Russian censorship could not stop Tor VPN, Snowflake. Now it is expanding as a Snowstorm.

As protests and unrest increased in Russia and Iran over the past year, authoritarian regimes have sought to crack down on civilians’ internet access. These efforts have not been entirely successful, thanks in part to anti-censorship tools like the anonymous web browser Tor.

For years, Tor has been a thorn in the side of censorship rulers looking to prevent their citizens from freely accessing the internet, but the Russian and Iranian governments have learned of its weakness and have been successful in it. blocking direct access to the Tor network at certain times.

But unlike other services blocked by these governments, Tor has been implemented in conjunction with the Snowflake traffic threading engine, allowing its network to work in the face of censorship efforts.

The creator of Snowflake, who knows only the one-word name”Serenity(Opens in a new tab),” told Mashable in a phone interview that she expected the tool to be “useful for people who need it,” but didn’t anticipate how important her “great prototype” would be. when it was first integrated with Tor years ago.

“It turns out that last year Putin invaded Ukraine and blocked the Internet, blocked all VPNs, and the only thing that worked was Snowflake,” she said.

Now, the creators of Snowflake are forking this technology to create a standalone VPN-like service called snow storm(Opens in a new tab) aimed at expanding open access to the internet.

Snowstorm officially launches this week, although it’s a private beta that requires an invite. The company also announced that it received $1 million in funding, which was used to form a team of full-time developers.

Snowstorm VPN

See the interface when users connect to Snowstorm.
Credit: Snowstorm

Serene, now also the founder of Snowstorm, said: “I don’t think our Internet today is doing what it should do for humans. “The internet was originally a tool for me to learn things, grow as a person, become the best version of myself, and I want to protect that for everyone.”

Why Snowstorm is not like other VPNs

ONE VPNor Virtual Private Network, basically a service hide user identity and active on the internet while they browse.

“A VPN is just someone else’s computer that you connect to before you connect to the Internet,” explains Serene. “You’re getting some privacy but the point is these VPN services… are just servers in different places. The location of those computers is public information. And so, any state actor can certainly easily intercept all those targets.”

Snowstorm VPN

The main use case of Snowstorm is pretty obvious when opening the app.
Credit: Snowstorm

This is why Russia and Iran can censor these VPN services, but not Snowflake.

What makes Snowflake different is what it includes: “temporary, temporary, decentralized proxies,” says Serene.

As Serene explains, Snowflake is powered by a number of volunteers in free zones from around the world who come together to help people in censored countries. Volunteers only need to open a browser tab and their internet connection is added to the volunteer connection pool as a temporary proxy, helping Snowflake users connect to the internet. To protect volunteers, Snowflake users connect to the Snowflake proxy via a Tor input node, meaning that the volunteer’s ISP never sees the user’s web activity and the user never accesses the computer. of volunteers.

If a volunteer closes their connection, the code simply passes the user’s internet session to another Snowflake volunteer.

Snowstorm VPN

Snowstorm has been used by volunteers and censored users worldwide.
Credit: Snowstorm

“So instead of just having a centralized place where the VPN is being run, like all these temporary proxies coming in and out, this makes it very difficult for a country to stop,” says Serene. “Putin can’t stop it.”

Snowstorm takes this service and gives it a big upgrade. The system has been completely rewritten for Snowstorm and users can connect directly without using Tor (Snowflake will continue to be available to Tor users). Serene tells Mashable that Snowstorm is much faster than Snowflake. For example, with Snowstorm, users can stream high-quality YouTube videos, which is not possible on Snowflake.

Serene is realistic about Snowstorm’s current location. After all, Snowstorm is currently only in private beta, and there are still rounds of testing, additional upgrades, and audits to go through. Over the phone, Serene talked about the promises of encryption and “military-grade” security that so many security companies have promised but failed to deliver.

However, Serene knows what Snowstorm’s abilities are. Aside from the most extreme measure of taking a country completely offline, the technology that powers Snowflakes and Snowstorms has so far not been surpassed by any dictatorship.

“I do not directly guarantee any particular level of privacy, and I do not want to overstate the privacy advantages of any particular technology,” explains Serene. “But, the guarantee here is that we can circumvent the censorship.”


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