Chelsea Manning Is Back, And Hacking Again, Only This Time For A Bitcoin-Based Privacy Startup

Chelsea Manning’s long, blonde hair is swaying in the cool summer breeze as she walks to the Brooklyn’s Starr Bar, a dimly illuminated counter-cultural spot within the hipster-friendly enclave of Bushwick. The 33-year-old, who is famous for leaking hundreds of thousands of government documents classified as the top-secret to Julian Assange in the year 2010 and then revealing herself as transgender in 2011 and walks by a large poster that depicts sea turtles, humans, and geese joining to form the shape of the dove.

In an all-black suit and sporting the silver Omega watch and a silver Omega watch, she walks to a tiny wooden table illuminated by a shaft of sunlight. She asks for Coke. Contrary to what one would imagine, this whistleblower transformed into a trans icon is uncomfortable in the modern environment. A fan respectfully walks up to her and greets her. “This is the life I live,” she says after leaving, thanking him for the wishes and expressing sadness over the loss of her privacy. “I’m not just famous; I’m also in the history books.”

In prison, serving the longest sentence ever handed a whistleblower who employed the privacy-protecting Tor Network to leak 700,000 documents from the government anonymously, she utilized her time in jail to develop a better method to hide the tracks of the other users who use the Internet. Conscient that the nonprofit Tor Project she used to transfer documents to Wikileaks became increasingly vulnerable to the scrutiny of intelligence agencies as well as law enforcement agencies, she proposed a new method of hiding the Internet’s traffic by using blockchain technology, which is the basis of bitcoin, to create an identical network, with no problematic government support. The whole idea was developed in prison for military personnel on paper.

The fix for the weaknesses known to these networks involves more than just securing future whistleblowers or criminals. These networks also are crucial for large companies who wish to safeguard trade secrets. The industry of private networks, including VPNs, or VPNs (VPNs) that are well-known to corporate customers, generated the equivalent of $29 billion in 2019 and is predicted to grow to reach $75 billion in 2027. Manning believes that nonprofit initiatives such as Tor that rely upon U.S. government funding and the world’s largest network of volunteers to operate its anonymous server aren’t able to withstand the rigors. “Nonprofits aren’t sustainable,” says Manning, casually drinking her Coke. “They require continuous support from large capital funds and large government agencies.”

Nym Technologies founder Harry Halpin takes a sip of Harry Halpin, founder of Nym Technologies, sip on a “homojito” in Brooklyn’s gay-friendly Starr Bar, as he and Chelsea Manning discuss their nascent collaboration was officially announced in July. In Jan. 2017, she had been seven years into a 35-year prison sentence for murder at Fort Leavenworth, home to people like the former Army Major Nidal Hasan, who 14 soldiers killed in 2009. When President Barack Obama prepared to leave his post, he gave Manning an unconditional change of sentence. In a moment of liberation, she was approached via Harry Halpin, the 41-year-old mathematician working for World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee at MIT between 2013 and 2016, helping to establish a standard for encryption across Web browsers.
Halpin demanded Manning to find security flaws in his privacy initiative, which later evolved into Nym, a Neuchatel Swiss-based crypto startup. Halpin created Nym in 2018 to transmit data securely across the Internet by using the same technology that powers Bitcoin. So far, Nym has raised some $8.5 million from a collection of crypto investors, including Binance, Polychain Capital, and NGC Ventures. Nym currently employs ten employees and has used the latest round of capital to increase the size of its team.

Halpin was impressed by Manning’s expertise in technology. Not just a renowned leaker who had access to classified files, Manning struck Halpin as an individual with a profound technical knowledge of how governments and large corporations seek to monitor private conversations.
“We’ve not had access to those who were inside the computer who could tell us what they think the real capabilities of these types of adversaries are and what kinds of attacks are most likely to occur,” Halpin says. Halpin. “She’ll help us fix holes in our design.”

The girl was born in Oklahoma on the 17th of December 1987. Manning was the first exposure to network traffic analysis while in high school. Manning and their Welsh mom, Susan, was a resident of Haverfordwest, Wales, in 2001, when Manning was 13 years old. In a computer course there at the age of 13, she was taught to get around the blockages that the school erected to stop students from downloading specific files. She also got arrested for pirating music by Linkin Park, Jay-Z, and other artists. The headmaster was watching from home. “It was the very first time when it occurred to me that this was an option. It’s possible to do this.'”
In 2008, Manning’s passion for the analysis of network traffic first brought the researcher into The Onion Router (Tor), a network of volunteers computers situated on the top of the Internet and can help conceal the identity of a user. The nonprofit group leveraged a process known as “onion routing” that hides messages behind multiple layers of encryption. The network, also called the “Dark Web” employed by Manning to deliver secret documents to WikiLeaks, was created by authorities from the U.S. government to protect the spies and other agents of the government operating online.

A large portion of Manning’s work as a consultant comes with mutually binding confidentiality agreements, making it hard to promote her company.
When Manning discovered Tor and joined the U.S. Army as an intelligence analyst in her early years, her role was to comb through classified databases to find patterns of tactical use. After being dissatisfied by what she had learned about the wars between Iraq and Afghanistan and Afghanistan, she connected her laptop computer, plugged on headphones, and loaded a disc that contained music from one famous artist, Lady Gaga. Instead of enjoying the music, however, she erased it, then downloaded the album, which would later be described as the largest-ever leak of a single file to occur in U.S. history, ranging from diplomatic cables that were sensitive to videos showing U.S. soldiers killing civilians and 2 Reuters journalists.
In prison, she studied carpentry, but she didn’t stop looking into her previous profession. “I’m a certified carpenter,” she states. “But even when I was not working on the work, I read many cryptography books.” In the year 2016, she was visited in jail by Yan Zhu, a physicist from MIT who later became the chief security officer at Brave. This privacy-ensuring internet browser rewards users with cryptocurrency for agreeing to display advertisements.

She and Zhu were both concerned about the weaknesses they observed in Tor, which included its reliance upon the trust of government officials and universities. In 2020, 53% of the $5 million of funding for Tor was provided by an institution like the U.S. government, and 27 percent were from other Western government agencies, tax-subsidized nonprofits, foundations, companies, and foundations. In their view, the technology developed to compromise privacy was funded at a greater level than the technology designed to protect it.

“As Tor, VPN and the Dark Web, or Tor and VPN, as well as all of these other services, became more popular as well, the tools used to conduct traffic analysis have dramatically advanced,” says Manning. “And there’s been a war of words that’s been taking place between the Tor project’s creators, as well as various big Internet service companies.” Since 2014 the FBI discovered how to read Tor data. In 2020, a single user was believed to have controlled most Tor sites to steal bitcoin transactions made through the network.

Utilizing two sheets of paper found in the jail commissary, Manning sketched a diagram for Zhu, referred to as Tor Plus. Instead of simply encrypting data, she suggested injecting the information equivalent to noise into the network communications. In the document’s margins, she also said that blockchain technology, which was used by bitcoin, might play a part. In her notes, she wrote “New Hoffnung.”

Manning was barred from hosting guests she did not know before her detention. Fortunately, she had seen MIT Physics Professor Yan Zhu at a party just before her imprisonment and had a draft of these documents while visiting in the year 2016.

Then, in February, Halpin found her awake late at night with a text message requesting her to study a piece of paper that explained Nym. It was created entirely separate from Manning’s sketch of a jailhouse; the article described an almost identical method of concealing authentic messages using white noise. A mix of decentralized Tor dependent on donations and an enterprise-owned VPN that requires an organization’s trust, the network promises the most beneficial of both. It was a business for profit; Nym would pay people and organizations that ran the cryptocurrency network. “The next day, I had got my schedule in order,” she says. In July, she had signed an agreement with Nym to conduct an audit of security that would possibly include a deeper inspection of the algorithm, the code, and defensive strategies against government-sponsored attacks.

Unlike Tor, which uses an onion router to conceal data transmitted on the network shared by others, Nym uses mix networks or mixnet. Mixnet does not just shuffle information; it alters how the data is dispersed, making it virtually impossible to reconstruct.
“Imagine that you own an assortment of cards,” Manning says. Manning. “What’s truly unique is the fact that what’s happening is that you’re using the form of a deck, and then you’re taking another deck of cards. Then you are moving the decks also.”

It also is evident that not every government is happy with a privacy system that government officials from the U.S. government broadly support. Despite Halpin’s pledge to create an internet that doesn’t need government funds to operate and operate, in July, Nym was granted a grant of EUR200,000 by the European Commission to help get it going.
“Knowing that Wikileaks was becoming more at risk of being scrutinized by police and intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies, she devised ways to conceal the internet’s traffic by using blockchain, which is the technology behind bitcoin.”

“The issue is that there wasn’t an economic model that was logical enough to develop this technology,” Halpin says. Halpin. “There was no interest from the users or venture capitalists, nor large corporations. Then you’re witnessing what we call a once-in-a-lifetime aligning of stars where privacy is a topic of interest from venture capitalists. There’s a desire for privacy for people who use the Internet. Privacy is a topic of interest for corporations. Most of the attention is from the venture capitalist and corporate sides, and the end-user side is generated by cryptocurrency. It wasn’t the case five years ago.”

Tor is looking at ways blockchain can be used to build the next version of its technology. In the wake of receiving 26% percent of donations from cryptocurrency last year, Tor Project received a $670,000 grant from the advocates of Zcash. Zcash cryptocurrency. The company also sold a non-fungible token (NFT) that was its original .onion address to a buyer for $2million in May 2021. Then, Tor cofounder Nick Mathewson states that the Seattle-based organization is examining methods similar to those that cryptocurrency companies have developed to develop Tor credentials that allow users to establish a name without disclosing their identities. He calls it an “anonymous credential that can be blocked.”

“If you’ve got a site and someone is doing something that you aren’t happy about, You can block the person,” says Mathewson. “You could ban the individual who committed the offense without having to find out the other actions they engaged in or even determining who you have banned.”
Although Mathewson is intrigued by the possibilities of using blockchain technology to enhance Tor the Tor platform, he cautions that creating a profit-driven privacy infrastructure could result in more money going to marketing than developing products. “Our purpose is to increase the use of privacy technologies,” says Mathewson. “I do not care if the privacy software is one I designed and if it’s not.”

Ironically, the same culture of cryptocurrency that Halpin claims brought such interest from investors slowed Manning from pursuing it earlier. Although she is one of the first bitcoin users who claimed to mine cryptocurrency as early as Satoshi Nakomoto made it available at the end of 2009, Manning decided to sell her bitcoin in the last year due to very different reasons.
“I am not a big fan of the stigma associated with crypto and blockchain,” the author says. “There’s plenty of big celebrities who are visible, such as your Elon Musks and such,” she says. “And it’s like, “Oh, we’re going to make a fortune off of the blockchain. It’s very new wealthy like a new-yuppies-bro-culture that’s surrounded it. It’s gotten a bit better in certain areas. But I believe that culture is the thing I’m talking about. It’s similar to Gordon Gekko, but blockchain.”

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Robert Scoble
Robert is the assistant managing editor for HC News, overseeing coverage of markets, companies, strategy and business leaders. Originally from Boston, Scoble began his journalism career in 1997 & now resides outside New York.

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