Autonomous Data Networks and Why The World Needs Them

Photo Jingyi Wang

At MaidSafe we talk about the SAFE Network being ‘autonomous’, but what does that really mean? The phrase is something that we are becoming more familiar with, as we hear talk of autonomous vehicles and autonomous robots; as such we probably have a grasp of the underlying concept that autonomous machines do things for themselves. But how does this relate to data and why should we even care?

In simple terms it defines a network that manages all our data and communications without any human intervention and without intermediaries. In an autonomous data network humans take on a new role, we become the definer of rules and protocols that instruct the network on how to manage our data.

The SAFE Network

In practical terms, an autonomous data network is one that configures itself. All data on the network is automatically split into chunks and encrypted (utilising self-encryption) before being stored at random locations selected by the network. Resources are not added to it by an IT administrator; instead nodes join the network anonymously, and are split into small groups at random without any central authority. Each node performs a number of different and clearly defined tasks. These groups, we call them close groups, change as nodes disconnect from and reconnect to the network. They work together making decisions (such as where to store data, who has authority to access data…etc…) on behalf of the network based on the messages they receive. The more technically minded can read in depth about that here.

The network also optimises itself by creating more copies of popular data increasing its availability in order that data requests are served more quickly. This feature also enables SAFE websites to actually speed up as they get more visitors. This is very much contrary to the status quo where we have become accustomed to websites slowing down, or even crashing in severe circumstances under the weight of user requests. Should the network split for any reason, for example through loss of power, it will merge as power is restored, and it will correct faults, such as detecting corrupt data chunks and automatically replacing them with good copies as a result of the networks ongoing data integrity checks.

Remove the middlemen

This design sounds complex, and at the implementation level it is, the dark bags under the eyes of our engineers are testament to that fact, but at a high level it is simple. An approach inspired by the humble ant whose millions of years of evolution influenced the network’s design. Ant colonies exhibit complex and highly organised behaviour without a central authority based on a simple rule set whereby each ant fulfils different duties based on the needs of the colony. Similarly, nodes (computers) on the SAFE Network function in a similar manner where network nodes perform different functions based on the types of messages they receive.

The ant colony shows us that this self managing and self organising behaviour is possible on a massive scale. But why should we try and emulate ants and remove central authorities from the management of our data? Surely for something as important as this, humans are required to oversee operations?

Photo David Higgins

Well, for a start humans are, well human. At our best we are creative, brilliant and passionate, but at our worst we get tired, emotional and we make mistakes. Many data breaches are caused by human error and attackers rely on human interaction to carry out attacks. Researchers at security company Rapid7 found a substantial decline in security alerts on weekends and public holidays which they attribute to less employees interacting with malicious emails, attachments, links and websites. This is in part a result of a lack of training and awareness, only 20% of companies provide cyber security training to their staff, and only 33% have formal policies in place to guide employees.

Human error has also played a significant part in problems with Silicon Valley’s best known companies. In 2011, developers at cloud storage provider Dropbox introduced a bug that left their 25 million client accounts unprotected for 4 hours. Dropbox were subsequently alerted to the problem by an external security researcher and fixed the authentication issue.

Late last year Twitter deleted the account of their CEO Jack Dorsey who lost 700,000 followers in the process citing an ‘internal mistake. Around the same time Facebook deleted posts addressing fake news by their CEO Mark Zuckerberg in error.

While the irony of these incidents can be amusing, they do expose a more serious issue. Not only are humans prone to mistakes, it also highlights that we are afforded access to our accounts and our data by the service providers. We do not really own our information in the true sense of the word. Access to our own data can be removed at any time by the providers either mistakenly or at the request of others.

Physical Security

Physical security plays a hugely important part in all of this. This is one of the major features that an autonomous data networks provides. In data terms, physical security is where the data cannot be: deleted, changed, corrupted, and/or accessed without your (the data owner’s) consent. Only by removing humans from the management of our data can physical security be provided, and is only possible when the storage locations are unknown to anyone but the network, and the user cannot be identified.

Any service where data is stored on servers, federated servers, owned storage locations, or on identifiable nodes, cannot ensure the security of data and brings us no closer to real unfettered ownership of our data. This also includes blockchain based solutions.

The SAFE Network provides physical security by ensuring that only the network knows where the data is and only the user can access it. Even MaidSafe staff don’t know who is on the network, where they are based, what has been stored and where the data is located. SAFE users make a deal with the network and only the data owner can delete or modify the original piece of data with the network verifying who has the right to access each piece of data.

Autonomous things are already starting to have a huge benefit across a number of industries and we are just scratching the surface in finding out how they can positively impact upon our relationship with our data. Rather than making data more secure, the human element unfortunately has the opposite effect and can lead to data loss, theft, inaccessibility and a fundamental lack of ownership.

SAFE Network Alpha 2 (The Authenticator) Launch Announcement

Today we are excited to be releasing the next major milestone in the roll out of the SAFE Network, Alpha 2 – The Authenticator.

This latest step is a culmination of a significant amount of hard work from the MaidSafe team, and much testing from the superb SAFE Network community. The result is a new network access control mechanism, the Authenticator, which enables users to securely authenticate themselves onto the SAFE Network, while protecting their network login credentials from apps.

Bundled with the SAFE Browser, the Authenticator supports Windows, OSX and Linux, and as many will have seen from last week’s update, now also supports Android, with iOS support in progress. As we mentioned last week, the intention with the mobile example apps is to confirm mobile platform support, we will provide the docs, tutorials and APIs that mobile app developers would expect in due course.

The desktop version of the SAFE Browser will come with two tutorial applications. The Web Hosting Manager and SAFE Mail. These apps will be familiar to those who have taken part in recent test networks. The Web Hosting Manager allows users to create their own public ID, and upload and publish content instantly. SAFE Mail provides end to end encrypted email using the public key of the recipient to encrypt the message.

The two Android applications provided with this release are the Authenticator, and SAFE Messages, an example application that demonstrates end to end encrypted mobile email.

As has been the case with more recent test networks you will be required to obtain an invite code in order to participate in this Alpha. In order to do this you will need to have a basic user account on the SAFE Network forum. For those new to the SAFE Network and the forum, the following link tells you how to get this. This measure is in place to prevent the network being flooded with data prior to the network being fully featured.  

As you may have noticed, the installers for today’s release are on our new web page (we hope you like it) and tonights forum post contains a full breakdown of information relating to this release. We hope you enjoy using Alpha 2 as much as we enjoyed creating it!

SAFE Network: Mobile Tech Preview

As MaidSafe continues its progression in the role out of the network, we have hit another important milestone that we would like to share. We now have SAFE mobile applications, running on Android and iOS, and today we have released some demonstration apps to showcase this progress. iOS requires some code updates and app certification to be ready for user testing and is currently limited to testing via the iOS simulator.

It is important to note that these apps should be considered as a technology preview, a very useful proof point for us that the SAFE Network accommodates mobile devices. This is the culmination of several changes that have been made over the past 9 months, including a new data type and a new access mechanism, in the form of the ‘Authenticator’. In time we will provide mobile developers with the tools and documentation that they would need and want to start developing SAFE mobile apps. In the meantime, please refer to today’s dev update for instructions and requirements for running these apps for yourself.

The Authenticator
The first of these applications is the Authenticator. This is the focus of the imminent alpha 2 release and the mechanism by which users securely access the network, while maintaining control of each SAFE applications access to their data.


SAFE Messages
The second application is a stripped back and simple mail app. It provides end to end encrypted messaging that uses the public key of the recipient to encrypt the message, ensuring that only the recipient can read its contents.

Alpha 2
The mobile tech preview comes at an exciting time in MaidSafe’s development roadmap, a welcome lead into alpha 2 which we will be releasing next week, on Thursday the 21st of September. This latest alpha will incorporate the Authenticator, a new SAFE Network access mechanism that is network enforced, and as you can see from today’s announcement mobile friendly. We look forward to providing more detail next week.

At MaidSafe, our development approach has been different to many other projects in the space. We have focussed on the hard problems first. This is not a criticism, just recognition of a different approach. Rather than putting out a network that gives little thought to the security of the data on it, or ignores the issue of how it will scale to millions of users, we have prioritised finding solutions to these big questions up front. This may create the appearance that we are moving slower than many of the other larger infrastructure projects in this sector, but in tackling the more challenging issues from the outset, in a methodical and transparent way, we anticipate being well placed to provide the decentralised infrastructure of the future.

Beyond a copy of the Internet.

This is a repost of a piece that David wrote on his own blog on the 6th of September 2017 exploring some of the use cases of the SAFE Network.


We know Artificial Intelligence (AI) is coming, we see the Internet of Things (IoT) happening.


We know trains, planes and automobiles will become autonomous. This is not news. We know data is key to modern industries, we know robots will communicate, we understand and accept securing all of this will be a nightmare. The consequences of failure could be cataclysmic. I will refrain from inserting the obligatory terminator graphic here.

We also know that companies, projects and devices need to not only communicate, but they also need to share information securely. This is another issue. If nobody, including the NSA, GCHQ, Governments or large tech companies can secure the information, who can? Not only that, but the holder has a wee bit more power than they should, especially if they control access. If it’s given to third parties to control, then it gets much worse.

We need a way to…

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SAFE, use case. Honest data networks

This is a repost of a piece that David wrote on his own blog on the 21st of August 2017.



Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Initially this “use case” is more like a “reuse case” to solutions that some blockchain based projects have promoted or implemented. This post will not name or directly criticise any project in the space, innovation is innovation and will always improve. We need to take step one, but we need to realise it is the first of many. I hope this post also encourages more people to dig a little deeper into this important area.

This first case I would like to discuss is where projects use a public ledger (blockchain) and claim to “publish” data and ensure its integrity, meaning it cannot be removed, edited or ignored in the future. This notion has also slipped into “private ledgers”, but in a very curious way. Let’s take a moment to explore the conundrum that covers many cases in today’s blockchain based projects.

Secure document…

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Data is the currency, literally!

This is a repost of an article that David wrote on his own blog on the 15th of August 2017.


Photo by Freddie Collins on Unsplash

In the last post, I discussed “the impossible network“, an autonomous network designed to protect the worlds people and their data.  Before moving on to use cases for such a network, I thought it required a little more clarification.

Many people have said that sounds like project … (insert many blockchain products that store data), however I think this could not be further from the case.  SAFE is an autonomous network for a start, I do not think any other project that manages private and public data claims this (private means it must provide some method of self authentication), but would love to hear of any that did. Never mind one with an inbuilt incentive mechanism.

The currency on such a network would obviously be data, but I do not mean that in some abstract sense, I am literally stating the currency…

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The Impossible Network

This is a repost of a piece that David wrote on his own blog on the 12th of August 2017.



In recent weeks and months, the MaidSafe team have been very quietly progressing something quite amazing.  The dedication and commitment of the team is admirable, but the task is so great that we forget how huge the prospects are. Not only that we also at times forget to talk publicly about it. This will change I am sure, but in this personal blog I do intend to get the message across and try to really explain the potential here, it is quite astounding and can change our world, but it needs better understood, even by early adopters.

The Back Story

We have had several discussion in house recently about the SAFE network or the MaidSafe design. These discussion are surprising, we are thinking about what we are offering, not the vision, not the design and not the roadmap, these don’t change. The issue we have been discussing is one of…

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