The Web Hidden On The Web – FreeNet

Guy McDowell 14-06-2013

freenet projectThis week it was officially announced that the United States National Security Agency (NSA) has been mining data from cellular service provider, Verizon. People were, and are, freaking out! How could the government do such a thing? What kind of totalitarian state are we really in?


Folks, there are those of us who have been trying to tell you this for years. Not just tin-hatters, but people who were a part of doing it, people who have had it happen to them, and people who had voted for, or against, the legislation to do these things. But our heads keep going back into the sand.

I’ll never understand how someone can deny that the government, any government, might be listening to everything we say and do, when there was a cover story article about it in Wired magazine, back in March 2012. Go read the article, The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say), then come back and find out what you can do to opt-out of Big Brother on the Internet.

FreeNet – The Other World Wide Web

freenet projectIn the not so distant past, a few people understood that the Web was going to become the largest communications tool ever imagined. The sheer volume of information that is generated and placed on the web everyday, is greater than all the information that existed in written form prior to 1800. Over 5,000 years of the written word could not equal what we publish in a day.

A great deal of that information is personal, and to a government that wishes to control its people, this is the greatest gift we could give them. Ian Clarke understood this and strove to create a tool that would have the functionality of the web, but with as much anonymity as possible. Thus was born FreeNet in the year 2000.

Historically, the FreeNet project has been known to those in the general public who even know about it, as a file sharing service. Kind of like Napster back then, or BitTorrent today. As a file sharing format it didn’t work very well. That is, it worked more slowly than the Napsters of yesterday or the BitTorrents of today. Those that saw it as simply a file sharing tool, left FreeNet, leaving behind not many people who saw it for what it truly is – liberated information.


How FreeNet Works – The Nutshell Version

FreeNet runs something like a cross between BitTorrent and a web server. It’s like BitTorrent in that little bits of the information are stored across the network of computers using FreeNet. If you’d like to know more about how BitTorrent works, we have an article on that BitTorrent & Magnets: How Do They Work? [Technology Explained] As we recently reported, The Pirate Bay has switched from using .torrent file downloads to magnet links with no opt-out policy. The tracker has offered magnet downloads for a good while now, but this is... Read More . No single computer should have the complete file, all of the time. This makes it hard to shut someone down for serving up information, because they don’t even know what information they have!

I could have 8 bits from a movie on my computer, but how could anyone know what movie? The 8 bits in itself is not useful information. However, when it is combined with the thousands of other little bits of information, it can become a useful file. Perhaps a recipe for cookies, or a song, or even communications between political dissidents. Even then, what information is on your hard drive should be encrypted. FreeNet recommends using TrueCrypt, however FreeNet also has the ability to encrypt the files it uses.

what is freenet

Where it’s like a web server is that it allows you to utilize the web to share information with others. For more on how a web server works What Is a Web Server? [MakeUseOf Explains] If there is one thing that causes the most confusion for people that are new to the web design game, it's the concept of a web server. When most people think of a "server", they... Read More , we also have an article on that. It does this using encrypted connections (nodes) that connect to other nodes on the FreeNet. This makes the usage of FreeNet hard to detect. It appears almost like normal web communications. You can make your server public, which is the least secure method, or you can make it private so that only people you want to access your files can even see that you exist. This is, of course, the most secure method.


what is freenet

If you’re new to FreeNet, you’ll probably use the Low Security setting of FreeNet. Then, once you find friends of a feather, you may start to migrate more and more toward the Dark FreeNet. Dark, meaning not highly visible. You and your friends can now openly discuss politics, religion, ecology, inventions, whatever! You can do so with a degree of certainty that no one really knows who you are.

In fact, this has made FreeNet the most popular web privacy tool in China, and several other countries with oppressive regimes. That is not to say that the encryption and methodology will provide perfect security. I simply don’t believe that exists. Where a person is smart enough to create good security, someone else who is smarter will come along and foil that security. Such is life.

One downside to FreeNet is that because of the security measures, it is inherently slower than your normal web browsing. Just remember that all those nodes that have the information you want have to be connected to, and all the information has to be downloaded and decrypted on your computer for you to make sense of it. Inconvenience is the price we pay for security. However, FreeNet provides you with information about how many nodes are connected and what your security level is, so you know what kind of speeds to expect.


what is freenet

FreeNet also estimates the download time and progress for each page you access.

freenet hidden websites

You can also chose to download the file in the background, and save it to a specific directory for later viewing. Or you can fetch the file, however it will only be accessible through FreeNet’s download page.


freenet hidden websites

 A Warning About Using FreeNet

Imagine a market scene like you might have seen in an Indiana Jones movie. People scurrying about, most of them just trying to make a living selling rugs or spices, but under the cover of the activity there are always those that are selling drugs or guns, or running gambling rings. There is a dark underbelly to the beast.

There is definitely this kind of illegal, and immoral, activity happening on FreeNet. Just don’t take part in it. Just like this kind of activity happens on the regular web that you use everyday, you just don’t take part in it and life is good.

freenet project

I believe that the more positive use of FreeNet there is, the less of the immoral activity there will be. The immoral don’t like being seen at all, and will scatter like cockroaches in the light, if more moralistic people are around them.

The Take Away

The regular web is a wonderful thing and useful beyond what we can even comprehend today. It is still in it’s infancy as a technology. Today, it is akin to the phone’s partyline, where anybody could pick up a phone and hear what’s happening to your great aunt Martha. Freenet is a step toward the privacy of having your own private phone line. The more people that use these private lines,  the more that the system will move to this privacy model. So use your party line if what you are talking about is of no significance, but pick up the FreeNet private line when you need to discuss things that really matter.

Have you used the FreeNet project before? Would you use it? Do you think it’s a waste of time for average folks? What other secure methods are there for communicating on the Internet? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in our comments section below. Just so you know, it is public.

Image Credit: Security Man via Shutterstock.

Related topics: Online Privacy, Online Security, Surveillance.

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  1. Uns3N50Rd
    June 19, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Check out the Bitmessage project at too

  2. Hunting.Targ
    June 18, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    I'm excited to learn about this, and will look into it.
    It bears mentioning that there was a debate in the early '90s as to whether there should have been public access to the 'intranet' standard (back when it was still called DARPANET or intranet). The favored minds that had access to this system were concerned that opening access to students would reduce the honesty and intellectual quality of user content. The more that learned about this 'special system', the more thought that is was 'unfair' and wanted to either abolish it or get a piece of the action.
    In those days, there were no privacy 'policies' or EULAs. There were no Terms of Service or Conduct Guidelines. That was when a college dropout named Bill was working out of a van, and two guys named Steve were making obscure discoveries in a garage workshop. It was a time when creation required self-discipline, and technology made those who learned to use it masters, not servants.
    Perhaps that time is coming again.

  3. Santhosh Sachithanantham
    June 17, 2013 at 7:39 am

    i think Tor for browser is enough as of now !!

  4. Kamruzzaman Chowdhury
    June 15, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Everybody should be careful that someone may spying on your activity on the internet. They don't care about our privacy over their security.

  5. juice
    June 15, 2013 at 4:30 am


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  6. Mila K
    June 14, 2013 at 11:28 pm

    What is the difference between this and the .onion sites?

    • Hyper Bunny
      June 16, 2013 at 7:05 am

      Not a huge difference, they're just regular sites. The only notable differences are that their addresses are a little unconventional, and the sites are distributed amongst many machines instead of being held by one server. Makes it much harder to take down a site if it's available in more than one location and you don't know where those locations are.

      Freenet has a sweet tool called jSite that allows you to upload your site with just a couple of clicks and gives you the web link to that site so you can share with friends. Very nice.

      • Guy McDowell
        June 17, 2013 at 11:35 am

        I think that's the key really. It's not just protecting the user as a browser, but also the user as a content provider.

  7. dragonmouth
    June 14, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    I know it is fashionable for just about everybody to dump on the United States for its alphabet soup of agencies, covert and open and how "evil" they are. Before you get too sanguine and a feeling of moral superiority overtakes you, you had better get off your high horse and realize (or admit to yourself) that all countries, especially the major ones, have analogous agencies, doing the same dastardly deeds as the American agencies. How many countries of the world have a secret police? A Ministry of Security? A Ministry of the Interior? Need I remind those feeling holier-than-thou about Stasi, KGB, MI-5, MI-6, Gestapo, NKVD, GRU, Cheka, Mossad and dozens of others? Better face it, bunky, your data is in your governments database.

    • Lavender
      June 14, 2013 at 10:13 pm

      Amen, brother.

    • Lavender
      June 14, 2013 at 10:20 pm

      "Folks, there are those of us who have been trying to tell you this for years. Not just tin-hatters, but people who were a part of doing it . . ."

      So, the "tin-hatters" were right all along but, somehow, they're still just nut-ball "tin-hatters"?! How's that work? Seriously? I mean, obviously, those nut-balls KNEW something that the rest of the sheeple didn't . . . but somehow they're still just nut-ball "tin-hatters".

      So, what do you call someone who's paying attention, and can connect more than two dots? Apparently, you call them a "tin-hatter". And God bless 'em all.

      • dragonmouth
        June 14, 2013 at 10:28 pm

        Just because one you're paranoid does not mean that someone is NOT out to get you.

      • Guy McDowell
        June 17, 2013 at 11:42 am

        Just so we're clear, that's what society calls them. By societies' standards, I'm a tin-hatter too! I wear that badge proudly.

    • Guy McDowell
      June 17, 2013 at 11:37 am

      Totally agree. It's topical to discuss the USA right now because of the news. Every country has its intelligence agencies, and all of them do unethical things sooner or later. That's just human nature.

  8. Totoliciu Dan Catalin
    June 14, 2013 at 9:11 am

    I have to see this...

  9. Esaure
    June 14, 2013 at 4:55 am

    NSA, the new cute (and most pronounced) name for CIA (out of US).

    Same crew, different name, CIA for foreign affairs and NSA for internal affairs

    • Guy McDowell
      June 14, 2013 at 11:52 am

      They sure do have a lot of 3-letter-organizations...CIA, NSA, FBI, IRS, ATF...and then there are the military intelligence agencies. Several per branch of their armed forces. And yet they still don't seem to have a clue.

      • Esaure
        June 14, 2013 at 6:35 pm

        CIA and NSA are the same spy, the other three letter organizations are different, IRS for taxes, ATF for alcohol tabbaco and firearms, FBI is like "nation-wide police".

        As dragonouth says, is wrong because US is covering worldwide and not every country have its analogous or counterparts that cover s up worlwide.

        Like an UK citizen (if im not wrong), once twetted something like "let's blow up the US" and when he went to the US in vacations he got sent back tu it's country when barely let the plane. The spyes took that words litterally, gimme a break!!!

        • M01ra
          June 14, 2013 at 10:45 pm

          If that Brit had been an *active* enemy combatant (they know who they are. And so does everybody else), he'd have been fine. Heck, we'd give him the weapons (Fast & Furious, anyone?) and the key to any major U.S. city he asked for!

          But no, he just spouted off a little bit (that's his right. At least, I thought it was, but being an American familiar with what's left of our Constitution, I could be wrong) and now he's persona-non-grata forever.

          Boy, do I feel safe! Everybody -- you guys feeling safer, now we know they're turning away allied citizens for spouting off, while leaving our borders more open and vulnerable than a submarine with screen doors? Yeah. I can sleep real well. Dearborn, MI is practically under Sharia law, but gawd darned, we don't have to worry about any opinionated Brits gettin' into our country. Whew. What a relief.

        • Esaure
          June 14, 2013 at 11:23 pm

          Feeling safe is a fake feeling and that is what those who spy on us wanted to.

          I remember when power went down at the south of the US by 3 or 4 hours month ago, everybody was in shock, everybody was talking about a terrorist attack.

          The answer is that people is not ready for many things, people were not ready for Sandy, they are not ready on the psychological side.

          Wont want to be tracked?
          The other option is to use TAILS.

    • Hunting.Targ
      June 18, 2013 at 6:34 pm

      "Nothing much ever changes. Same news, different names."
      -'The Black Hole'