Internet is great, but it goes down. Disasters, government interference, and simple technical difficulties often fell on the most powerful communication tool ever created. One man wants to change that and is building what he calls the “preparatory version of the Internet.” It’s called the Reticulum Network Stack and is designed to exist alongside or on top of the traditional Internet.
Reticulum is intended to be a streamlined communications tool that can be rapidly deployed in the event of a systemic telecommunications failure, with minimal push and a strong focus on encryption and privacy. Everything is built on the foundation of an entirely new protocol that claims to be more resilient than IP, or Internet Protocol, which is a set of software rules that govern the flow of information on the Internet.
“There are a lot of fragmented solutions and limited tools out there, but in reality, what was really missing was a complete communications stack designed to be used by regular people with no centralized coordination of any kind,” explained the Reticulum designer, who goes by the name “unsignedmark ”. in the reddit thread announcing the project. “A system that would allow anyone to easily build secure and resilient long-range networks with simple, readily available tools. Systems that would work and allow secure and private communications even when [shit hits the fan.]”
unsignedmark is Mark Qvist, a computer engineer who has spent his life building and managing computer networks. “I ran a small-scale rural ISP at one point, bringing high-speed Internet service to one of many areas that had been completely neglected by the larger service providers,” he told Motherboard. “While it definitely wasn’t the most profitable thing in the world and it was pretty hard work, it was also very rewarding and an incredibly fun learning experience.”
Reticulum can work with just about anything, including the little raspberry pi zero. According to Qvist, people with minimal telecommunications and computer skills could set up a long-range messaging system for their community in about an hour using Reticulum, communicating through any number of available channels with their network peers.
“Do you want to extend it to the next city by VHF radio?” Qvist said on Reddit. “If you already have a modem and radio, it’s 5 minutes to set up. I really tried to make this as flexible as possible while still being very easy to use if you have a bit of computer and radio experience.”
Qvist is not the first person to create a community-oriented Internet replacement. In New York City, the new york mesh The project is building a mesh network that offers broadband to people across the city. But what qview is building is different. While many mesh projects exist to ultimately connect users to the regular internet, Reticulum is designed to be a support in an essentially post-apocalyptic scenario. It is built with encryption and privacy in mind, is open source, and is primarily designed to route digital information between peers without going through a server or service provider.
“Reticulum is an effort to build an alternative base layer protocol for data networking,” Qvist told Motherboard in an email. “As such, it is not a single network, but a tool for building networks. It is comparable to IP, the Internet protocol stack, which powers the Internet and 99.99% of all other networks in the world. In essence, it solves the same problems that the Internet protocol stack solves, getting digital data from point A to point B, but it does so in a very different way and with very different assumptions.”
“The real strength of the protocol is that it can use all kinds of different communication media and connect them in a coherent mesh,” he added. “You can use [long-range] transceivers, modems, ham radio, ethernet, WiFi, or even a roll of old copper wire if that’s what you have.”
For Qvist, circumvention of central control and privacy are just as important as resilience to disasters. “Without such an effort, our communications infrastructure (even if it runs entirely on private overlay networks) will always be at the mercy of various control complexes,” he said. “The power to simply disconnect the entire civilian population of an area from the Internet, for example, is readily available and has been exercised many times.”
It is his dream that people adopt Reticulum and use it to build networks on top of existing structures.
“We don’t just need one big network, built as an overlay on the Internet, we need a multitude of networks and we need to connect them in myriad ways. We need thousands of networks without automatic switches or control mechanisms, and we need to unite them, both across the Internet, around it and outside it,” he said. “We need a Hypernet that is constantly transforming and evolving, reconnecting, recovering and developing itself. We need to give people the tools to build their own networks, anytime, anywhere, and to connect them to each other as they see fit, without arbiters, gatekeepers, or outside control. The internet is great, but we need a lot more than one of them.”
Qvist said that Reticulum is in its infancy and needs help developing and improving it. In fact, the project’s documentation states that it hasn’t been externally audited for security assurances, and “there could very well be privacy-breaking bugs.”
“There may be security issues that have not yet been discovered, although great care has been taken to make it secure from the ground up, something IP is not,” he said. “Because it’s a completely different protocol stack than IP, which is used by almost every other networking software in the world, you can’t run existing applications on Reticulum. New software needs to be written that uses Reticulum instead of IP, and at this point the amount of such software is very low.”
The crosshair is available through by Qvist github. There is a Handbook which can help new people to start working with the project. “While it’s still in its infancy, it shows promise, and now I’m pretty confident it can mature into the powerful tool I envisioned it to be,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot more work and effort, but at least it’s constantly moving in the right direction.”