What is I2P?
Invisible Internet Project (or I2P) is a peer-to-peer (P2P) anonymous network, which protects you from censorship, government surveillance, and other online monitoring. It scatters your traffic so there is a low chance that a third-party will be able to intercept it.
By using I2P you can also get an encrypted entrance to the dark web. In a way it serves a similar purpose to the Tor network, but there are also some differences between the two. You can also use it for general browsing, instant messaging, file sharing and torrenting, file storing, and website hosting.
How does it work?
I2P is a decentralized P2P network, so its operation relies on its community. It encrypts your traffic with end-to-end encryption and routes it via a volunteer-maintained network. This network is scattered all over the globe and consists of over 50000 devices.
With your traffic dispersed around the world, it will be very difficult to spy on. Due to the system’s P2P nature, users also share the resources (e.g. bandwidth) with the rest of the community.
I2P is a highly secure network. Here’s why:
- It uses end-to-end encryption and protects the endpoints of your data route by turning them into cryptographic identifiers, secured with public keys;
- I2P’s uni-directional tunnels separate incoming and outgoing traffic and provides more anonymity. Because of these inbound and outbound proxy routers, senders and recipients don’t need to reveal their IPs;
- Unlike Tor onion routing, I2P uses so-called garlic routing. This divides your message into smaller messages, called cloves. These are all encrypted and travel separately until their destinations. As a result, it is almost impossible for an interceptor to get hold of the whole message and perform traffic analysis;
- The system is completely decentralized. As mentioned above, I2P is spread around thousands of different devices and doesn’t rely on a single entity. If one device is hacked, it won’t compromise the whole system.
I2P pros and cons
- Highly secure and anonymous network, protecting you from hackers, third-party surveillance, and other interceptors;
- Good for P2P file sharing;
- Uses packet switching, which distributes balancing across different peers, so performance is more efficient.
- Difficult installation and usage. It requires quite an extensive installation process and browser configuration for it to work. However, there are plenty of accessible online tutorials;
- Potential vulnerabilities. In 2014, I2P experienced a zero-day vulnerability and exposed around 30,000 users. A 2017 study later revealed that a variety of other I2P vulnerabilities were also exploitable;
- Mandatory logging. Users have to be logged in to the system for their content to be accessible;
- Less anonymity when browsing indexed sites. I2P can’t guarantee anonymity when you browse indexed sites, so it is not that private when you browse the surface web. Using VPN protection can solve this problem;
- A smaller user base than Tor means I2P has fewer network nodes and is marginally more vulnerable to attacks.
I2P vs Tor
While these two network overlays can be similar at first glance, they are quite different:
- I2P network is more decentralized than Tor as it still uses tools for overall network managing and statistics gathering;
- I2P uses garlic routing, which is different from Tor’s. Onion routing carries a message as a single entity, while I2P divides it into encrypted parts;
- I2P doesn’t use a single path for message load balancing, but instead distributes it across different I2P peers;
- I2P is primarily a dark web tool as opposed to Tor, where the primary function is to browse the web anonymously. But it also has dark web access functionality.
A simpler way to stay private: VPNs
While I2P and Tor are useful for cases when you need extreme anonymity, they slow down your traffic. Besides, that level of privacy is not essential for everyday usage. For daily safety, downloading a VPN is a much simpler and more effective solution, even if you use those two network overlays already.
A VPN provides strong encryption and preserves your privacy by hiding your IP. It also routes your encrypted traffic via remote servers, so no one can intercept it. Moreover, it is extremely easy to use and doesn’t reduce your speed significantly.
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