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Hackers Unveil Veilid: A Privacy-Centric App Development Tool

A collective of hackers, identifying themselves as the Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc), has introduced an innovative open-source tool named Veilid. This development was showcased at the DEF CON convention held in Las Vegas on a recent Friday.

The cDc group has devised a coding framework targeted towards application developers who wish to prioritize user privacy and security while steering clear of ad-generated revenue based on user data amassed by most applications.

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According to reports by Engadget, Katelyn “medus4” Bowden, the leader of cDc, expounded on the group’s distinctive vision for the internet in contrast to its current reality. She emphasized, “We feel that at some point, the internet became less of a landscape of knowledge and idea sharing and more of a monetized corporate machine.” She further added, “Our idea of what the internet should be looks more like the open landscape it once was before our data became a commodity.”

The group’s initiative draws inspiration from existing free apps and services like Signal, renowned for its robust encryption for text and voice communications, and Tor, known for enabling anonymous web browsing by concealing user location. The novel undertaking, presented at the annual Def Con hacking conference in Las Vegas, strives to lay the foundation for messaging, file-sharing, and even social networking apps that abstain from data collection and rely on end-to-end encryption to counteract surveillance even by governments.

This innovative codebase, known as Veilid (pronounced as “vay-lid”), is intended for developers to craft applications for both mobile devices and the web. The core idea revolves around allowing applications to communicate with one another across the internet in a private and secure manner, avoiding reliance on centralized and often corporate-owned systems. Veilid equips app developers with the necessary code to integrate into their software, thereby enabling their users to join and engage in conversations within a peer-to-peer network.

Within this network, the Veilid protocol ensures that apps send fully encrypted content to each other. Drawing parallels with BitTorrent, a file-sharing software that concurrently shares different segments of the same content to expedite downloads, the Veilid network gains speed as more devices participate and distribute the load.

This system, integrating aspects of Tor and IPFS networks, primarily employs Rust, along with elements of Dart and Python. It allows diverse devices running apps to connect via Veilid without disclosing their IP addresses or locations to each other or the app developers, thus upholding user privacy.

Nonetheless, similar to other open-source projects, the principal challenge lies in encouraging programmers and engineers to dedicate time to crafting apps compatible with Veilid. While developers have the potential to generate income through these apps or ad sales, the absence of detailed user data hampers targeted advertising or marketing to specific user groups.

Veilid marks a significant release from the Cult of the Dead Cow, the oldest and most influential U.S. hacking collective, credited with coining the term “hacktivism” by combining hacking and activism. Originating as online storytellers in the 1980s, the group now boasts a roster of top cybersecurity experts who were among the pioneers alerting the public about software vulnerabilities and collaborating with vendors to address them.

Notable figures like Peiter Zatko, alias Mudge, part of this group, have previously held roles such as program manager at DARPA and security chief for Stripe, before taking on leadership positions in companies like Twitter.

Presently, cDc is focused on forming a community and foundation to support the Veilid project. Bowden emphasized that some may struggle to grasp their motive for undertaking this endeavor devoid of profit-seeking.