Skip to main content

Hackers Launching Satellite to Evade Internet Censorship

What do you do when Hollywood and the government team up to enforce censorship on the internet with the likes of SOPA and Protect-IP? Launch another government-free internet, of course.

During the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin back in August -- an annual hacker conference sponsored by the German Chaos Computer Club -- a team of German hackers revealed plans to launch their own communication satellites into space in order to create a separate, "uncensorable" network called the Hackerspace Global Grid (HGG).

"The first goal is an uncensorable Internet in space. Let's take the Internet out of the control of terrestrial entities," said activist Nick Farr.

According to the report, the team will start by launching three prototype ground stations in the first half of 2012, and then launch at least one satellite into low orbit to communicate specifically with those stations. "It's kind of a reverse GPS," explained Armin Bauer, an HGG participant. "GPS uses satellites to calculate where we are, and this tells us where the satellites are. We would use GPS coordinates but also improve on them by using fixed sites in precisely-known locations."

The group stated that the ground stations will cost around $130 USD each to establish, but the satellite itself will require a substantial amount of financial backing, as it will need to hitch a ride with a rocket rather than float up into the cold void via a balloon-based solution. Additional reports claim that the satellite will likely be based on work done to develop low-cost satellites by the Amateur Radio Satellite (AMSAT) association in England and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.

Given the new Internet would eventually rely on an array of low orbit amateur satellites, there's speculation that the overall network stability would be spotty at best, as these satellites typically orbit every ninety minutes. That means there will be times when they won't be visible to tracking devices.

"That's not to say they can't be used for communications but obviously only for the relatively brief periods that they are in your view," explains one professor. "It's difficult to see how such satellites could be used as a viable communications grid other than in bursts, even if there were a significant number in your constellation."

News of the possible pirate internet arise as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) bill makes its way through the Senate. Along with the PROTECT IP act, the duo gives content owners the right to take down websites they believe are infringing on their copyright. That includes mere links to content that possibly infringes on a copyright, and if that link isn't removed as requested, then the copyright owner can have the website's advertising and transaction revenue severed. Even more, the domain name itself - whether it's local or overseas -- could even be thrown on a blacklist, leaving the site inaccessible.

Last week Farr said that SOPA is a perfect example of why the group desires a separate network. In addition to launching their satellite and three prototype ground stations, the team will expand the network by distributing working models of the prototype ground station to those attending the next Chaos Communication Congress in 2012. The stations will also be sold on a non-profit basis.

"We're aiming for 100 euros (£84) per ground station," Bauer added. "That is the amount people tell us they would be willing to spend."