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Brave’s R&D team debuts privacy-preserving distributed VPN

Brave, the company behind the eponymous browser, presented the world’s first distributed virtual private network (VPN).

Brave’s R&D team debuts privacy-preserving distributed VPN

Cover art/illustration via CryptoSlate

Brave, the company behind the eponymous browser, presented the world’s first distributed virtual private network (VPN). The new form of VPN has no central authority and will function as a peer-to-peer network to preserve the privacy of its users.

Laying the foundation for a decentralized VPN system

The research and development team from Brave published a paper that will pave the way for a decentralized VPN network. Developed by Dr. Matteo Varvello et. al., the research presents the first distributed virtual private network.

Brave said that VPN-0 will offer a traffic authorization and validation mechanism that will preserve users’ privacy. It will be a new generation decentralized virtual private networks (dVPN), which offer a certain amount of privacy but also carry the risk of spreading harmful or illegal network traffic to users.

The company’s VPN-0 tackles the problems dVPNs face around performance, privacy guarantees, and traffic accountability. Brave’s research and development team integrated VPN-0 with BitTorrent’s DHT (Mainline) and ProtonVPN, a popular VPN provider, which demonstrated the feasibility of the next generation of VPNs.

Zero-knowledge protection

According to Brave, VPN-0 allows relay nodes to control which traffic they transmit, without learning what content it contains, unlike decentralized VPNs. This is done through a novel application of zero-knowledge proofs, a cryptographic technique that allows a prover to prove to a verifier that a certain statement is true without disclosing any information except the validity of the statement, the company explained.

The main problem Brave’s team encountered was how a VPN-0 client can prove to a VPN-0 relay that the traffic it is sending is on the set of domains the relay is willing to carry traffic for. To do that, they leveraged a class of distributed systems that provide lookup services called Distributed Hash Tables (DHT). This is all done without the relay ever knowing what kind of content is being accessed.

Brave’s preliminary testing results showed that while this approach was feasible, it still needed more research in order to speed up the zero-knowledge calculations in VPN-0. However, the company said it believes the strong privacy guarantees offered by VPN-0 will encourage the development of more VPN solutions and protocols.

The company said it believes such a VPN system could be combined with a set of incentives around a utility token, such as its native BAT, which could be used to compensate users that carry traffic and enable subscriptions and services to be paid in BAT.

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