AirTor Protocol : Potential and Opportunities

In a recent thread, we already introduced quite a lot of people to the AirTor project.

This long thread, followed by an equally long YouTube video, brought many positive feedback from the community, and even from the team.

However, the more we studied this project, the more opportunities we started to envision.

Meanwhile, new potential, yet intrigued investors stepped in with legitimate questions.

This is why we decided to write another piece to get even deeper in this fascinating rabbit hole.

So, what are exactly the opportunities here ?

As we’ll progress in this article, we’ll come to realize that the potential benefits for this project are multiple, as several parties, namely the Tor network and the AirTor protocol, will profit from the many improvements this innovation could bring.

Making Tor mainstream

The first opportunity here is to make Tor more mainstream. But to make it more mainstream, you need to do several things in the first place :

  • Primarily : Advertise Onion Routing as a reliable way to enhance one’s security and privacy while accessing the internet
  • Secondly : Advertise AirTor as a way to add fluidity and security to a worldwide, free, distributed network, while getting rewards for providing bandwidth and robustness to said network AND securing one home or corporate internet network

In summary, to make Tor more mainstream, you have to make it more respectable and above all, more practical. For this, you need to make it faster and more distributed.

For this, what you need is basically more nodes. Although the number of nodes has increased over the past 10-15 years, it still stalls at a rough 6 000 ceiling.

Hence, what you need is more nodes. And therefore you need to get more people on board. People willing to share a portion of their bandwidth to the network.

The traditional model for this has been the volunteer model. The problem with this model is that, with a relatively low number of nodes compared to the traffic volume and the amount of daily users, you end up exposing the network to different structural or internal threats, namely centralization (one malicious entity running hundreds of nodes) and vulnerability to DDOS attacks on hidden services and/or the network.

Now what if you could get more people on board by creating incentives for running a node ?

Actually, this idea is nothing new to the Tor community. In a speech at DEFCON 17, 12 years ago, Roger Dingledine outlined problems and potential solutions to solve Tor’s speed issues and went on to propose incentives via micropayments in order to increase the amount of relays.

The issue with that idea, per Dingledine, what that of the anonymity of the receiver of said incentive. He then stated that he hadn’t a solution to that.

It seems that since then, the Tor community never actually tried to implement a functionnal incentive mechanism.

Had they did so, it is probable that the number of relays would be over 10 000 by now.

AirTor core value proposal is thus to fix this issue.

Properly envision the Product Market Fit

So, basically, the core opportunity here can benefit all main parties :

  • It will benefit the Tor Network as it could give it most robustness, more speed and security, but also, it will contribute to popularize Tor to an audience that previously overlooked it, either as a nerdy thing for paranoid privacy bros, or as a tool for criminals. The more you get people involved in the relaying activity (thanks to ATOR incentives and AirTor perks), the more you diversify the composition of the network and in the end, « normal » people actually take over it.
  • If properly managed and deployed, the project has then the opportunity to reach a considerable audience of people who typically seekprivacy, security and autonomy for the internet. The market fit is here. What you have to do is to offer a bundled, easy-to-handle, quasi plug-and-play device as your flagship product. And you have to consider that potential ATOR rewards CANNOT be the only appeal there : the product itself, must be the appeal, as it serves a triple purpose for the network, for AirTor’s ecosystem and for the relayer.
  • It must be made clear that running a relay has two benefits for the AirTor registered relayer : getting rewards and improving their own privacy and security on their home network. You really want to advertise your hardware relays as secure privacy solutions before anything else, so that people clearly understand that they can use it as a home router. The incentive part is the cherry on top.

For this to work at a proper scale, you will have to conduct a specific kind of marketing aiming at the relevant audience. Ideally, you would want some kind of validation (at least implicit) from the Tor Project. Secondly, you don’t want to adopt a « we are anonymous » kind of LARPesque marketing strategy. You want to reach out to nerds, privacy buffs (they’re quite a growing audience online), crypto bros and then, you want to reach out to the more broader audience of people looking after different kinds of privacy online solutions.

There also plenty of pretty huge YouTube channels focusing on privacy, OPSEC and online nerdness : Mental Outlaw, The Hated One, Braxman, just to name a few. Once again, there’s a market fit. You just want to introduce your project properly.

Improving Tor as a daily privacy layer

Now, both Tor and AirTor have their own « competitors ». There’s other darknets out there, such as I2P, FreeNet or Lokinet.

Lokinet is of special interest here, as it is both an alternative to Tor and a competitor to AirTor.

It must be said that the Oxen/Lokinet network has brought several improvements in terms of speed, privacy and especially, in terms of modularity (see SNApps for instance).

Every privacy chad knows and surely uses the Session messaging app, which solely runs on Lokinet, making it probably one of the most private and secure messaging app right now.

However, while it gathered a significant community, the Oxen/Lokinet ecosystem hasn’t really picked up yet, at least not comparatively to Tor, which, fair enough, is much more older and established.

Tor has become a standard, with a well funded foundation and a big community.

Thus, the right move is to build on Tor while helping improving Tor’s points of failure.

Some of these points of failure can be solved with the AirTor relays, provided that the product offers a set of build-in features that contribute to fix Tor’s notorious points of failure, especially at the entry and at the exit nodes.

A build-in feature (bridge or VPN) that would prevent the ISP to detect Tor activity, and a build-in feature that would help solving the typical problems at exit points.

While leveraging Tor’s established network and brand recognition is easy, actually building a side infrastructure while improving the Tor network itself is nothing short of a tremendous task.

Building the first blockchain (and dApps) on top of Tor

Many people, just like us, quickly saw the great potential of AirTor. However, many, just like us, still have a lot of questions regarding the tokenomics of the AirTor project.

Clearly, the tokenomics part of the project still has plenty of room for proposals, novelties and clarifications.

Firstly, it is obvious, for technical and mathematical reasons, that the sole function of the ATOR token, can not be to only serve as a reward for relayers and/or as a way to buy the AirTor routers at a premium.

The ATOR token must be much more than that. It must be the native coin of its own dedicated blockchain.

In our opinion, this is not really a matter of choice. This is an absolute requirement. Or call it destiny.

Even more, this is simply a quite unique opportunity to build the very first blockchain on top of Tor (aside from the Oxen blockchain which runs on its own Tor-like darknet).

Not only would it be an exciting novelty, but it may usher in unprecedented developments on the Tor Network and in the cryptospace.

Imagine web3 applications on the Tor Network.

That is, web3 applications on a decentralized blockchain running on top of a distributed web network.

This is what we’re talking about.

This blockchain should offer a certain set of properties, in our opinion :

  • EVM compatibility
  • Privacy and anonymity
  • Low gas fees
  • Swift transactions

With that, the ATOR token takes a whole new dimension with various usecases (governance, utility, rewards, etc).

Then, a proper ecosystem can emerge and with an improved Tor infrastructure, dApps can actually be built, numerous usecases can be created.

Making this objective clear, black-on-white, in a whitepaper, would certainly bring much traction to the project.

With an increasingly aggressive regulatory framework in the West, with banks going bankrupt, with CEXs being targeted right and left, both DeFi and privacy took a whole new significance as people in and outside the space realized how much it was valuable. So this is the right time to move along that narrative and onboard a community. And if the opportunity isn’t taken, it is very probable that others will not hesitate to grab it.

Once again, there’s a potential, there’s an infrastructure, there’s a market fit. It’s up to grab to whomever has what it takes to execute the plan.

Just look at the POKT Network. Different usecase, as it is a decentralized web3 RPC network, but similar mechanism, with relays nodes being rewarded with $POKT tokens. Good idea, good product, serious backers. But trash tokenomics, thus trash chart (from 2,61$ in 2022 to a mere 0,05$ at press time).

You want to have VERY good tokenomics with that sort of incentive mechanism. The best way to ensure a sustainable model is to build a blockchain and a true ecosystem.