Malte Andersson is the creator of RATS (RAdio Transceiver System), a system that uses good old-fashioned radio waves to send encrypted messages, completely bypassing the Internet. Although the Kickstarter project still has a few days left, it has already greatly exceeded its funding goals. He was only asking for 7500 Krona(a bit less than $900) but the project has already received over 40,000 Krona, or about $4700. The incredibly low funding goals may set off alarm bells, but the idea behind the project is interesting.
RATS is a system that allows computers to share encrypted messages and small files without relying on traditional networks. The RATS device plugs into a USB port on a PC, and allows communication with any other RATS device within range through the use of radio transmissions. RATS works on Windows, Mac and Linux. In order to assist users in obeying the law, there will be a downloadable XML file which will list which frequencies are legal to use in each country.
A major downside to this technology is the range. The Kickstarter page says the range is about 1km in an urban setting, or a bit over half a mile. If equipped with a superior antenna and in a more open area, it range can get up to about 6km. Even with these limitations however, it may have some niche uses. This, for example, could help companies that have multiple buildings located right next to each other. It could provide a system of communication between them without relying on the Internet, possibly saving some money. There are also still many underdeveloped areas in the world with either no Internet access at all, or in other cases, spotty and inconsistent access. In those areas, this system may provide some benefit. Being able to send any communication at all might be a boon in some places, even if limited in range and size.
Techdirt has also praised this device for its privacy, considering it to be more secure than sending communications online. The article also suggests that this system could be used by resistance groups in authoritarian regimes to avoid government censorship and surveillance that pervades traditional networks. In order to be useful to resistance groups, it would require a fairly large number of devices, and from the Kickstarter page it’s not clear that Andersson will be able to supply a large number of devices.
It does appear to be a one man operation, and in the risks section he states, “Small-scale production of RATS devices has already started, so the biggest risk would be that my electronics suppliers are unable to deliver all of the components if demand proves to be higher than estimated.” Even if he is unable to provide this product on a large-scale, the idea behind it could provide inspiration for anti-establishment forces to develop secure communications.