How Piracy Will Hyperlocalize with Mesh Networks

January 12, 2011

While I don't think a pirate mesh is on the near horizon, I do think
it's entirely feasible — and the easiest way to accelerate its arrival
will be to inconvenience piracy on the internet. Regardless, as a fun
thought exercise I imagine it'll happen like this:

1) Somebody packages up a software radio onto a convenient USB stick:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software-defined_radio

2) Because it's just software, the same hardware can be used for
essentially any wireless activity. First it'll probably just be a
universal wireless broadband card, with modules to connect to every
cellular network in the world. It'll start out targeted to travelers.
It'll also include GPS, AM/FM, wifi, and pretty much everything you
could want because, well, why not. It's software; it can do it all.

3) It'll be instantly "unlocked" by the open source community, assuming
it's not in fact built by said community in the first place:
http://gnuradio.org/redmine/wiki/gnuradio

4) A whole new generation of wireless protocol research will be
unleashed by universities and individuals alike, with a clear focus on
mesh technology merely because that's the new hotness.

5) To start, mesh software will just be run by a few crazy hackers as a
background process while using their universal wireless cards, which
they use because it's easier than dealing with wifi. Node density will
be low and largely limited to toy apps like chat, single file transfer,
etc. More in the vein of being a proof of concept.

6) There will be some place where a critical mass of node density
occurs: probably a university with a combination of a strong engineering
school and overzealous network administrator. It'll always be possible
for one person to get a torrent off the real internet, but then the rest
of the dorm will get it via the mesh.

7) The next semester, students who don't really have any idea about the
mesh or have any interest in a universal wireless device will realize
"if I just buy this thing and let some dude install software on my
laptop, I can get a ton of great content without risk of detection by my
university." The device's main purpose will gradually transition away
from its advertised and intended purpose, and repurposed by pirates.

8) This will slowly, quietly grow. The hardware manufacturers will
initially be totally unaware, but gradually adopt a policy of "don't ask
don't tell". More and more students will sign up. As people go home,
students who got their content from the device won't even know how to
share it without the device; they'll convince their friends to buy it
just so they can easily share the content while home on break.

9) The software will get better and better. Torrent apps will
auto-detect if the device is there, and will try to pull from it first.
The torrent protocol itself will adjust to pull from nearby mesh
neighbors. Gradually, piracy will go hyperlocal.

10) The hardware will get better and better. All laptops will come with
this built in, because why have a dedicated wifi card (or Sprint card)
when you can have a single universal card? Why have a card at all when
it can be done as part of the main chip? After all, it's just software
— CPUs run software too.

11) At some point Apple really starts to take notice. Apple products
will recognize a "neighborhood" network that operates across the mesh —
like Bonjour on steroids. It advertises its security and speed
advantages over "the internet", which gradually becomes used exclusively
for what it's good at — moving data over incredible distances under
watchful eye of the state — versus the mesh, which is for small
distances with anonymity.

Something like the above *will* happen. It's inevitable. It's not even
that creative. And it'll probably happen sooner than we expect. Sound
unlikely? Remember those researchers that cracked GSM at the CCC 2
weeks ago? They did it with "Universal Software Radio Peripheral"

http://www.zdnet.co.uk/blogs/security-bullet-in-10000166/gsm-crack-inexpensive-says-researcher-10021405/

You can buy one at http://www.ettus.com/ And yes, it plugs in via USB.

-david

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