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Video Project Byzantium: Zero To Ad-Hoc Mesh Network In 60 Seconds (Video) 124

Project Byzantium calls itself Ad-hoc wireless mesh networking for the zombie apocalypse. It's also potentially useful for less-thrilling emergencies, such as floods, earthquakes, and political uprisings (or getting everyone at the office their /. fix when the network goes down). The latest version debuted at the HOPE (Hackers on Planet Earth) conference in July, 2012. You can download your very own copy of Byzantium any time you like. Hopefully you will then burn a dozen or so CDs (it's compact enough that it doesn't need a DVD) for friends and neighbors, so that if you suddenly see zombies approaching and your regular ISP has already been overrun and isn't working, you can set up a wireless mesh network and coordinate your anti-zombie efforts. And you won't even need to use the command line. (slides and audio of their presentation)
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Project Byzantium: Zero To Ad-Hoc Mesh Network In 60 Seconds (Video)

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    My WiFi connection has trouble reaching the 2nd floor bedroom!

    • by Q-Hack! ( 37846 ) *

      This does seem useless for anybody not it a big city. My closest neighbor is a good 1/4 mile away.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        9dbi antenna and external wifi adapter FTW (the last I tested worked well upto a mile in the boonies)

      • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) ( 193358 ) on Friday August 17, 2012 @01:06PM (#41025467) Homepage Journal

        Put the antenna higher up or use a directional one. Absorption by the environment is usually even worse than inverse square losses.

        With clear line of sight and no Fresnel zone obstruction, a quarter mile should be completely possible. Look up the distance record, it's remarkable.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        We're all missing the obvious solution where we turn each zombie into an access point []. When the horde is clawing at your boarded up home, you'll have an excellent signal.

      • I'm 2 blocks from my office which has DSL, but the house is in a different phone exchange and at the end of that run so no DSL available. I'm using open-mesh to get to my house. I go from an outdoor open-mesh on the office to non line of site outdoor unit out on a neighbor's barn. Then across a field to my house (I'm semi rural). I'm only getting around 3 meg of speed but it's better than the 22k modem option. This is with the default omni antenna on the open mesh gear. Nice equipment for less than 100 for

    • by fm6 ( 162816 )

      Your WiFi router has a legally-mandated limit on signal strength. Hopefully the FCC will be a little less zealous once the first zombies appear.

      • Your WiFi router has a legally-mandated limit on signal strength. Hopefully the FCC will be a little less zealous once the first zombies appear.

        This reminds me of a guy I knew around Y2k. Moved all of his stuff off into a cabin in the woods (he wouldn't tell us where) in October of 1999. The thing I thought was hilarious is that he also got a Ham radio license around that time, so that he could use the radios after civilization fell. I know that your car will still start for people who don't have a driver's license; I assume ham radios work the same way...

        • by fm6 ( 162816 )

          My favorite episode of King of the Hill is the one where everybody goes crazy about Y2K. Peggy wants a computer for her birthday, but Hank gets her a grandfather clock instead. Dale, the neighborhood survivalist and conspiracy nut, fills his basement with Mountain Dew and what he thinks is the seed of a hamster farm. When his wife points out that one of his breeding pair is actually a gerbil, he threatens not to share his "gerbster meat" with her!

        • But you need a license to operate them right now, otherwise the FCC will eventually notice. If you want to prepare for the collapse of civilisation, it's not enough to just have the radio: You also need experience operating it, and contacts with others in range. If you already know each other it is much easier to coordinate.
      • in genuine emergencies the fcc tends to turn a blind eye to violators who are aiding the effort to help people in need. that said it helps to have actually done things before you need them to work 100% so that you can shake out all the bugs and gain some experience.
  • Why not... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kenh ( 9056 ) on Friday August 17, 2012 @01:03PM (#41025435) Homepage Journal

    Why not simply flip your WiFi port from 'infrastructure' to 'ad-hoc'?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      I don't want my neighbors to see my collection of Kardashian pictures.
      • Kim didn't want the world to see her videos, either. But it worked out in the end. Now she's a gazillionaire. Just goes to show ya, ya never know how life's gonna turn out.
        • Kim didn't want the world to see her videos, either.

          I'm going to go out on a ledge here... yeah, she did.

    • Re:Why not... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Mathieu Lutfy ( 69 ) on Friday August 17, 2012 @01:52PM (#41026393) Homepage

      Why not simply flip your WiFi port from 'infrastructure' to 'ad-hoc'?

      In regular ad-hoc, you can see the people around you, but not reach their neighbours (there is no routing by default). Byzantium uses babeld, which is a routing layer over an "ad hoc" mode. The mesh network automatically recalculates routes, depending on their signal and link saturation. If you're into networking, it's really trivial to setup and lots of fun (especially with ipv6, although ipv4 works too of course).

      • Totally offtopic, but just how much did you pay for that /. ID?

        Sorry, it must be an old joke for you.

    • Because of the 4 node limit

  • Is that us? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Is that what we look like to "regular" people? That looks like the 3 Musketeers of Virginity

    • by WarJolt ( 990309 )

      Dress like whatever you want if it's halloween or you're at a Star Trek convention.

      All their issues they talk about and try to solve are important and quite frankly dressing like that makes it hard for anyone to take them seriously.
      These guys are obviously intelligent. It would be nice is they dressed in a way that reflects that.

      If I was a university professor considering showing this to my students as a way to teach my students about mesh networks, then I would have some reservations.

      Come on nerds... Dress

    • I've seen worse. There's a certain group I know of that dabbles in high-energy experiments. Capacitor bank and such. But when you see their group shot... []
  • Great! You can still check out Doomsday Pie [] and find out that you aren't the only one fighting off zombies as everyone will be tweeting the Zombie Apocalypse in real time.

  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Friday August 17, 2012 @01:18PM (#41025685)

    so if there is a natural disaster i'm not supposed to worry about finding food, medical help and anything else to survive but immediately start surfing the internet?

    and even if i did do this, only the naive morons will start advertising that they have food and are willing to share.

    • so if there is a natural disaster i'm not supposed to worry about finding food, medical help and anything else to survive but immediately start surfing the internet?

      Geez, get your priorities straight, you are supposed to have enough stockpiled what you need in your mom's basement to last for years already so you don't have to even go upstairs. Of course your first priority is to help maintain the integrity of the post-apocalypse Intertubes!

    • by localman57 ( 1340533 ) on Friday August 17, 2012 @01:26PM (#41025863)

      so if there is a natural disaster i'm not supposed to worry about finding food, medical help and anything else to survive but immediately start surfing the internet?

      No, if there's a natural disaster, you are supposed to worry about finding those things. Part of the theory behind these things is that a mesh network could help the people trying to provide them tell the people trying to find them where they are. Think about New Orleans, or even 9/11. The cell phone towers were not effective. But a mesh network might have been.

      • by nurb432 ( 527695 )

        But a mesh network might have been.

        I do agree, but didn't New Orleans lose power for weeks on end? Laptops only run so long...

    • so if there is a natural disaster i'm not supposed to worry about finding food, medical help and anything else to survive but immediately start surfing the internet?

      Establishing communications helps groups of people coordinate tasks -- including tasks like identifying and distributing available survival necessities.

      Computer networks aren't just for surfing the web.

    • How do setting-up mesh networks help if the internet is down?
      As for food you should be taking-advantage of Alex Jones once-per-Christmas survival packs. 2 years of storable food for about $2000. (Made by an outside company not jones.)

      • as the previous comment stated we added a bunch of network services to the livedistro and if you have ideas on other things to add you can create issues on our github page [] we would love to have more ideas on what could be included for emergencies and we will probably be asking for similar ideas for community mesh networks in the near future for a separate but related project. also those food bins tend to be stuff you can get cheaper at the grocery store or onlin
    • Seriously? In a flood, earthquake or political uprising, you food, water and shelter, obviously, but you will need communications too.

      That's like saying we shouldn't focus on software freedom because there is still lots of hunger in the world, dictators and corporate overlords running wild. We do what we do because we're good at it.

      So what are you up to? :)

    • by Idbar ( 1034346 )
      Certainly, if there's a flood, you'll hope your devices are waterproofed as well.

      In any case, any pointers to the actual routing algorithm? The most troubling part of the mesh/Ad-hoc networks if keeping tables, flooding packets, and finding the destination (i.e. All the routing) it would be nice to see what's this approach using and what are it's features (power consumption, better routing algorithms, etc).
    • by BMOC ( 2478408 )

      Idiot, food is whichever delivery I order, so of course I'll need internet to find food in an emergency... jesus it's like they let anyone post here.


    • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
      In a natural disaster, the rules change. What was a 5 minutes trip may now be a life-endangering trip. If you can know where the roads are cut, where the gangs are shooting people, where medical help is being sent, you will risk far less. You'll know if it is worth swimming all the way to downtown.
      And if you know where an hospital has been sent or tell a rescue team where you are, you can save lives. Communications network is a thing that rescue teams set up on day one to coordinate their teams.
      • and since people are SO WILLING to believe everything they read on a network, it'll be great
        fun polluting a mesh with dis-information and watching them go out to get food and instead
        become the food. eliminate the naive early as possible in the game to ensure better supply
        of resources later on :)

    • After hurricane Hugo hit, my dad looked at the mess of fallen trees and then headed to the first working pay phone he could find, where he ordered a chainsaw from Sears, thereby bypassing depleted inventory and exploitive prices. These days, with internet ordering, communications is pretty important. It's how we got our generator after the derecho a month or so ago. (Although we used a store's free wifi and not an ad-hoc mesh network.) There sure as heck weren't any to be had locally.

      This could be useful i

    • Immediately, no, but communication after a disaster is nothing to be sneezed at.

      Communication is one of the components of long term survival. Id say within the top 5.

    • wouldn't you WANT to eavesdrop on the naive morons sharing their food and ammo locations?
      darwin is all about survival of the most adaptable, not the strongest/fittest :)

  • These guys did a very similar presentation on the project last weekend at FOSSCON, too [ [] ].
    I think this is the kind of project that could use more eyes, and hands. Not just for the tech side, either - projects that have this kind of basic-underlying freedom philosophy, and are clearly seeking to enable distributed communication and computing are in everyone's interest, IMHO.
  • by Ichijo ( 607641 ) on Friday August 17, 2012 @01:39PM (#41026101) Journal

    Is there a distribution of Tomato/DD-WRT/OpenWRT with this preinstalled?

    • +1. I can see that being very beneficial. Of course, there are the hacking issues and so on, but it's a good idea.
    • by Sitwon ( 2710277 )

      I recommend Commotion Wireless. []

    • there is already a babel package and a luci plugin for it in openwrt and babel is the primary magic sauce in byzantium. the services are all easy to setup on linux systems (except kinda sorta) and they are all projects run by other people that we just borrowed from. there isn't really any specific requirement at the moment for what exactly those services are and as long as they don't actively interfere with the protocols used by the mesh it would add to the mesh to have any services running when
  • by Mathieu Lutfy ( 69 ) on Friday August 17, 2012 @01:41PM (#41026135) Homepage

    We're building a mesh network in Montreal, putting antennas on our roofs or windows. It's impressive what can be done with OpenWRT running babeld or babeld, and 100$ or less worth of hardware. Also a nice way to connect various free software hacking groups, and.. neighbours. []

    Check out also: []

    • oops, I meant: babeld or batman-adv

    • I wonder if you guys have put any bandwidth preservation measures in place in case of a natural disaster than limits connectivity between the mesh and the outside. I'm thinking if a giant mutant beaver takes out a dam that fries nearby telcos, you don't want somebody on a Skype video chat using up the lone remaining Pringle can-to-mountain top link. But then, that's more of an issue for the Project Byzantium use cases than yours I guess.

      PS -- please tell me you didn't create 68 slashdot accounts just to g

      • We're not there yet, our network is relatively small and geeky, we're installing lots of antennas these days (we just did a bulk order of 25 ubnt bullets with 15dbi antennas, and aprox 10-12 nodes already running).

        Most mesh routing protocols have features to limit bandwidth. It's also possible to control that on the exit node (those who provide Internet connectivity).

        A fun thing about mesh networks: the more users you have, the more capacity there is (more nodes relaying traffic). The challenge is then on t

  • Science Fiction... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BionicPimp ( 562378 ) on Friday August 17, 2012 @01:43PM (#41026185)
    Vernor Vinge [] was my networking teacher at SDSU... He mentioned an idea in passing similar to this (around 1997ish), except that in his vision, the network would be explosively formed. Imagine that you could get these nodes down to the size of a quarter. maybe it had a solar cell + battery combo. You could fire off a missle or a shell over a field of battle, a low yield explosive would disperse these nodes over some area, and would automatically create a mesh network. I still think that the idea has merit, maybe somehow install Byzantium into a tiny embedded controllers, etc...
    • we've wanted to do lots of different things including putting routing protocols on tiny embedded devices and air dropping them (missiles/rockets add excessive complexity to design of electronics due to high g-forces). as well as making something like a viral smartphone mesh that propagates as clients connect, but those are significantly more complex and less immediately useful than just helping people to use what they have already. also byzantium is just a collection of tools that we've made play nicely tog
  • by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Friday August 17, 2012 @01:46PM (#41026249) Homepage Journal

    Obviously 802.11 doesn't scale in most non-urban environments (i.e. mountains or trees).

    I've seen some references to some HAM's driving packet data up to 220Kbps in the early 90's. Anybody here familiar with how that worked? Most COTS HAM packet data seems to be stuck at 9600bps.

    And, yes, I'm assuming the FCC has all been turned into zombies at that point.

  • I'd love it if the project's web site had a howto for installing the necessary components on my existing Linux distribution.

    Why would I want to boot a LiveCD/LiveUSB if I already have a perfectly working Linux laptop with all my files and settings? Presumably once you're connected to the mesh network you'll want to be productive, whether it involves instant messaging, email, or whatever else you have set up and configured on your laptop.

  • Won't they just be able to find their way easier to good brains? Ones big and smart and nutritious enough to install Byzantium?

    Giving away your presence and location can be a good or bad thing in tough times. During the next Zombie Apocalypse, make sure that your closest neighbor node is in range of your McMillan CS5 [].

  • Forget Zombies. One of the original reasons for this project is to deal with situations like Arab Spring where the local Government tries to cut off (limit, censor or track) network communications to crack down on those who dont like them. How do you get networking back to lots of people, especially those that are not supergeek linux kernel hackers? The project lets people setup primary mesh nodes that become gateways to network, and it also let non-mesh machines become leaf nodes to connect and gain som
    • by Sitwon ( 2710277 )

      We're still having some trouble supporting MacBooks, particularly because none of the core developers own one. We'd love to help you troubleshoot the issue, as we certainly don't want to exclude Macs from being nodes. Best way to reach us is through our mailing list or in #byzantium on Freenode.

    • try installing it to usb as well. apart from the mac issues, the CDs have a version with some issues at boot that are mitigated by using the "copy to ram" boot option and/or using a usb instead of the CD. there are instructions in the "USBINSTALL.txt" on the CD.
    • by nurb432 ( 527695 )

      Just outlaw non-licensed wifi. Easy to triangulate on a signal to a particular house or apartment.

      Break down the doors, arrest all the occupants and confiscate all belongings.

      Not hard to do really.

      • Might work better as a smartphone app. Very hard to triangulate when the target is mobile. Make sure to spoof the MAC too.
  • Who wants to talk to my neighbors. They'll be the ones to bring the Apocalypse.
  • The main benefit of electronic communications is that it works over long distances. Is it possible to include long-distance wireless links in the system/ Or more generally, can one add other links than WiFi? In a huge catastrophy, maybe some knowledgeable people could wire up some of the ISP's infrastructure with generators or solar panels. The use of Avahi for DNS (in the FAQ) suggests that it wouldn't scale beyond a neighbourhood or two, but maybe one could add advanced router nodes..

    Another benefit of el

    • by Sitwon ( 2710277 )

      Is it possible to include long-distance wireless links in the system/ Or more generally, can one add other links than WiFi?

      Yes. The routing protocols we have chosen are layer-1/layer-2 agnostic. You can connect to other nodes through any physical link you have available. Dial up, satellite, HAM radio, a VPN tunnel, carrier pigeon, ...

      Another benefit of electronic technology is collaboration and information storage. Byzantium seems great for that, at least for a local group. Depending on the situation, there may be a need for high security, to restrict access to certain documents/wikis, and authentication, to know who one is talking to. That would be impossible to provide to provide to the ignorant "iPhone users" they keep going on about. Impossible at least for the leaf nodes without the Byzantium software (e.g. ARP spoofing), and very difficult for the router nodes as well.

      We believe that it can be done, that it can be done securely, and that it can be done securely for iPhone users. Obviously there will always be challenges and vulnerabilities in any system this complex, but we can make an effort to address those or at least make it easier for end users to exercise

      • Your routing may be good, but I see a weakness: You still *need* routing for everything. You might find content-addressible networking of some use there: Every node becomes a cache. It's rather sucky for real-time communications, but great for dissemination purposes. For example, the owner of a node takes a video of something newsworthy. Without content addressible networking, every node on the network requests it from that node: If a hundred people request, that's a hundred retransmissions, and if the node
        • by Sitwon ( 2710277 )

          I don't see this as a problem.

          Once routing is established at layer-3, there's no reason you couldn't run a DHT or CAN system (such as Freenet) at a higher OSI layer. As we say in our presentation, the Internet is broken on many levels but we're starting from the lowest ones. Projects like Freenet are starting from the top-down, rather than the bottom-up. Both are necessary and meet in the middle.

    • google "Sydney-Wifi" or "Melbourne-Wifi".......lots of people have been out building these alternate networks for years.
  • by BillX ( 307153 ) on Friday August 17, 2012 @11:17PM (#41033019) Homepage

    How does this compare to existing ad-hoc WiFi mesh protocols such as B.A.T.M.A.N. [] / Open-Mesh, or some of the others listed at the bottom of the Wikipedia entry?

  • Scanned the site. Was turned off by the zombie apocalypse ref though I guess it is all in good fun and would help bring in enthusiastic hackers. However it says that due to inability_to_save_the_world they recognize and ignore the possibility of malicious nodes.

    I was turned off by zombie reference because we really could have used this in eastern Japan (and Tokyo where I was) during the 2011 tsunami/earthquake. Mobile phones were out, we couldn't tell if people were alive or dead since infrastructure was wi

    • by mattr ( 78516 )

      p.s. I should add these notes:
      - The main way people get information is from repetitive announcements on TV.
      However, TV broadcasting is not always magically available. For example the antenna on top of Tokyo Tower got bent.
      So it would be good if there could be a minimal byzantium mesh including some way that smartphone users could have an app that would connect them all together with minimal burden on the mesh.
      - Meteor strike is another time it might be another interesting type of horrible disaster to consid

    • by Sitwon ( 2710277 )

      To be honest, I'm a bit surprised at all of the negative comments I've seen regarding the "zombie apocalypse" bit. We have tried to make it clear that the zombie thing is a joke, the real inspiration and goal of the project is natural disasters and political activism. On our original wiki, those goals were listed as items 1 & 2, the zombie bit was added as a whimsical third scenario but it seemed to catch on people who were interested in our project.

      In reality, we are developing Byzantium to be useful i

  • The emergence is that the FCC gave away the Radio bandwidth and we are taxed to use it. We should have done this 20 years ago and the last mile problem would have been solved and our G4 access would be wide spread on everyone's roofs. Al Gore let this one slip by. Just shows what he invented was a corporation controlled Internet.

    Why didn't we think of this before... Oh ya, we did. I do like the idea of nodes the size of a quarter and powered by a solar panel.

    I saw an Interview of Richard St
    • The internet was not designed corporate-controlled. If it were, it would function like cable TV: You would have servers and clients as very different things. Clients would never be able to connect to other clients, home connections would never be able to run a server, and the only connections that could would be charged high enough to exclude those without money to spend.
      If the government or communcations and media companies of the US had seen the internet coming, they'd have killed it before it got popular
  • wow i am really liking this i will be having fun with this for a while

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"