Substratum: Decentralizing the Internet using Personal Computers

Privacy-conscious Internet users are likely familiar with TOR, a free software that provides users with anonymous and private web browsing through a network of computer nodes.

Privacy advocates have long sworn by it, citizens of countries with totalitarian or authoritarian governments stake their lives on it, and journalists have used it to break news stories or perform anonymous research while working on hard-to-break cases. It is also a key element for facilitating trade on the dark web, with criminals and law enforcement personnel using it in their cat-and-mouse games.

Substratum is a peer-to-peer computer network built on the Ethereum blockchain that allows anyone to earn cryptocurrency by sharing their computing resources and it also allows TOR-like private browsing for anyone logged into the network. This could very well be the next-generation Internet technology privacy advocates are looking for.

Substratum: What’s the Big Idea?

While the grand idea is in itself laudable, the devil is in the details. How will Substratum accomplish the goal of turning the Internet back into a decentralized peer-to-peer network of computer nodes? Essentially, they want to provide users with the software to operate a network node from anywhere in the world on a personal computing device and pay those users with cryptocurrency for doing so. Unfortunately, their white paper is a bit light on the details.

In order to deliver this big idea to the world’s Internet users, Substratum operates with the following essential components:

  • Web hosting
  • Network nodes
  • A domain name system
  • The Substrate token
  • Advanced cryptography
  • CryptoPay wallet

Let’s see how these pieces fit together.

Decentralized Web Hosting

Additionally, Substratum promises to be compatible with the current Domain Name System (DNS) with additional capabilities that allow it to retrieve websites faster and with less latency due to its decentralized nature. Its unclear whether they’ll include any type of domain registration service or an alternative DNS.

Within the network, every node will store different information, which will rotate throughout the network allowing user anonymity and privacy without sacrificing speed and connectivity. It will be a big challenge to get it to work as expected at scale!

The Distributed Internet

SubstratumNode runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux, and is in open beta. They also have a developers kit so developers can build apps on top of the system and sell them through the Substratum store.

Substrate: What’s In Your CryptoPay Wallet?

The CryptoPay wallet can be used to store, transfer, or spend cryptocurrencies and will be compatible with USD, EUR, and GBP fiat currencies. The plan is to allow CryptoPay as a checkout option for websites and to allow vendors to select the currencies they will accept as payment.

A business that wants to host a website on the network must pay in SUB. Users offering their computing power to run a node are also paid in SUB. Shoppers can use SUB in their CryptoPay wallet to purchase items on the network, but that currency is converted into the preferred currency of the vendor at the point of purchase.

The Substratum team wanted to make sure they had available capital for each phase of their project, so they built into the network a development fund made up of 25% each of Ethereum, Bitcoin, Tether and USD. That fund will be used for 60% development, 30% product awareness, and 10% for network infrastructure.

Currently, SUB is traded on Binance, KuCoin, Coss.io, and HitBTC.

Amplify Exchange: Product 3, But Why?

Amplify will be a (hybrid) decentralized exchange, that will feature direct fiat-to-altcoin conversion options and advanced trading tools (charting capabilities, indicator suites, basic order routing), while also allowing traders code their own market indicators by using a scripting API. Its scheduled to launch in 2019.

It operates on a peer-to-peer level via SubstratumNodes. Substratum node operators, who already use the Substratum network to provide censorship-proof internet access, can opt to handle routing and consensus labor for the exchange by operating an Amplify node in tandem. Amplify node operators will be compensated with AMPX tokens alongside their SUB income stream.

Stats & Metrics*

Marketcap — $20,027,000

Price Chart

Cost to join Vladimir Club (own 0.0001% of tokens): $3,095

Circulating Supply — 383,021,000

Total Supply — 592,000,000

Unique Addresses holding tokens — 31,645

Top 20 Addresses hold 76% of the Supply.

*Defined as “distinct senders that sent the tokens using ERC20 transfer() method”. NOTE — it only includes onchain transactions.

The Team

Abram Cookson — CIO and Co-Founder — has almost two decades experience working in leadership for small businesses and Fortune 500 companies.

Steve Swing — CTO — has almost 30 years experience in the software industry with about half of those as an independent consultant.

B.J. Allmon — Senior Software Engineer — has over 20 years experience in product engineering.

Other key members of the Substratum team come with an equal amount of experience in their specialties proving that this company isn’t just a bunch of upstarts, but veterans of industry on a mission.

That could be a boon, but it’s also a bane. Typically, mission-oriented founders tend to overlook practical details because their eyesight is locked on the dream. Whether that infliction has struck the Substratum team or not is still up in the air.

Competitors

  • TOR — The TOR project is a volunteer network of computer nodes that allow users to browse the Internet anonymously and communicate with other individuals and organizations without sacrificing privacy. A nonprofit organization, it’s been around since 2006.
  • VPNs — virtual private networks use encryption to send and receive information by “tunneling” over a public network as if the sender and receiver were in direct communication with each other.
  • Decenternet — using a cryptocurrency called Spyce, they want to pay users for using their web browser, their search engine, and their Internet operating system, all of which promise to deliver untold privacy, anonymity, end-to-end encryption, and decentralized applications to cut out all spying by public and private entities.
  • Blockstack — a decentralized app platform that pays users in cryptocurrency for building Dapps.

These are just a few of the projects currently underway to build a decentralized Internet. As the idea grows more popular, you can bet more projects will crop up promising decentralized browsing, mining, website hosting, communications protocols, and virtually everything else you can find on the Internet of today — with anonymity, privacy, and built-in encryption features.

Counterpoints

Beyond that, however, the browsing experience isn’t too shabby, but some kind of visual indicator — perhaps even a built-in web browser — to let users know they are actually logged on and viewing the Internet through Substratum might ease concerns in some user’s mind that it actually works. Otherwise, users are still using their normal browser and won’t be able to tell the difference.

At this point, there are some limitations. For instance, SubstratumNode doesn’t show all videos. I was able to watch YouTube videos, but not Yahoo! videos. The team is upfront about that and did issue a proper warning.

Substratum is also not yet set up to pay browsers or node operators for their use of the node software. That isn’t expected until version 0.5.0 (they’re currently on 0.3.5, and taking signups for beta 0.4).

All of these, however, are minor concerns compared to the real issue. How do users know they can trust Substratum to deliver on its promise of a decentralized, private, anonymous internet? Right now, they can’t. And there are a few reasons why.

Neither their white paper nor their website provides any information on the protocol that is used to access websites. For that reason, users can’t know for sure that accessing websites through the Substratum network is secure or private. With the VPN and HTTPS protocols, users have a way of understanding the digital pathway from their web browser to the nameserver and back to their web browser again. They can understand how packet switching works on the world wide web as well as through a VPN service, or even TOR. Substratum provides no technical details on this process, therefore, users can’t know for sure that their browsing is anonymous, private, or secure. That’s a huge problem because without the entire Substatum premise is based on being able to trust the process.

There have also been some concerns voiced about Substratum’s smart contract being copied from SkinCoin. That’s much less of a problem than some others, but does indicate some sloppy code editing.

A bigger issue is the smart contracts may have some bugs in them. This wouldn’t be surprising since it has already been discovered that 25 percent of smart contracts have critical bugs. However, at least the team are open to updating the smart contract, and have done so already to remove a built-in mechanism for automatically generating new tokens when the market hits 90% saturation.

Another problem is their token burn policy. If an account’s private key isn’t known, Substratum will burn the tokens. Why?

Let’s back up a minute. First, how will they know if a private key isn’t known? How do you verify that? And even if you could, why would you burn the tokens? If no one can access them, they’re already effectively out of circulation.

Summary

What they could do a little better is improve their communications with persons interested in running nodes and browsing the web with their decentralized node software, and they need to work hard to earn trust with their first product before rolling out the new ones.

_______________________________________________________

Let me know what you think of SUBin the comments?

I’ll try to update this review periodically to keep it relevant, but please feel free to help me by notifying me of any updates to the project, or offering any corrections/suggestions to improve the analysis!

_______________________________________________________

To stay up-to-date with all the news about SUB , and to monitor key metrics like Price, Holders & Daily Active Users, have a look at SUB’s token profile on Trivial.co

Mainly Blockchain *-*