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Design Goals

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The foremost goal of the GNUnet project is to become a widely used, reliable, open, non-discriminating, egalitarian, unfettered and censorship-resistant system of free information exchange. We value free speech above state secrets, law-enforcement or intellectual property. GNUnet is supposed to be an anarchistic network, where the only limitation for peers is that they must contribute enough back to the network such that their resource consumption does not have a significant impact on other users. GNUnet should be more than just another file-sharing network. The plan is to offer many other services and in particular to serve as a development platform for the next generation of decentralized Internet protocols.

Security & Privacy

GNUnet's primary design goals are to protect the privacy of its users and to guard itself against attacks or abuse. GNUnet does not have any mechanisms to control, track or censor users. Instead, the GNUnet protocols aim to make it as hard as possible to find out what is happening on the network or to disrupt operations.

Versatility

We call GNUnet a peer-to-peer framework because we want to support many different forms of peer-to-peer applications. GNUnet uses a plugin architecture to make the system extensible and to encourage code reuse. While the first versions of the system only supported anonymous file-sharing, other applications are being worked on and more will hopefully follow in the future. A powerful synergy regarding anonymity services is created by a large community utilizing many diverse applications over the same software infrastructure. The reason is that link encryption hides the specifics of the traffic for non-participating observers. This way, anonymity can get stronger with additional (GNUnet) traffic, even if the additional traffic is not related to anonymous communication. Increasing anonymity is the primary reason why GNUnet is developed to become a peer-to-peer framework where many applications share the lower layers of an increasingly complex protocol stack. If merging traffic to hinder traffic analysis was not important, we could have just developed a dozen stand-alone applications and a few shared libraries.

Practicality

GNUnet allows participants to trade various amounts of security in exchange for increased efficiency. However, it is not possible for any user's security and efficiency requirements to compromise the security and efficiency of any other user.

For GNUnet, efficiency is not paramount. If there is a more secure and still practical approach, we would choose to take the more secure alternative. telnet is more efficient than ssh, yet it is obsolete. Hardware gets faster, and code can be optimized. Fixing security issues as an afterthought is much harder.

While security is paramount, practicability is still a requirement. The most secure system is always the one that nobody can use. Similarly, any anonymous system that is extremely inefficient will only find few users. However, good anonymity requires a large and diverse user base. Since individual security requirements may vary, the only good solution here is to allow individuals to trade-off security and efficiency. The primary challenge in allowing this is to ensure that the economic incentives work properly. In particular, this means that it must be impossible for a user to gain security at the expense of other users. Many designs (e.g. anonymity via broadcast) fail to give users an incentive to choose a less secure but more efficient mode of operation. GNUnet should avoid where ever possible to rely on protocols that will only work if the participants are benevolent. While some designs have had widespread success while relying on parties to observe a protocol that may be sub-optimal for the individuals (e.g. TCP Nagle), a protocol that ensures that individual goals never conflict with the goals of the group is always preferable.