Have you ever imagined what it would be like if the Internet allowed you to use it in total security? If you are a person who loves things like freedom and liberty, or if you are a political activist looking to avoid persecution for expressing your beliefs, it might be more desirable than ever today. It seems the list of entities looking to spy on you, usually illegally, is growing on a daily basis.

What if Internet spies were no longer a problem because the Internet itself were encrypted to protect user’s privacy? You’re not alone in wondering how to make that happen, and it may now come to pass in the not-too-distant future under the name of HORNET.

Tor’s Faster, Younger Brother

Many people are familiar with the “Onion browser” called Tor. Used by over two million people daily, Tor has been helping people use the Internet in a more secure and less compromised fashion since 2002. If you want maximum security for your surfing activities and information, Tor is your best play, to this point.

However, the problem with Tor is its speed, or the lack of it. It is generally slower than the going rate in Internet performance, and it's slow enough to dissuade many from using it as their primary browser.

But what if Tor were as fast, or faster, than any other browser you could use? HORNET looks to become Tor 2.0 and get security-minded users up to speed. Instead of a cadre of new technologies, HORNET represents an evolution of current technologies, while upgrading browsing to the current levels of the rest of the Internet.

HORNET stands for High-speed Onion Routing at the NETwork layer. It is the creation of lead researcher Chen Chen of Carnegie Mellon University, along with Daniele Enrico Asoni, David Barrera, and Adrian Perrig of the Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, and George Danezis of University College at London.

The goal is for the browser’s performance to easily surpass anything Tor can manage network-wide by many magnitudes of scale while being just as secure. The 15-page white paper for HORNET, released on July 21, can be viewed in its entirety here.

The white paper explains.:

“[HORNET is] a system that enables high-speed end-to-end anonymous channels by leveraging next generation network architectures. HORNET is designed as a low-latency onion routing system that operates at the network layer thus enabling a wide range of applications. Our system uses only symmetric cryptography for data forwarding yet requires no per-flow state on intermediate nodes. This design enables HORNET nodes to process anonymous traffic at over 93 Gb/s. HORNET can also scale as required, adding minimal processing overhead per additional anonymous channel.”


Enabling privacy, freedom

This level of cryptography built into the future of Internet browsing can have wide-reaching global ramifications for both the freedom of Internet users and the so-called security of nation-states. Nations approach communications and security based upon the lowest-common-denominator, wanting everyone to not operate above that when it comes to user privacy.

Now, nations have restricted the use of websites of subjects considered taboo by the government, like Bitcoin in Russia. Such petty local restrictions, again, many times illegal in nature, can be circumvented by the user anonymously. With an upgraded Hornet browser, in theory, these national issues can be worked around effectively to allow freedom to information for users that may not otherwise be available.

Also, sharing information about crimes, illegal activity, or corruption, a la Edward Snowden versus the NSA, via WikiLeaks, becomes less of an issue of access and dissemination. Fear of retribution for sharing information may become a thing of the past.

"Recent revelations about global-scale pervasive surveillance programs have demonstrated that the privacy of internet users worldwide is at risk," the group at HORNET reveal in their findings. "To protect against these and other surveillance threats, several anonymity protocols, tools, and architectures have been proposed. Tor is the system of choice for over 2 million daily users, but its design as an overlay network suffers from performance and scalability issues: as more clients use Tor, more relays must be added to the network.”

The next step could be peer review to substantiate the group’s claims and testing, though the amount of time needed to complete this is unknown. Remember, Bitcoin was also just a 9-page white paper back on November 1, 2008 and “went live” on January 3, 2009, just as a point of reference. Suffice to say a new standard in Internet security and user protection is in the works, and as this story progresses we’ll keep you informed.