are limited and costly. Tor is free of charge but the only incentive for anyone to use it would be anonymity. Blockchain, on the other hand, flips the entire equation. Here, the nodes can actually earn income by sharing their network. For instance, Substratum implements a model where you pay for content based on “clicks.” This decentralized version of the web empowers the nodes instead of the centralized players and has the potential to bring net neutrality back.

Substratum’s faux-censorship resistance properties aren’t derived from blockchain. Instead, Substratum will only use the Ethereum network to process payments through its utility token, SUB. In general, I think processing micropayments is a valid use case for cryptocurrency, but it’s unclear to me how the economics of Substratum’s network will play out when considering the Ethereum network’s variable gas fees and lack of scalability. Lastly, Substratum doesn’t “bring net neutrality back”. As I said earlier, the IP addresses of every node on the network could potentially be extracted and blocked, which effectively kills the product’s use case.


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