What if I told you that, in less than a year, you will be able to purchase a $100 device that completely shields you from the prying eyes of the NSA and any other snoops who might take a peek at your online activity? Would you buy?
John McAfee, the wild geezer of tech, says he has precisely such a device in the works. In exactly 173 days (at the time of publication), McAfee plans to release something he calls D-Central through one of his newest ventures, Future Tense.
As McAfee, who founded (and then sold) McAfee Antivirus back in the early 90s, described it during an interview at the C2SV Technology Conference + Music Festival this past weekend, D-Central would create a “localized, dynamic network” for each user. These networks would have a wireless range of about three city blocks in urban areas, or a quarter-mile “in the country,” McAfee said.
D-Central acts like a mini Internet – a ‘dark Web’ sub-layer – that you can carry around with you wherever you go.
Any D-Central users within range of this network would be able to communicate with one another and share files. The networks would be encrypted, he said, and users could choose to remain anonymous. Most importantly, D-Central would not have fixed parameters – meaning it moves with you as you move, presumably making it more difficult for hackers and spies to track you down.
McAfee says D-Central is a “round, little thing” that can fit in your pocket or backpack. It can be used for communicating with friends, or anonymously with strangers. Through the help of an iPhone, Android, or PC app, D-Central can also be used for sharing files, like “the latest MP3,” or “a picture of some girl you think is cute.” Users can also post requests for certain types of files or other content, and other users within a D-Central network can respond to those requests by sharing files anonymously. It is also possible to communicate with other D-Central networks over the Internet through encrypted connections.
In other words, as I understand it, D-Central apparently acts like a super-secure, long-range, mobile local area network (LAN). You could also think of it like a wireless hotspot that creates its own mini Internet, which is only accessible through the D-Central app. Then, in addition to the private network created by D-Central, the device also has the ability to connect to the wider Internet (what you’re using right now) through an encrypted connection, which also allows you to connect your D-Central network to other D-Central networks, creating a new “dark” sublayer of the Internet that is only accessible to D-Central users. At least, that’s our best guess.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t know enough technical details to say exactly how D-Central will work – if it will work. All of this is pure speculation based on the tidbits provided by McAfee. The damn thing could cook meth, for all we really know at this point.
McAfee, who fled his home in Belize last year due to a pesky murder investigation, says he’s been working on D-Central for a number of years, but accelerated development of the device following Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks.
“I can’t get out of [cyber]security; for some reason, it’s party of my brain – part of my thinking,” said McAfee. “And we don’t have much any more, certainly not in the online world.”
Because the NSA “helped create every single encryption algorithm we use,” he says, the agency “can get access to whatever they want” – a claim that may be hyperbolic, but not as far off as you might think. Furthermore, he says, NSA has “the power and the muscle” to “coerce” companies like Google or Verizon to hand over your personal data, which is clearly true.
Worse, says McAfee, we have “hackers” who can get “anything that they want” through the Internet, and may be a far bigger threat to most people than a government agency that reportedly creates maps of Americans’ social connections and stores metadata on millions of Web users for up to a year, along with all the rest.
“I’m 68-years-old,” said McAfee. “And if you can just give me any small amount of information about yourself, I promise you, within three days, I can turn on the camera on your computer at home and watch you do whatever you’re doing.”
“If you can just give me any small amount of information about yourself, I promise you, within three days, I can turn on the camera on your computer. …”
“If I can do it, any idiot can do it,” he added. And it’s idiots like these, as well as NSA agents, who would purportedly find themselves thwarted by McAfee’s D-Central devices.
Who the hell knows whether D-Central will ever come to market? The “teaser” website for the device doesn’t exactly instill confidence. Plus, even if D-Central does turn out to be something anyone can buy, it’s impossible to know whether it will deliver on McAfee’s promises. Not to mention the fact that it sounds like the perfect device for sharing all sorts of nefarious content – even McAfee admits as much – which would put it firmly in the sights of every shade of law enforcement under the Sun.
Finally, there’s McAfee himself; writing the man off as a drug-fueled lunatic with too much money and a sex addiction hits many people as a reasonable gut reaction. (Perhaps this has something to do with that?) But I for one hope he’s onto something great – D-Central may turn out to be the only route we have toward a future in which “privacy” still appears in the dictionary.
Many of us still want the option of online privacy – to keep our digital lives on lockdown when we choose, and to let it all out on Twitter or Facebook when we don’t – but we no longer seem to have that choice. NSA snoops and hackers apparently have access to our data and – more often – the process for securing our privacy is far too confusing for a good chunk of us to handle. What we need is a simple solution – a silver bullet – that changes the dynamic of the out-of-control Internet we must all use. And a straightforward product like D-Central, or a similar project like Occupy.here, could provide just that: A way to know for certain when the privacy option is switched to “on.”
So here’s to hoping that McAfee isn’t as out there as he so often seems to be, that D-Central really will arrive in six months, and that it will create these cool private local networks that McAfee describes. But like the rest of you, I won’t be holding my breath.