Shielding mesh networks from prying government eyes

Posted by Trent Nouveau

Employing a mesh network configuration allows users to form their own networks without a centralized infrastructure - making them inherently resistant to censorship, surveillance and disruption.

As Julie Samuels of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) notes, given recent revelations showing widespread surveillance of the phone calls and online activities of innocent Americans and others around the globe, the development of mesh networks is now more important than ever.

"For more than a decade the open-source community has been developing networks that use multi-hop connectivity to bypass the current ISP-dominated model of Internet access. These Wireless Mesh Networks (WMNs) have tremendous potential for enabling the free flow of information without exposure to censorship and monitoring," she explained.

"Because they lack a central access point, mesh networks are also harder to take down, as the removal of one node won’t terminate the entire network. And WMNs, by not relying on infrastructure provided by ISPs, can provide connectivity in areas where that infrastructure is inaccessible, damaged, or prohibitively expensive."

Unsurprisingly, there has also been significant proprietary and military interest in WMNs, with companies seeking patents in many areas already explored by the open source community.

"We unfortunately know what can happen when overbroad patents get granted—the rise of patent trolls, lawsuits that can threaten growing businesses, and threats that target entire areas of technology. We don't want to see that happen to mesh networking," said Samuels.

As such, the EFF is partnering with Ask Patents so volunteers can help the organization identify the best prior art to reign in these applications.

"Working together we can protect the mesh networking community from overbroad, illegitimate patents that threaten to stifle innovation and access to technologies that preserve personal freedoms," she added.

Want to help? You can view the relevant patent info here