“Internet” Without Infrastructure – Part 5, by R.H.

The Postmaster network

Postmasters, of course, will be able to communicate through this network between themselves and share information. In this way, they will know the health of the network in various areas. They will be the first ones with the most knowledgeable about encryption and programs that are available. At first, many Postmasters may not know much about encryption or how to use the tools, but they can learn about it and even share copies of the software through the network. As soon as most Postmasters have mastered it, they can start providing encryption as a service across the network.

If the network gets overloaded, they can set up subnetworks to take some of the load. They can help set up private networks for groups that need them, using separate pouches if necessary but sharing the same protocols, transfer routes, and personnel. As with almost anything, there is always a danger of politicization, which much be guarded against.

Sabotage

An important duty of all Postmasters, and actually anyone using the network, is to be alert for sabotage and do everything possible to prevent it and minimize any damage.

One simple way for the system to be sabotaged would be for some “Evil Postmaster” to intentionally make some alteration on the contents of all files in his pouch, rendering them useless, and then to transfer the pouch to other Postmasters. Any of the files that had already existed in their unaltered state on other Postmasters’ pouches would be okay, because existing files are not overwritten during the swapping protocol, but any files that were only in the “Evil Postmaster’s” pouch and any that are new to the other Postmasters would be passed on in their corrupted state. This could be detected quickly by other Postmasters, if they were in the habit of sending encrypted messages between themselves, because they would discover the corruption of their messages. Once detected, they could make an effort to quarantine the corrupted files by not passing them on.

In a more advanced scenario, once Postmasters have become more experienced, they would be able to proactively detect corrupted files by using specialized software to compare the contents of messages with the same filename. Unless files have been intentionally corrupted, the contents will be identical except in very unusual cases. In this case, it may be possible to detect that the files have been corrupted but not possible to tell which of the two copies is the “real one”. In this case, both the good one and the bad one can be passed on if the postmaster adds an additional character to the end of the filename. The receiver will then have to determine which one is right. If he has used encryption, this will be easy, because only the real one will decrypt successfully.

In general, Postmasters should have a good understanding of how the network operates and be on the lookout for problems. When a pouch comes in from another community, he should know what to expect in terms of the quantity of new messages. If it’s a lot more than what he expected, he should at least be curious about it and try to understand what’s going on. He might want to ask the other postmaster if he knows why there were so many. This will help him better understand the workings of the network and puts him in a much better position to notice suspicious activity. He needs to be and act much more like a sentry than a post office employee.

Even in the face of some sabotage, however, most messages are likely to get through. This is because of the redundancy of the system. The more postmasters there are in the network, the less damage that a saboteur is likely able to accomplish. If senders send multiple messages, and preferably send them through multiple postmasters, most are likely to get through.

There are other ways that the network can be harmed, such as attempting to flood the system with large numbers of false messages, or sending very large files by breaking them up into many little files. These things can be detected and thwarted using methods such as those described above.

A basic kit of software tools and instructions that any Postmaster may need should be included on each pouch or in a separate pouch. This should include (but not be limited to) the following:

Postmaster Toolkit:

  • This document and text copies of the linked material as well as additional information on encryption and security.
  • PGP tools
  • ZIP tools
  • VeraCrypt (another advanced encryption tool)
  • File shredding tools
  • File search tools
  • File directory comparison tools
  • File management tools
  • Custom Postmaster tools (yet to be developed)
  • All of the above for as many platforms as possible, including Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, IoS (Apple Mac, iPhone, and iPad).

Note that although a toolkit would be a great boon to the Postmaster network, it also opens us up to one of the most dangerous forms of sabotage that could occur. The tools themselves could be sabotaged or replaced with counterfeits, which would appear to be operating normally while actually leaving “back doors” open. This would not be easily done, but it could be, and I would not be at all surprised to find out that certain government agencies or even some advanced terror networks already have counterfeit versions of these tools at their disposal. Viruses could easily be placed in any of the tools, which could be devastating. There are solutions to all of this, both highly technical and otherwise, but it is something that Postmasters need to be constantly aware of.

The above toolkit, once standardized, should be packaged in an encrypted file (possibly using VeraCrypt) and signed with a known public key to help ensure its authenticity. However, even this could be faked, unless some method of certifying public keys (without the Internet) is used. See the document referenced above on how PGP works for more information on certification. There are certainly challenges ahead, but until the Postmaster network has become knowledgeable enough about encryption and skilled enough to use the tools effectively, we don’t want to make things so complicated that we discourage the growth of the network in the first place. It needs to be simple to begin with.

The level of security discussed here may or may not be something we actually need today, but it may possibly mean the difference between life and death in the future. Especially in a time of war, we will need to stay two steps ahead of our enemy. These are extremely powerful tools and, combined with good operational security, they should be an important part of our arsenal.

The more diligent, innovative, and coordinated the Postmasters are the better the system will work. If the network of Postmasters were to become power hungry or corrupt, they would likely find the current system too “loose and unstructured” for them, or they would start describing it as dangerous. Soon it would start to look like some sort of government bureaucracy. When this happens, it may be better to just start building and using a separate network.

Summary

As I said early on in this article, it is inevitable that people, faced with a collapsed infrastructure, will start transferring messages using SneakerNet. It is also certain that people will collaborate on the transfer of files in some way. Some type of network will come into existence. By using the key points of this article, a much, much simpler and more effective network can exist. One last time, the key points are:

  1. Each message is stored in a separate file.
  2. The filename of each message is the unique identifier for that particular message.
  3. The first part of each filename contains a unique identifier for the recipient of the message or the name of a site or blog, while the remainder of the filename consists of additional characters to ensure that the message filename itself is unique.
  4. Messages, named as described above, can then be combined, recombined, copied, and shared over and over again, without the need for special tools.
  5. Using very small, inexpensive, portable storage devices with very large capacity (stock up now!), these messages are easily spread far and wide.
  6. When the network eventually fills up in any given area, large files are purged first. When there are no more large files, old files are purged. Both of these operations can be performed without special tools.
  7. If problems occur, sub-networks, separate private networks, trusted networks, and whole new networks can be set up almost instantly using these same techniques, allowing the system to be partitioned or “reset” in any way and at any time that people see fit. Nobody owns it.
  8. Encryption of one sort or another is the only way to prevent others from reading your messages, to verify the authenticity of a received message, and to ensure that it has not been altered. Everyone is in charge of their own security; ignore this fact at your peril!

There is much more to be said about how this system can be used, ways it could be sabotaged, and how to prevent that from occurring or fixing it when it does. Additional techniques, methods, and protocols will be developed and improved over time. Software applications and tools could simplify the work of a Postmaster enormously, but this will be easier if they are written and distributed before TEOTWAWKI. With fairly simple, specialized software, pouches could be merged with the click of a button. However, all of the basics of how to handle files have been covered here. Prepare, stock up, spread the word, and practice! If the infrastructure comes down before you are ready, at least keep these principles in mind and start finding a way to create, gather, and transfer files as described.

One more note: If this type of communication ever becomes “illegal”, know that you are already living under martial law, and if you start hearing a lot of talk about how the network is being used by “terrorist groups” (either the ISIS type, or the Constitutionalist type), and so it needs to be “clamped down” or “regulated” or “controlled”, just realize that just means that someone doesn’t like free communication for their own reasons. This is potentially a very powerful medium, and that power could be used for good or evil. Naturally, we will do everything we can to prevent it from being used to forward evil, but that’s the best that can be done. I think we can do a better job of keeping it in the right hands than some faceless government agency would be able to do. We can do it without completely destroying the power and freedom of the medium; I very much doubt that “they” can. Even if they were to try, this medium really can’t be controlled. All you would have to do is start fresh and learn from what happened before.

To free communication!

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