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GNU Free Call: A Proposed Free Phone To Skype

GNU

Published on 14 March 2011 08:13 PM EDT
Written by Michael Larabel in GNU
31 Comments

The GNU Free Call project was released today. It's a project that's self described to be a new communication service to compete with Skype that is designed to be free as in freedom and free as in no cost.

The GNU Free Call release announcement says, "We use the open standard SIP protocol and GNU SIP Witch to create secured peer-to-peer mesh calling networks, and we welcome all participation in our effort." Additionally:
What
Our goal is to make GNU Free Call ubiquitous in a manner and level of usability similar to Skype, that is, usable on all platforms, and directly by the general public for all manner of secure communication between known and anonymous parties, but without requiring a central service provider to register with, without using insecure source secret binary protocols that may have back-doors, and without having network control points of any kind that can be exploited or abused by external parties. By doing so as a self organizing meshed calling network, we further eliminate potential service control points such as through explicit routing peers even if networks are isolated in civil emergencies.

We do recognize this project has significant long term social and political implications. It also offers potentially essential utility in public service by enabling the continuation of emergency services without requiring existing communication infrastructure. There are many ordinary public service uses, such as the delivery of eHealth services, as well as medical, and legal communication, where it is essential to treat all with equal human dignity by maintaining privacy regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation. Equally important is the continuation of emergency medical services even when existing infrastructure is no longer available or has been deliberately disabled.

How
Initially we will extend sipwitch to become aware of peer nodes by supporting host caches, and then support publishing of routes to connected peers. This work builds upon the already existing routing foundation in sipwitch itself. The use of host caches is a mechanism used in older p2p networks, it is generally well understood, it would meet the initial goals of establishing a self organized mesh network, and it is rather easy to initially implement to fully demonstrate the potential of sipwitch as a mesh calling system. More advanced methodologies can then be added later on.

Related to this goal is having sipwitch operate as a SIP mediation service for desktops users and IP enabled cell phones such as Android. This introduces the needs for users to be able to “pilot” their local sipwitch instance through a desktop and cell phone gui, whether to see what calls are being placed through it, or to see the verification status of secure key exchange. There are today IPC interfaces in sipwitch to allow for desktop integration, but a specific GUI to use these interfaces and present server and call states in a manner for people to understand still needs to also be constructed, and hence this too is part of the plan of work for this project.

In addition we will be extending GNU SIP Witch to offer secure VoIP proxy. Much like what was done initially by Phil Zimmerman to develop ZRTP using zfone, this mode of operation will enable development of key elements of a secure infrastructure without having to also initially create new SIP user agent applications. By offering secure proxy through a SIP Witch instance running at the endpoint, any existing SIP standard compliant softphone or device will be able to establish a secure connection to another standard compliant SIP device or SIP peer that is using GNU SIP Witch at the destination.

This project’s definition of secure media is similar to Zimmermann’s work on ZRTP, in that we assure there is no forwarding knowledge by using uniquely generated keys for each communication session. Furthermore, we will use GNU Privacy Guard (GPG) to fully automate session validation. This will be done by extending the SIP protocol to exchange public keys for establishing secure media sessions that will be created by each instance of SIP Witch operating at the end points on behalf of local SIP user agents, and then verifying there is no man-in-the-middle by exchanging GPG signed hashes of the session keys that were visible at each end.

About The Author
Michael Larabel is the principal author of Phoronix.com and founded the web-site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience and being the largest web-site devoted to Linux hardware reviews, particularly for products relevant to Linux gamers and enthusiasts but also commonly reviewing servers/workstations and embedded Linux devices. Michael has written more than 10,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics hardware drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and OpenBenchmarking.org automated testing software. He can be followed via and or contacted via .
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