In a previous article, we explored what it meant for a user to be perfectly anonymous and discussed technologies which have been developed to attempt an approximation to user anonymity. In this article, we consider what it means for a file to be anonymous.
Vital Characteristics of a (hypothetically) wholly anonymous storage system:
- Not even the owner of a file(s)1 knows its locations2 (on the web or elsewhere e.g. a hard drive)
- 1 file(s) -the original unified file exists – in so far as it exists as a file at all3 – stored in multiple copies across the ‘virtual world’
- 2 locations – in one sense the file does not exist3 as a file anymore, it is ‘minced in a grinder’ and dispersed in small packets all over the place around the ‘virtual world’
- A file then is ‘diced up’ into shards4
- 4 Shards is the technical term given to the marmalised pieces of the file, Shards usually also contain a mix of marmalised pieces from other files belonging to other users of the anonymizing system.
- Before being diced into shards a file whilst still integral is encrypted. It is encrypted again when it is diced up into pieces – each piece is encrypted by means of an individually differing encryption key5. Diced pieces are conglomerated with other diced pieces (also similarly encrypted) of other anonymised files. The resulting mash then, comprises shards which are yet again encrypted individually in differing encryption keys
- 5 Encryption keys – the idea of a cryptographic key is analogous to a physical key like one that turns a lock on a door. Only the owner of a file will have in view that cryptographic key which releases access for him to his file. It takes the visual form of an alphanumeric hash; or alternatively, a very strong key would comprise a binary permutation in which certain component items of the binary permutation are not shown to the file owner, but which act with the parts of the key that are shown collectively to open the file for his access.
A storage approach having all these characteristics would be as near as is earthly possible to absolute anonymity of placement for a given file.
There have been attempts to approach to this level of storage anonymity. The chief techniques which fall into this category, in order of primacy as I see them, are:
I want only to note here how far ahead of the other techniques Storj appears to me to be; so far ahead of the second placed Tahoe, and so much more fit for purpose.
What I’d like to talk about now is just how a powerful anonymity for file storage can and probably will change the art of doing piracy out of all recognition. We’ve already noted that the very concept of a file being located anywhere in virtual space in any meaningful sense will become absurd. It exists as fragments bound up with other fragments under a labyrinth of encryption that approaches being a magic spell. It seems clear to me that any attempt to identify a person or entity which has actual access to such a file is equally a waste of consideration. Even whom it is who transforms, transfers, or shares this kind of a file becomes an equally ludicrous question to pose.
The only person who is able to delete such a file stored in this way is the person who owns it; that is, the one who has access to the hash of the encryption key which is able to retrieve the file whole again.
Now Storj and other products mentioned here have not been made as intended for use in piracy, they can be and are and are intended for general usage, and for many things which are innocuous and within the law: in the same way that, say, a DVD rewriter drive is made for such daily purposes. Looking at this practically however it is hardly conceivable that these products will not be used in piracy and in other below the line uses. And so how does this scenario pan out for piracy and the pirating of software and other goods?
Propagating and hiding and placing them beyond the arm of the law or of anyone else will make pirating goods become for a user fantastically simple and fast. The problems concerning jurisdictions that plague would-be enforcers of anti-piracy at the present time become exponentially compounded. Who or where is the jurisdiction that can task criminals who hold among a motley assortment of nations, discrete melds of assorted fragments of a software app in an assortment of geographically located hardware? (and software?)
Interjurisdictional policing is fraught with difficulties in even the non-virtual physical world. Absolutely no law enforcement is practically possible.
The law in general itself, ever slow to act and lagging so far behind technological events, in its nature will not be able to protect Intellectual property holders. This technology is the very definition of “disruptive technology.” The requirement for instance for having infringed a copyright requires generally that a ‘significant portion of a work’ be in unauthorised possession as copied before the law will be invoked against a possessor. How can a happenstance possessor with a few encrypted shards or fragments on his hard disk, or a fortuitous site owner with a couple of megabytes in her possession be said in any way to be in possession of ‘ a significant portion’ of an app or a plugin?
Such possessors of fragments would be unawares of their having possession of them, so that a problem arises about ‘their standing under the legal concept of ‘guilty knowledge’. And even if they were aware they were in possession of such fragments, they could have no possibility of knowing what are in those fragments? Looking fundamentally, whereabouts might an anti-piracy investigation begin, when there is no evidence, no clue, to the fact that a person somewhere carries on him an encryption key to a pirated product? This key, even were it spotted somehow or other, by an enforcer, it could be said by its owner to be ‘the cellar’ or ‘the shed’ or ‘the garage’ key – and is the law able to force him to open it up for inspection without enforcers having any other indications that point to his criminality?
Furthermore, a futuristic successor to a system like Storj, one which might come close to this sci-fi scenario, would be likely to be adopted widely within civil private industry. Its powerful economic value in efficiency savings and its potential for higher profit capability insist on its adoption. Such dispersed and ‘invisible’ storage indubitably will be so much more fantastically powerful than any other technology we presently have.
What remains to be done so as to make this thread of technology some of the most effective and world-changing is a need of developing efficient and speedy means for alerting parties interested in the sharable content to the existence of the pirated files. The hiding away of them is so good that it poses a serious problem for revealing their means of retrieval (sharing) to others who want them!
In our next article we delve into the linchpin of piracy: distributing and sharing information about pirated materials.