SAFE Network: Can Cryptocurrency Power a Secure Network?

In the beginning, there was the Advanced Research Projects Administration (ARPANET), a packet-switching network started in 1969. ARPANET is notable as the first network to implement TCP/IP, which essentially makes it the Daddy of the internet.

Over the past few decades, the internet has grown in complexity, with TCP/IP now linking networks of devices across the globe. Industrious tech pros have leveraged the technology to build all kinds of vital services, including email and FTP.

For all of its benefits, however, the internet is also a place fraught with danger from above and below. Hackers have gotten quite good at stealing the information of millions of people; at the same time, governments have become equally adept at digitally spying on citizens’ emails, phone calls, and browser histories. The advent of artificial intelligence (A.I.) and machine learning will only accelerate these threats, especially when it comes to techniques such as cracking passwords.

In light of those dangers, it’s no wonder that many people are looking for safer alternatives to “regular” connectivity. Enter the SAFE Network, now in alpha, which is built on three concepts: storing data remotely, sharing it via P2P (peer-to-peer), and using cryptocurrency as “fuel.”

The idea isn’t new: a decade ago, NetAlter took a similar approach. There’s also the much-publicized Dark Web, accessible only to Tor browsers. It’s an open question whether SAFE’s method of doing things can go mainstream.

Why is SAFE Network Different?

SAFE is short for Secure Access For Everyone, and qualifies as “darknet,” or a network accessible only with certain software and authorization. All data is fully encrypted and shared via P2P, supposedly with 100 percent data integrity. Data isn’t stored in one place, but in 1MB-size chunks spread across multiple servers (with redundancy). It’s fully decentralized so your data can’t be removed (except by you, of course).

Distributed hash tables (DHT) manage the location of data across SAFE networks, grouped into sections that contain multiple vaults. (A vault is software running on a node (i.e., your device) that manages encrypted chunks of data locally, and communicates over the internet with other vaults.)

To access your data, you log on anonymously with client software that uses public key infrastructure. The client does not connect directly but via a proxy so that vaults never see the client IP address. (I’m guessing vaults must run in a sandbox; you don’t provide identity details, just a public key to gain access.)

But that’s not all: SAFE has a built-in incentive: a cryptocurrency, Safecoin, that is designed to incentivize developers and other players on the network. However you interact with the SAFE network—whether debugging code, building applications, or providing unused computing resources—you have the potential to earn some Safecoin.

What I don’t get is that users have to pay in Safecoin to store data; this is balanced against generating Safecoin. No prices for data storage have been released yet, and I think this is a tough problem. Presumably there has to be a surplus of Safecoin produced by those who offer storage resources and deliver data, but not too much or the system will be out of kilter.

The rate at which Safecoin-farming attempts are given out depends on a farming_rate variable, which is adjusted to keep free space on the network around 30 percent. When free space drops below 30 percent, the rate goes up to encourage farmers to allocate more storage space. When there’s more than 30 percent free space, the farming_rate decreases.

A 4.3 billion limit on Safecoins suggests a future cap to the size of the SAFE network. Once all Safecoins have been generated, presumably the farming_rate goes to zero.

Farming Safecoin

If you know anything about cryptocurrency, you know that Bitcoins are generated thanks to your machine running billions of calculations; if you’re the first to solve a particular problem, you earn a Bitcoin. As mentioned above, Safecoin is more task-oriented: you’re rewarded with farming attempts, which are validated requests to a random Safecoin address; if no Safecoin exists at that address, one is created for you (if an owned Safecoin exists at that address, the attempt fails). Anyone who satisfies the bandwidth and reliability requirement can become a farmer.

Encryption

The system uses multiple layers of encryption; you can’t even determine whether chunks stored on your device are from your files. As mentioned previously, files larger than 1 MB are broken down into chunks of 1 MB; that includes the hash of another chunk from the same file, almost like a Blockchain. The client retains the keys, so no keys or passwords leave your device. You can make your files fully public by sharing the keys needed to decrypt them.

The API

The good news for developers is the API, which features support for Node.js, JavaScript and C#. Public data can be read without connecting via a limited API (the application has to be logged in to access the full API and to modify data). There are already a few apps for SAFE, and once you’ve signed up (it’s free) you can develop your own apps and also create websites.

Conclusion

SAFE is an interesting idea, although I’d imagine some in law enforcement, copyright law, and three-letter agencies are wary of a system that lets people communicate and exchange files anonymously and untraceably. It’s a sophisticated darknet, one that hopefully won’t be overshadowed by its own cryptocurrency.

The project is at alpha stage two (out of four) and there’s a roadmap for development. It’ll be fascinating to see how this pans out. Although Safecoin doesn’t exist yet, there’s a proxy token called MadeSafeCoin that will be exchanged on a 1:1 basis when it does; you can buy these now from a number of exchanges.

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