Did John McAfee just outsmart the NSA?
John McAfee, the infamous creator of McAfee antivirus software, has announced he will release a router that allows users to avoid the spying eye of the U.S. National Security Agency, Techworld reported.
Unlike traditional routers, the pocket-sized device, called D-Central, will not automatically connect users to the Internet. Instead, it will create an encrypted network with a range of about a few city blocks (or a quarter of a mile in rural areas). These routers can link up with one another and, in doing so, form a sort of decentralized, off-the-grid network.
“Everyone’s network is unique to themselves. It doesn’t ask who you are, it doesn’t even know who you are,” McAfee said at the C2SV tech conference. “There is no unique identifier for your device that is constant, every few minutes it changes.”
The approach is similar to the DIY “meshes” that have been popping up around the world for the last decade. For example, in Athens, Greece, citizens have begun mobilizing cheap, rooftop routers to create off the grid networks. In many ways, McAfee’s D-Central, set to cost only $100, is a more organized, standardized adaptation of this trend.
“I’ve been thinking about this product for years,” McAfee said at the conference. “The NSA helped create every single encryption algorithm we use and therefore can get access to whatever they want… We live in a very insecure world with a very insecure communications platform.”
Since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked a trove of confidential surveillance documents this summer, the world has learned of the agency’s pervasive Internet spying capabilities. Among the many revelations to come to light, we now know that the NSA taps directly into the Internet cables of major telecoms, penetrates the encryption schemes protecting much of the data passed across the Internet, and leverages secret court warrants to obtain private user data from Silicon Valley companies like Facebook and Google.
Increasingly, these revelations have shown that privacy on the global Internet may be impossible. McAfee, like the off the grid Internet pioneers before him, may be offering the only feasible alternative.
"It looks like this is definitely something that could be physically built, but whether anyone would want it is another question," Matthew Green, an encryption expert at Johns Hopkins University, told Mother Jones.
Indeed, for such alternative networks to be of any use, a large number of people (in close geographical proximity) would need to buy into McAfee’s vision.
To that point, recent polls indicate that more than 60 percent of Americans are against the NSA monitoring their emails. But whether or not that discontent will convert into action is a larger question about NSA spying that still remains unclear.