Decentralized VPN – Zero Knowledge Systems v2.0

Before there was TOR there was Zero Knowledge Systems, they were a privacy network that let you set the number of hops you’d like to make before exiting as well as a simple system to manage multiple online identities. Sadly, they were not a commercial success, but they were an early cypherpunk company.

There is a now an open source project that hopes to bring a privacy VPN to the market using cryptocurrencies to pay for the solution. Mysterium just did an ICO (initial coin offering) arnd raised over $14M USD for development.

This is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it is a direct throwback to a late 90’s failed cypherpunk idea. The question is are there now enough privacy conscious people out there willing to pay for such a service? If there are then maybe this time will be different.

The second is that they are going head-to-head with a free service that is trying to provide the same benefits. From their competitive matrix it seems their belief is that by putting an economy behind this they will be able to provide a faster service that TOR.

It is certainly true that TOR is slow, but the question is will be people willing to pay for privacy, especially if it is on metered usage instead of a flat fee. I’d be skeptical since I think the cognitive overhead of micropayments is why they haven’t been adopted and this feels similar to me. Anytime I have to think about whether or not to use a service it creates barriers, this is why most VPN providers have some sort of fixed pricing model, at least for “normal” usage.

This is one of those time I hope to be proven wrong. I’d really love a decentralized VPN to get wide scale adoption. Once I get my new high speed FIOS connection this month I may even try to run a node for a while to get a better feel for the project.



  1. That’s super interesting. I’ll try it in a VM later this evening when I get home.

    I’m still super paranoid about running as an exit node – I wish there was a better way to protect people at the last hop. You can explain to law enforcement what Tor is until you’re blue in the face but that won’t stop your personal assets from being seized. Now there is an additional complexity in that this is even more obscure than Tor.

    • Yeah, it’s a jurisdiction issue. I think the clever thing to do would be to run an exit node in a jurisdiction that you won’t be going to. For example, the US probably won’t extradite you to Moldova, and you’re not likely to want to go there. So host an exit node on a machine there. If you’re interested I’d go halfies. 🙂

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