Internet Robustness: About the Project

This project is led by Principal Investigator Jonathan Zittrain, and builds on his proposal for a mutual aid treaty for the Internet that would enable operators of websites to enter easily into mutually beneficial agreements that ultimately bolster the robustness of the entire web. The project's Amber system is a tool for website owners and administrators to offer an alternative route to web content in the event of intentional third-party blocking, hacking or DDoS attacks, or unintentional hosting or server failures.

In creating a more resilient web, Internet Robustness and its Amber system also aim to mitigate risks associated with increasing centralization of online content. More and more, just a handful of centralized entities host information online. Greater online centralization creates greater vulnerability because there more powerful “choke points” exist to restrict access to web content. The more that a system can provide numerous routes to access information, even in the face of filtering or blockages, the more all people can freely share that information.

Motivated by the importance of a robust and resilient Internet and inspired by a mutual aid approach, the Internet Robustness project is assessing existing approaches to mirroring content, building on work completed by students from the 2011-2012 Ideas for a Better InternetMirror As You Link’ group, which also developed working code for an extension to allow mirroring of WordPress blogs. Over the course of this three-year project, the Berkman Center has conducted research to identify the best possible technical alternatives for the system, built the Amber technical infrastructure and code base, and is now testing the system with pilot communities in anticipation of broader future roll-out.

This project complements and builds on a number of research projects at the Berkman Center, including our long-standing research effort on technical filtering and Internet controls as part of the OpenNet Initiative, the Herdict project, Internet Monitor, studies of DDoS attacks against independent media and human rights sites, as well as circumvention tool evaluation reports.

Amber

Amber is a server-side plugin built by the Internet Robustness project to keep links working on blogs and websites. It is a tool for website owners and administrators to safeguard web links and affiliate websites against DDOS attacks, filtering, and general link rot. By automatically storing a mirror of every outbound link on the host website, Amber gives visitors a fallback option if links go dead. If one of the pages linked to on the website were to ever go down, Amber can provide visitors with access to a mirrored version.

Amber is an advanced proof-of-concept for an Internet protocol to allow websites to seamlessly mirror one another’s content on the Internet as a form of distributed mutual aid. We hope the support and partnership of web browser makers, web archives, and benevolent (and self-interested) website operators will encourage a robust network of mirrors and an end to dead links everywhere. It runs directly on the host website's server, storing content as the author links. It does not transmit any data to a third party. It also does not require visitors to the website website to download or run anything—once installed, it all happens for visitors automatically.

Use and Compatibility

Amber is useful for virtually any organization or individual that has an interest in preserving the content to which their website links. Websites whose visitors would receive an immediate benefit include those of journalists, human rights groups, news organizations, and blogging platforms.

Amber is compatible with the two most commonly used content management systems: WordPress and Drupal. For those websites who run a custom CMS, Amber can be installed as an Apache and Nginx module. Once installed, the website or systems administrator can configure Amber’s storage and delivery preferences to fit the organization’s performance needs.

How can I get it?

The Internet Robustness project is currently recruiting websites for participation in the Amber pilot program. If you are interested in putting Amber to work for your website and visitors, contact the Amber team: amber@cyber.harvard.edu.

Find out more about Amber at Amberlink.org.

Last updated

October 28, 2014