MaidSafe New Team Member: Dug Campbell

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Photo by NASA on Unsplash

As we hurtle towards the end of 2017, it’s time to take stock. And the verdict’s in: it’s been a crazy year in the world of cryptocurrency. But thankfully, in most cases, that’s crazy-good, as opposed to crazy-bad. That’s certainly the case for me personally at least. And this is why…

Back in January 2014, I organised the first Bitcoin Meetup in Scotland. As I wrote at the time, it felt like a bit of a leap of faith. Not in terms of the organisation (thanks to Meetup). But because the prevailing view amongst those few who’d actually heard of this ‘magic internet money’ was that the whole thing was a scam and destined to end in tears.

Whether real or perceived, it crossed my mind that there might be a reputational risk in becoming so deeply involved as an organiser. I don’t consider myself risk-averse in any way. But as someone who had enjoyed/endured a legal career of more than a decade, I’m hardly the best person to judge. After all, the risk of loss-aversion has well-known effects on decision-making.

But try as I might, I couldn’t get past one simple fact. I’d spent many months by that stage falling deeper down the proverbial Bitcoin rabbit hole. Late nights wrestling with explanations about the technology, engaging with the economic implications, debating the future potential and limitations. To me, it was clear that change – at a fundamental, disruptive level that would resonate across multiple areas of everyday life – was coming. And yet, as far as I could make out, no-one in Scotland had got together in a room  to discuss what was going on. The decision was made. I might be left sitting alone in that pub one evening – but surely there had to be others out there.  

The story of how the scene in Scotland developed after that first meetup (for which, to be clear, I claim no credit!) is an interesting one. But it’s not the focus here. Nor is the purpose of this post a chance for me to say ‘I told you so’ when we look at Bitcoin in 2017. I believe Bitcoin remains a technology in evolution with an indeterminate end state that has plenty of room left to run. The key thing here is the paradigm shift that’s taking place.

But that very first night in Edinburgh was important for another reason. I’m still in contact with many of the people that I met for the first time that night. But undoubtedly one of the most impactful conversations I’ve had was with someone who’d been one of the first to sign up for that meetup – a guy called David Irvine, who travelled all the way across from the West Coast of Scotland, from an outfit that went by the name of MaidSafe.  

I’d tried to research everyone who’d signed up before the meetup. Not in a creepy ‘let’s-track-you’ kind of way. But in a ‘let’s-build-the-community’ kind of way. I wanted to help people to keep the conversations going after the event. And I have to admit, my feeble brain had struggled to understand what MaidSafe did before the Meetup. But that changed when I spoke to David on that evening. And I was dumbfounded by the fact that a project with such huge ambitions and such far-reaching implications was taking place pretty much under my nose in Scotland.

Since that time, I’ve been heavily involved in the Bitcoin/blockchain scene, particularly in Scotland. But I’ve always been convinced that something big was happening in the mythical shed in Troon. Throughout my travels, I kept pointing people in the direction of the SAFE Network and discussing what it represents. That included asking Nick (Lambert, COO) to give a talk when I put on the Scottish Bitcoin Conference in 2014, running a Maidsafe-focused meetup and also sharing in the rollercoaster excitement of the MaidSafe fundraising in April 2014.

Fast forward four years and I’m delighted to say that I’ve now joined MaidSafe full-time as Marketing and Outreach Coordinator. Most people who start at a new company talk platitudes about their new employers. But you’ll have to take my word for it in this case. I’d continue to sing the praises of the SAFE Network even if I wasn’t working here.

This is why.

MaidSafe’s mission is no less significant than building a new secure network that will revolutionise the way that every one of us uses the internet. Many years ago, David had worked out that we collectively needed a better solution. And MaidSafe is in good company, with none other than the inventor of the web, Tim Berners-Lee, sharing similar concerns. In fact, Tim is working on addressing the same sort of issues with his Solid project at MIT

Over the past couple of years, the problems of data storage and security have only worsened. The concerns so presciently raised by MaidSafe eleven years ago have intensified in the collective awareness of society. We now see daily examples of sensitive personal information and data being hacked or misplaced by third parties. Arguments over privacy and net neutrality dominate the news. And new concerns over the excessive power wielded by giant internet companies are raised daily.  

In short, as the internet has increased in importance to our daily lives, so has the visibility of its major flaws. And crucially – these aren’t issues that will simply solve themselves. We can’t sit back and expect things to improve. Technologies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum have helped to bring the benefits of decentralisation to the forefront of discussion. And even amongst those who remain cynical, few still believe our current architecture remains fit-for-purpose when it comes to the next few decades of human evolution.

In addition to playing a small part in helping to build a solution to a problem that increases with each passing day, there’s another big motivating factor at play for me here. With the emergence of MaidSafe so early in the chronology of recent events, I believe that many over the past few years have simply not had the opportunity to spend  the time to find out what the ultimate success of this project represents. I’ve been a member of MaidSafe’s forum (https://safenetforum.org/) since it was set up (not by the company but by enthusiasts around the world, it should be noted) a few years ago – and I’m constantly bowled over by just how engaged, respectful, intelligent and enthusiastic this community is.

Over the past few years, I’ve given many talks on Bitcoin and the blockchain scene in general. But the reality is that my advocacy has always been a response to the level of community engagement out there. The more people that found out about the subject, the keener they were to explore further. The similarities to me are striking. Today, I don’t think most people are aware that the SAFE Network project has been active for eleven years. Just let that sink in for a moment. Pre-Bitcoin. The project even had a prototype crypto-currency before Satoshi’s White Paper. As I said at the start, in the context of 2017, the SAFE Network is so far from being a hyped product it’s not funny. But it’s clear to me what the SAFE Network is: an open-source project that’s open to all that invokes a passion and belief in a community who are all driving in the same direction.

Remind you of something?

As I start working with the team on a unique project, I can’t wait to get out and do my bit. I remember a comment David made years ago. It was along the lines of “It doesn’t matter who achieves our goal in the end – but it does matter that someone does”. Joining a team that have been toiling away at some of the hardest technical challenges out there for over a decade – for the most part entirely unheralded and under the radar – there’s no doubt in my mind that that’s going to change soon. And I can’t wait to get started.  

If you want to get in touch and have a chat, please reach out. I’m pretty active on Twitter (@dugcampbell) or you can sign up and speak to thousands more via the forum (https://safenetforum.org/). In the meantime, we’re looking for some more people to join us at MaidSafe – so if you’re a UX/UI Designer, Software Support Analyst or Testing & Release Manager and fancy joining the team, please get in touch! 

SAFE Network Autumn/Winter 2017 Update

It has been a busy few months with the SAFE Network, we have had updates on the Network, the APIs and Browser as well as internal changes here at MaidSafe.  

As we continue to grow we have taken the decision to open an office in India.  As we already have a number of key front-end developers in Chennai this new office space will allow us to further develop this team and enabling greater internal collaboration. Being based in  the technological hub of Chennai will help us attract some of the best talent as well as interact with other tech firms, industry events and meet-ups.  We have found a great space in an IT business park which can house up to 30 staff, primarily the front end team.  Renovations and design of these premises is set to be completed by late January 2018. This is a very exciting project and we will be sharing pictures of the office, the renovations and updates on the forum.

As many of you who follow us on the forum and social media will know we have been experiencing some big changes in Scotland too.  We recently moved from our previous office in Troon to a new place in Ayr.  Although this is not a big move geographically it is a bigger and more comfortable space which we hope will allow us to continue to grow both the operations and development teams.  In October we brought onboard a Digital Marketer to help us improve our market presence and marketing strategy.  Alongside Nick, Sarah has been developing the near term marketing strategy; there is a focus on increasing our brand awareness, educating people about the network, improving the understanding  of Safecoin and its unique features, as well as showcasing the world’s first and only autonomous data network to a wider audience.

In line with this Nick has been busy promoting the network from Glasgow to Google. We attended and spoke at the  Scottish Blockchain Meet up in early November in Glasgow.  There was a strong turnout and some very interesting questions and discussion.  If you would like to join the next meet up, keep an eye on our Facebook. On 30th November Nick headed to Dublin to give Google an introduction to the SAFE Network.  Employees from across the globe joined the meeting through a video conference and many more watched the video subsequently.

To maintain the momentum, the marketing department will be further strengthened by Dug Campbell later this month. Dug has worked for a number of leading technology companies including Sky Scanner and MiiCard and has been an advocate of Bitcoin for a number of years, organising Scotland’s first Bitcoin conference in 2014 and speaking about it later that year at TedX Glasgow. With a wealth of knowledge and experience Dug promises to be a great addition to the team.

We are also now recruiting for a number of other roles in our Ayr HQ.  We continue to  look for a UI/UX Designer, Software Support Engineer and a Testing and Release Manager. To start a conversation and join this exciting journey email outreach@maidsafe.net

There has been extensive updates across the network recently and the team are continuing to make strong and consistent advances.  Since the release of Alpha 2 in mid-September there has been a number of test networks and key updates and changes.

Following the release of Alpha 2 there has been two new SAFE Browser releases, V0.7.0 and V0.8.0 both of which made incremental updates and fixed bugs. Following extensive discussion across the dev teams and community it has been decided that a custom Browser should be created following the reorganisation of Beaker since our fork that has made maintaining our current browser difficult.  While we did consider other browsers including Firefox and Brave the work-around were too extensive.  We are therefore creating a Electron-based browser and a Proof of Concept is currently in external testing. This pre-release can be downloaded here.

There has also been updates to the SAFE Apps Nodes.js and SAFE Web APIs following changes to the SAFE Client Libraries. SAFE App Nodes.js has been updated to take advantage of the master branch of the safe client libraries. Further to our commitment to open source and community focused development Nodes.js allows everyone to develop self-contained web apps in Javascript. The DOM API has been updated to reflect changes made in app nodes, this will reduce the number of handles the DOMS API need to expose and will simplify the web apps code. We hope that these changes will improve the developer experience.

The next big challenge for the team is the creation of data chains and we are now nearing the final stage. As you may remember from our previous blog, data chains allow the network to republish data if it should ever lose power.  We have begun coding the features to better express the fundamental and continue to test the design. These designs will be incorporated into the alpha 3 release.  A deeper dive on the data chains design is available here.

In Crust the p2p library integration is almost complete.  This will move reliance away from the slow and unfriendly peer to peer world of TCP and provide more reliable NAT traversal. Integration is a significant step towards a secure multi-protocol, randomised port encrypted network library which will be a great help to many projects, and offer greater security and privacy for users..

We once again want to thanks the SAFE community for your continued support as we work to create the SAFE Network and the levels of data privacy and security you all deserve.

The MaidSafe team.

 

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.

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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 https://metaquestions.me on the 6th of September 2017 exploring some of the use cases of the SAFE Network.

Metaquestions

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

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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 https://metaquestions.me on the 21st of August 2017.

Metaquestions

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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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