Kirk Klasson

Anonymity… Ain’t What It Used To Be

Back in 2012 we published a post entitled The Apple of Sauron’s Eye expressing a growing concern over the warrantless collection of private communications by sovereign entities. At the time, a US government project called Windstar along with the construction of perhaps the largest data center ever built dedicated exclusively to the collection, storage and analysis of private, personal communication, had garnered the attention of near every industry analyst on the planet.

Recent events have only confirmed these concerns. Back in March, through the use of the Congressional Review Act, congress revoked an FCC regulation guarding the privacy of personal data collected by ISP’s. More recently we’ve learned that private citizens have been “unmasked” for political purposes, something we anticipated would be the inevitable consequence of this kind of shenanigans.

Back in 2012 we conjectured that the confluence of these events would cause a burgeoning demand for  “TOR in-a-box like anonymizing personal solutions”, things like Karma, Anonabox, Safeplug, eBlocker as well as many others, whose primary value proposition is to keep your internet activity away from the prying eyes of your local sovereign fascists.

Well, it seems that demand for “TOR in-a-box” solutions is picking up not just for individuals but for corporate use as well. Recently, research published by Market Resource Futures suggests that the over all demand for “anonymizing VPN technologies” is growing world-wide at a 13% compound annual rate and it is on track to reach $106B by 2022. Not too shabby for what just a few years ago was deemed to be something of an obscure cottage industry.


Screen Shot 2017-08-05 at 1.00.01 PM


It would be foolish to surmise that the growth in demand for these technologies have escaped the notice of Big Brothers everywhere who are busy strong-arming and black-mailing their way to back doors for all these solutions. So, the next phase of this market is likely to be some form of certification, providing proof that anonymity can actually be achieved, along with a hefty amount of consolidation as well positioned players seek to become dominant in their category or geography.

Until then you might still want to consider the cost/benefit of employing anonymizing technologies and what might be at risk if your ISP suddenly decided to sell your browsing history to the highest bidder or more likely gets hacked and then sold.


Wait a Tick….. Things Just Got a Lot More Interesting

If you follow this space, (and let’s just admit it, who wouldn’t want to follow this space?) and you haven’t heard of Orchid Labs, chances are you are about to. Taking aim at the $100b opportunity represented by the TOR-in-a-box/VPN/Anonymization market Orchid, with the release of a white paper this October, has put down a marker that has everyone taking notice. The scope of this project is unprecedented. It simultaneous seeks to solve network, routing, payment and security issues while at the sametime promoting a socio-economic incentive that may well cause its adoption to become ubiquitous if not down right viral. Its business ambitions might only be exceeded by the technical complexity it plans to resolve as part of its offer.

Orchid’s business model is somewhat unique in that it plans to be an Ethereum-based, “coin” operated network, more precisely protocol, where it controls the issuance of tokens that grant access to the facility. Users would subscribe by buying tokens that enable the use of the platform and also act as a means of exchange between participants that make use of it. Supply and demand would be marshaled through an Orchid controlled market which in turn would set the price for the exchange of resources consumed by those who seek to traffic the internet anonymously. Without getting into the technical weeds, a lot of the technology will be based on open source primitives. One of the key components will be the WebRTC protocol whose selection was, in part, predicated on the fact that it would render the traffic so produced indistinguishable from general internet traffic. A kind of hide-in-plain sight  approach to keep from prying eyes. Other components include a who’s who compendium of security and payment services the most notable of which is Ethereum. One of the keys to making this successful is to ensure that not only is the traffic anonymously passed between nodes on the network a al TOR but that the transactions that this technique produces, transactions that generate fees, will also be completely anonymous as well. This last bit is something that even Orchid won’t guarantee they have solved.

There are a bunch of other issues that Orchid cites but then doesn’t spend too much time exploring. Like performance. The technical complexity of this solution is down right daunting. And while the proof of concept reads well as a white paper, things might not be as rosy once they get stood up and scaled up. One of two things might happen: it might work or might just melt down and fall over. Wait and see.

One thing is certain, given the “key hole” blue print already provided by the white paper, governments all over the globe are looking for ways to break, hack, compromise or exploit this sucker. And China, not a fan of the whole crypto-currency phenomenon to begin with, has probably dedicated the entire computer science graduating class of 2017 to defeating this thing before it ever sees the light of day.

Until then, the one thing Orchid could fix right away is its logo. Fugly doesn’t even begin to describe it.


Graphic courtesy of NASA’s Hubble telescope; “The eye of god

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Insights on Technology and Strategy