(Image via Shutterstock)
(Image via Shutterstock)

As our personal and business data migrates online, lack of online security is increasingly a source of worry for both businesses and individuals worldwide. The risks, including malicious hacking, vandalism, and data theft, are numerous. Today’s Internet is vulnerable in part because data typically resides on networks managed and controlled entirely by individual companies. MaidSafe, a startup based in Troon, Scotland, has what it believes is a way to eliminate that kind of reliance and improve the safety of data. It’s based on the classic concept of peer-to-peer sharing—in this case, the sharing of data storage.
MaidSafe spent the past eight years developing the MaidSafe network, or SAFE network (short for Secure Access for Everyone). It allows network participants to contribute hard disk space to power the network with “vaults.” Vaults are the building blocks of the SAFE network, and function as nodes in the network. The active vaults are selected by the SAFE network to store and process data based on the amount and consistency of computer resources provided by the user. This creates a distributed network that manages static and dynamic data as well as communications.
In the SAFE network, data is separated into small, encrypted chunks and mapped so each data chunk can be sent across the encrypted, decentralized network securely and anonymously. A file is encrypted both with MaidSafe’s algorithm as well as a public encryption standard (AES256). The software randomly selects the computer that stores the data chunk. The removal of intermediaries in the management of personal data is one of SAFE’s key innovations. According to Nick Lambert, COO of MaidSafe,“the process of self authentication, and the fact that data is stored in a distributed fashion throughout the network … puts the user in charge of their data.”
To incent MaidSafe users to contribute space to the network, MaidSafe rewards users with a digital currency called “safecoins.” Safecoins are distributed based on the quantity of resources contributed by a user. Safecoins also encourage the development of applications in the network. Maidsafe rewards developers who build open source apps with safecoins. If a person or business wishes to upload data that takes more space than the amount they themselves contributed to the network, they can “pay” for the extra space with safecoins.
The SAFE network has attracted the attention of developers around the world. For example, one MaidSafe-focused startup, Infinity Algorithm, is building a crypto-currency exchange. The SAFE network is also useful to the Bitcoin industry as a tool for private keys storage. Lambert sees future applications in decentralized data storage (a “decentralized dropbox”), federated news sites, and communication apps (like voice-over-IP, or VOIP). The company is encouraging the creation of developer groups (or “pods”) globally, with communities already active in Montreal, Troon, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. In the long run, these SAFE pods are intended to take over the maintenance and development of the SAFE network from the core development team in Scotland.
MaidSafe has raised $7 million to build out the network and develop additional applications using its open-source technology. Ultimately, it aims to replicate many existing web applications more securely on the SAFE network, including messaging, crypto wallets, distributed databases, and contract-signing apps. With ample funding and a growing user base, the SAFE network aspires to widespread adoption in the coming year.