Saturday, 23 July 2011

Aurora Sim Security: a Mirror World

Aurora sim has been advancing at break-neck pace since I last wrote about it and, with the release of 0.4, the platform now supports IWC (Inter Worlds Connector) in grid mode enabling travellers to teleport between any Aurora-based grid. To bring more compatibility between Aurora and Opensim, on which it is based, Revolution Smythe (lead coder of Aurora team) has released a bridging module too which enables Opensim users to Hypergrid to Aurora sims and back. Even the problem of porting content back and forth now seems to have been solved since before anything brought to Aurora couldn't be taken back to Opensim. It's breathtaking really to think how far the project has progressed in so short a time given that Opensim has taken four years so far. In just ten months Aurora has reached a state of advanced Alpha but security-wise it is, in fact, already far in advance of Opensim. For me it is almost too much and too fast to really grasp all the concepts. But there is a strangeness about Aurora that draws you in. It's like science fiction and everything you wanted in a virtual world unfolding before your eyes. Makes you feel like a stranger in a strange land.

Gaga joins the meeting on Nova grid. Revolution Smythe is the guy with the spiky blue hair but don't be fooled by appearances. Rev is a genius and a frantic coder with a knowledge of Open sim and Aurora second to none.

Revolution Smythe admits to not being a fan of Hypergrid since he considers it seriously insecure and IWC is intended to improve the security but, in any event, a lot more Opensim grid owners will be thankful for the HG bridge regardless of the security issues and we can expect more connection as a result. The Aurora team have said in their founding statement that they want to remain compatible with Opensim as far as is possible and the HG bridge will help to ensure that. Of course, there is a lot more to Aurora sim than HG or IWC and, with the decision to put Open Simulator project under the direction of the Overte Foundation, more cooperation between the projects is expected too. An example is the recent inclusion of the llCastRay(), a patch that will help improve the shooting of bullets, etc.

Opensim was developed under a BSD license which allows proprietary commercial use so other projects can be built on top of it and even forked versions of the platform which includes InWorldz and Openlife grids and, of course, Aurora Sim itself. However, the GPL license under which TPV (Third party Viewers) are coded does not allow derivative, proprietary commercial use and this was the reason for the six-month rule where contributors could not submit patches if they had been working on viewer code recently. Linden Labs are the owners of the Second Life viewer code and allow TPV coders to create their own style of viewer with added features. It is often said Opensim server code was back-ported from the viewer code but this is not strictly true since the platform code is all original and largely based on guess work about how the LL code works. But, I digress. Hypergrid is unique to Opensim and, apart from a brief period of collaboration with the Opensim HG protocol, Linden Labs has shown no interest since and, unsurprising really, the security - or lack of it - is a major factor.

Regular weekly community meetings are held on Nova grid which is Aurora based too. Not long ago just a few people came to these meetings but suddenly the numbers are growing.

There has been a lot of debate about HG security and most people are agreed it just can't be guaranteed in an open source project where anyone can make changes that are designed to steal content and infringe copyright. Revolution Smythe has stated the HG protocol is fundamentally flawed. Even by setting the Outward bounds permission to null which prevents content from leaving the grid in which it is supplied is only an attempt to plug the hole and the fact we see Avination - a grid owned and run by Opensim core developer Melanie Thielker -  has not yet opened their grid to HG demonstrates that commercial grid owners are still nervous about it. For grid owners who believe in a more Utopian Metaverse then the current flavour of HG is probably sufficient to satisfy them. They do, after all, share content freely and most would prefer an IP rights form of license anyway. However, business interests are growing more aware of the potential of virtual world platforms and they demand a high level of security for their virtual creations knowing content theft is a seriously damaging problem.

IWC takes a different approach than HG to security. HG works by calling content data from one sim to another. IWC, on the other hand, connects two grids together for the visitor. It is like the traveller has not really left their home grid and, though this is a very abstract concept and indeed complex, it actually offers greater security. What you appear to bring home you don't actually for it never leaves the grid in which it is supplied unlike HG where it does. And yet, you bought the content and have access to it, apparently, at home. Another way to describe IWC and, in deed, Aurora sim is to look at it as an integrated network of grids and sims. With HG in OS everything is separated. With IWC in AU everything is networked.

HG also allows avatar appearance to be called from the traveller's home grid which partly touches on the IWC concept but if you are allowed to take away clothing, skins and other body attachments inevitably they can be copied on the home grid. IWC calls the clothing, etc from the supplier's grid when ever you wear something that you bought or got supplied while travelling. The act of visiting and buying made your avatar part of the grid, or grids, you visit. Effectively, your content is spread all over the Metaverse but it looks like you have it all in one place - in your inventory which is not strictly true.

Mirror World...

Revolution Smythe is the inventor of IWC but even he admits it's still not a perfect solution but is much more secure than Hypergrid. Ideally, he told me, he would want to push to something else like Mesh Networking. With Mesh networks you are looking at the Metaverse grids a nodes which communication with each other. Each node is selfish and holds onto what its got but must act as a relay and collaborate to propagate data in the network. In other words it holds onto the content created there while sending data about the content over the network and relaying data from other nodes at the same time. Again, this is very complicated to understand, but perhaps a better way to look at it is if the nodes are like mirrors reflecting data. No matter where the traveller goes they will be visiting a node that carries data unique to their needs, to them, to their inventory. They are a part of the whole and never really own anything unless they created it. Content thieves can not steal a reflection.

What this could all mean for the future should not be under estimated. If Revolution Smythe and the Aurora team keep up at the rate they are progressing I am convinced they will have a platform that is so advance and secure that it's conceivable even Second Life could safely open it's vast asset servers  to the Aurora system if, of course, they both adopt the Mesh Networks concept. This would enable users who own large inventories which they have invested a lot of money in to use it anywhere in the network and finally Second Life residents would be able to travel. It would be good for Linden Labs and their merchants, and it would expand the open Metaverse creating a vast commercial market for virtual content. Linden Labs would just have to change their business model from renting virtual land (Sims) to providing data services.

It's quite something to see the clones of Rev come marching in!

1001 Bots...

Changing the subject to finish on, at the last weekly meeting on Nova grid attended by team developers and supporters, Revolution Smythe demonstrated the spawning of bots. It was quite a sight to see hundreds of bots which were all clones of Rev. Skidz, a core member, has also produced another great video which I am showing here. 1001 bots on a sim is quite an achievement!

Now, what would you do with all those bots?

Dose the epic battle for Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings come to mind?