The InterPlanetary File System is a protocol used online to distribute and access data. Anything from websites and chat clients to tax forms and email inboxes take advantage of this decentralized technology. We wanted to dive deeper into the technology to examine its nascent days, its future, and the impact it currently has on the technology landscape. How does decentralization benefit small businesses, and how does it protect us as individuals from Big Tech companies like Google and Meta?
This week, we are revisiting a blog from 2019 in which we asked AXEL’s own developers about IPFS. One of our AXEL developers that will be answering our questions is Rick Stiles, a veteran of AXEL, SVP of Products and IP, and a veritable encyclopedia of blockchain information.
Q: In the previous blog, we asked, “What inspired you to develop AXEL IPFS”? And you answered that the next evolution of computing is distributed. IPFS or something very similar is going to be the basis of distributed storage. With so many advancements that have taken place, is this still the correct answer in 2022?
Yes. Decentralized and distributed computing is absolutely still the answer. But decentralization itself isn’t just about getting the equipment spread out and closer to the users; it’s also about decentralizing the control of the network. Blockchain networks sit at the very heart of the decentralization initiative. These networks are democratized through the use of consensus mechanisms. The AXEL network uses Masternodes to perform transactions and achieve consensus. Since these Masternodes are owned and operated independently, the network’s power and control are governed by the network, not by an individual or a corporation. IPFS is the perfect complement to a decentralized network as it is an open-source file storage and management operating system designed to enable interoperability across networks and domains. By combining these two powerful technologies, true decentralization of network resources and control can begin to grow.
Q: What are we talking about when we talk about IPFS?
IPFS (Interplanetary File System) is a protocol. It’s designed specifically for storing and sharing data in distributed and decentralized file systems. IPFS is open-source, meaning anyone wishing to participate in the network is welcome to do so. Unlike typical file storage protocols deployed independently by cloud providers, IPFS creates interoperability across networks and domains, expanding the reach of file access beyond typical localized cloud solutions.
Q: What are some benefits of decentralizing your storage over a centralized method like Google Drive?
Decentralized storage puts your files closer to where you need them. In a typical decentralized networking configuration, your access point to your files will be geographically closer to you in most cases. Decentralization also means that the traffic on the network isn’t all being routed through a centralized hub. This enables faster access and dramatically reduces the upload/download and access times during peak traffic hours. Yet another benefit of decentralization is in file security. It’s far more challenging to hack into a file if you don’t know where it resides. Larger companies hosting file services are routinely targeted by nefarious entities seeking to gain access to private data.
Q: How does the decentralized nature of IPFS benefit small businesses?
As I shared previously, decentralization brings your content closer to you, giving you faster access times and more flexibility with file storage. Another significant advantage is file privacy and security. In a typical cloud storage configuration, encryption is offered as an added measure of protection to prevent unauthorized file access. The problem with this approach is that the companies providing the encryption are also holding all the encryption/decryption keys. This means that unauthorized people can still access your files since you (the file owner) are not directly in control of your encryption/decryption keys. Decentralized networks (like AXEL) don’t hold the keys to files stored within the IPFS repositories. These keys are tied directly to you, the users. So, you are in complete control of the privacy and security of your digital content.
We see in 2022 that IPFS technology has become more widespread over the last three years. As a storage solution, IPFS has been placed in the hands of the everyman. Anyone seeking end-to-end encryption can find it with a click and drag rather than seeking a bespoke solution or an in-house developer.
Q: AXEL IPFS will allow our users to immediately and securely distribute their data worldwide for personal or business use. Is this still the most exciting aspect of IPFS?
For the user, that’s a very exciting aspect of IPFS. As a developer, the migration of business networking from a centralized to a decentralized configuration, combined with interoperability across networks, is the most exciting aspect of IPFS.
Decentralization of resources also means decentralization of control. By decentralizing control of these global networks, users have more options. For example, there used to be just a single telephone company in the USA. “Bell Telephone” was the company. If you wanted to make a phone call, you did it through Bell Telephone. Then came divestiture. Divestiture broke the telephone companies into much smaller groups with much smaller service areas. This meant that those companies had to battle for customers and focus on better products and better service to gain users, even though they were all providing access to the same network. If everyone uses IPFS to store their digital content, then you have far more choices in how you manage your content and the gateways you use to access your content. This goes a long way in the unification of global storage and networking.
Q: In 2019, we initially asked if there is a future for IPFS and what industries will adopt it first. Were you right in your answer?
Yes. The technology researchers and developers focused on Web 3.0 are still working diligently towards integrating and expanding IPFS networking and storage services. As expected, others have also joined the journey of IPFS storage. Largely, these industries and disciplines have a much greater need for privacy and security. The old saying “necessity is the mother of invention” is true in the case of IPFS. Companies and individuals are becoming far savvier regarding the privacy and security of their files and personal data. So they seek out more private and secure networks to facilitate the management of their data. IPFS fosters both interoperability and enhanced privacy and security.
Q: We previously talked about IPFS storage as “an evolution” of cybersecurity. What are some strides in cybersecurity you’ve seen over the past three years that IPFS has had a hand in?
Transport encryption is probably one of the top advances in IPFS. Encryption itself provides privacy and security for contents at rest (while being stored). An example of this would be a spreadsheet to which you’ve assigned a password. To open that file, you would need the password. As would anyone you shared that file with. Transport encryption protects the file while being sent from one IPFS node to another. This prevents a third party from viewing the contents of a file while it is in transit—pretty cool stuff.
Q: We often hear champions of Web 3 tell their audiences that decentralization is the future. Why is that?
As I shared earlier, decentralization isn’t just about geographically distributing the network elements across a wide area, making transaction times faster. It’s also about the decentralization of the control of these networks. That’s where the real excitement lies. Taking the control out of the hands of a single governing entity or group and putting that control into a democratized network makes IPFS more of a public utility. One that is owned and operated by the public. This keeps access and availability very high while also keeping the costs of services low.
Q: What makes IPFS storage an integral stepping stone to establishing Web 3?
Web 3.0 is all about the decentralization of network control. IPFS being open source and bringing interoperability across networks and devices gets us closer to establishing Web 3.0. When the internet first appeared, it was free access and free information for everyone. It was indeed a public utility. Now the internet is very much controlled by a handful of major corporations that monetize users’ personal information to grow their power and reach of these corporations. Web 3.0 is a movement towards returning the power and control of user information to the user, preventing it from being monetized without our approval. If Web 3.0 were a highway, it would be free, open, and winding. The current global internet system is more like a toll road. Which would you rather drive on?
Early adopters of IPFS infrastructure have been quietly building Web 3.0 spaces in ways that don’t rely on cryptocurrencies or buzzwords. IPFS is a structure that uses blockchain networks and heavy encryption in a practical manner as we speak. Web 3.0 has found its true footing in storage solutions and remote work initiatives.
How does AXEL use IPFS to shore up its digital defenses?
By design, IPFS is far more robust from a security standpoint than centralized storage. Every year, we see more and more news stories about massive data breaches affecting millions of lives. The problem lies in the fact that these massive data repositories are centralized. They store all user/client data in the same place(s). This makes them easier for hacker targets because they know all the data is stored in the same repository. So you can attack a large storage target and get massive amounts of information for your efforts. IPFS is specifically designed to support decentralized and distributed storage. So all of the information is not in the same place. By breaking up the files and storing them across a network swarm instead of a localized storage repository, IPFS is far more secure simply because it’s more difficult for a nefarious actor to target the stored content because it’s spread out.
Q: Are there any thoughts you’d like to leave us with?
Web 3.0 is coming. Decentralization of networking control and distribution of network storage and resources will bring us closer to a new web experience that puts everyone in control of their content, their identity, and their privacy and security. AXEL is keenly focused on bringing Web 3.0 to the forefront. We welcome you to join us on our journey as we work with other pioneers to bring us closer to Web 3.0
IPFS isn’t just a storage solution for small businesses. It’s a technology that acts as the modern crowbar, prying centralized control away from tech companies that ask us to put our faith in them. The decentralized storage and in-transit encryption IPFS provides is indeed the future of security. Still, the real utility lies in the fact that it gives digital privacy and security back to consumers and business owners.
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