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Meet Onionshare, the File Sharing App the Next Snowden Will Use

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A small software app called Onionshare offers the most secure file sharing available. So why hasn't anyone heard of it? Well, mostly because it was released with just a tweet from its creator, and you have to go to Github to download it. But don't let its underground status fool you—this is a very important app.

Technologist Micah Lee debuted his peer-to-peer file sharing service with little fanfare, but what it does is big: Onionshare lets users share files securely and anonymously, without middlemen. Lee created it after reading about the trouble journalist Glenn Greenwald had accepting the NSA files from Edward Snowden. Now Lee works at The Interceptwith Greenwald, where the staff is already putting Onionshare to good use.


How You Use It

Right now, it's still software in development, but Lee told Gizmodo he's readying a version to directly download for OS and Windows that should be ready later this week. Onionshare is available for free on GitHub now, and if you have OS X or higher you can test out the upcoming version on Lee's website.


Here's what it looks like in action, courtesy of Lee:

However you get it, you'll have to download Tor, a free-to-use network that lets you anonymously use the internet. It's one of the best privacy tools available. With Onionshare, you can send a file of any size to anyone (even someone who doesn't use Onionshare)—without sending it to a third party.

When a user wants to send a file, Onionshare creates a temporary, password-protected website for it, and the user gives their intended recipient that URL and password. When someone opens a file they receive on Onionshare, they create a direct link between the sending and receiving computer. Once the file is downloaded, users can cancel the website, erasing any trace of a transfer. Encrypt everything along the way for added security.


Why It Matters

EFF activist Parker Higgins explains why peer-to-peer services like Lee's are so important in an opinion piece for Wired:

"The qualities that the copyright lobby dislike about peer-to-peer are precisely the ones that make it a powerful choice for defenders of press freedom and personal privacy. Namely, peer-to-peer offers no convenient mechanism for centralized surveillance or censorship. By design, there's usually no middleman that can easily record metadata about transfers—who uploaded and downloaded what, when, and from where—or block those transfers. With some peer-to-peer implementations (though not Lee's) that information may be publicly accessible. But recording all of it would require a dragnet effort, not a simple request for a log file from a centralized service provider."


What's Next

Lee has big goals for his small app. "I do want it to be a widespread tool. I think that right now it's kind of a hard problem to send someone a large file across the Internet without it getting spied on. This is a very simple way around that," he told Gizmodo. "I would like a lot of people to use it, and for it to become a new standard way for people to send big files. It will make the Internet more secure."


Though Onionshare is in its infancy, the potential impact it could have on security should interest even seasoned privacy advocates—and normal internet users dismayed by the current state of online privacy.

Image: andersphoto.