GNU Free Call

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= GNU Free Call is a new project to develop and deploy secure self-organized communication services worldwide for private use and for public administration. We use the open standard SIP protocol and GNU SIP Witch to create secured Peer-to-Peer Mesh Calling Networks


Description

"Our goal is to make GNU Free Call ubiquitous in a manner and level of usability similar to Skype, that is, usable on all platforms, and directly by the general public for all manner of secure communication between known and anonymous parties, but without requiring a central service provider to register with, without using insecure source secret binary protocols that may have back-doors, and without having network control points of any kind that can be exploited or abused by external parties. By doing so as a self organizing meshed calling network, we further eliminate potential service control points such as through explicit routing peers even if networks are isolated in civil emergencies.

We do recognize this project has significant long term social and political implications. It also offers potentially essential utility in public service by enabling the continuation of emergency services without requiring existing communication infrastructure. There are many ordinary public service uses, such as the delivery of eHealth services, as well as medical, and legal communication, where it is essential to treat all with equal human dignity by maintaining privacy regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation. Equally important is the continuation of emergency medical services even when existing infrastructure is no longer available or has been deliberately disabled.

Initially we will extend sipwitch to become aware of peer nodes by supporting host caches, and then support publishing of routes to connected peers. This work builds upon the already existing routing foundation in sipwitch itself. The use of host caches is a mechanism used in older p2p networks, it is generally well understood, it would meet the initial goals of establishing a self organized mesh network, and it is rather easy to initially implement to fully demonstrate the potential of sipwitch as a mesh calling system. More advanced methodologies can then be added later on.

Related to this goal is having sipwitch operate as a SIP mediation service for desktops users and IP enabled cell phones such as Android. This introduces the needs for users to be able to “pilot” their local sipwitch instance through a desktop and cell phone gui, whether to see what calls are being placed through it, or to see the verification status of secure key exchange. There are today IPC interfaces in sipwitch to allow for desktop integration, but a specific GUI to use these interfaces and present server and call states in a manner for people to understand still needs to also be constructed, and hence this too is part of the plan of work for this project.

In addition we will be extending GNU SIP Witch to offer secure VoIP proxy. Much like what was done initially by Phil Zimmerman to develop ZRTP using zfone, this mode of operation will enable development of key elements of a secure infrastructure without having to also initially create new SIP user agent applications. By offering secure proxy through a SIP Witch instance running at the endpoint, any existing SIP standard compliant softphone or device will be able to establish a secure connection to another standard compliant SIP device or SIP peer that is using GNU SIP Witch at the destination.

This project’s definition of secure media is similar to Zimmermann’s work on ZRTP, in that we assure there is no forwarding knowledge by using uniquely generated keys for each communication session. Furthermore, we will use GNU Privacy Guard (GPG) to fully automate session validation. This will be done by extending the SIP protocol to exchange public keys for establishing secure media sessions that will be created by each instance of SIP Witch operating at the end points on behalf of local SIP user agents, and then verifying there is no man-in-the-middle by exchanging GPG signed hashes of the session keys that were visible at each end." (http://planet.gnu.org/gnutelephony/?p=14)


Discussion

Aaron Huslage:

"The basic problem with projects like this lie in the fact that they base the entire codebase off of hacking something together from code that wasn't meant to do what they are asking of it.

Sipwitch has never caught on in general because it is horrible to configure, awful to use and not reliable once you get it working. Add another feature of ill-defined p2p networking on top of that and you have a recipe for failure or at least a lot of wasted effort for something that will only ever be used by geeks.

Let's not forget that Skype, warts and all, works very well and is reasonably private/difficult to snoop. It also has 10 years of development and a gigantic committed user base (which any p2p network needs).

The need to provide a "free" Skype is a philosophical one, not a technical one. This is the GNU Foundation after all. They do great work and get stuck in philosophy land without thinking of the technical need sometimes. I don't have a problem with an open Skype, but I do have a problem with hacked together technology that isn't appropriate or even functional without great effort. It's easier to just write something new." (Next Net mailing list, March 2011)



More Information

  1. Info via Haakon Eriksen – Project Coordinator - haakon.eriksen@far.no ; David Sugar – Project Architect - dyfet@gnu.org
  2. P2P Telephony
  3. GNU SIP Witch