Crypto technology could play a unique role in how Russia’s intensifying invasion of Ukraine gets recorded into history.
Videos of Russian troops occupying Chernobyl and explosions rocking Kyiv make up some of the millions of digital records documenting the conflict being held on Arweave, a decentralized data storage network.
It’s the decentralization that’s key to why Arweave says its archive will prove so vital. Because there are lots of copies of the data stored in lots of places, it essentially can’t be hacked or erased — even if one copy goes down, there are plenty of back-ups. Plus, the data can’t be edited once it’s put onto the network.
“We started this project to build a censorship-resistant ledger of history,” said Sam Williams, Arweave co-founder and chief executive officer.
Cyber warfare has already played a role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Kyiv Post, an English-language news site in Ukraine, has been targeted by digital attacks. The site has had articles uploaded to Arweave for preservation, Williams said. Meanwhile, Russia has partially limited access to Facebook and slowed access to Twitter on mobile devices over disagreements on content.
Arweave’s Archive Expansion
Historical records on Arweave related to Russian invasion of Ukraine
Source: ViewBlock, Ashlar
Already, Arweave holds more than 6.6 million tweets, videos, photos and articles related to the Ukraine conflict, according to ViewBlock, a data tracker that logs Arweave transactions. Anyone with a crypto wallet, and who’s willing to pay a fee of about 1 cent per megabyte, is able to add to the archive. The trove of data can be accessed publicly through the ViewBlock website.
The swift and massive influx of data shows the power of being able to add to the archive of history in real time. While social media can widely disseminate information, sifting through and preserving that information is a challenge. But Arweave’s digital records can act as public vault, securing the information in one place for decades to come.
Williams, 29, dropped out of a computer science doctoral program at England’s University of Kent to start Arweave in 2017. After studying periods like Nazi Germany, he wanted to build a platform for keeping a permanent historical record that couldn’t be edited.
“One of the most important things authoritarian rulers tried to do was control the information space,” he said.
The immutability of distributed, digital ledgers known as blockchains appealed to Williams. He said Arweave is “blockchain-like,” but uses a structure called a blockweave that’s better for storing large files like videos and documents.
“The ledger replicates the information across the world in hundreds, if not thousands of different places,” he said, without specifying exactly how many computers Arweave data is stored on.
Network users known as miners earn Arweave crypto tokens that can be exchanged for cash by using their computers to store the data.
The network guarantees 200 years of storage time. That’s of course assuming that the technology doesn’t become outdated in that time. And there’s also a question of whether the data that’s put into the network now will still be in a format that’s accessible over that long time-frame. (Cassette tapes still hold a lot of data, for instance, but not many people have a way to listen to them now.)
Arweave has raised funds from Andreessen Horowitz, Coinbase Ventures and Union Square Ventures and also makes its own investments. Along with Blockchain Capital and Sino Global Capital, the company just led a $17.2 million seed round in ArDrive, an enterprise data storage product based on Arweave.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine isn’t the first time Arweave has been used to store data during times of conflict.
The first major event the platform documented was the Kerch Strait incident, when the Russian Coast Guard captured three Ukrainian naval vessels and held them hostage in 2018. Along with other news reports, Arweave stored an article from Russian state-media agency Sputnik International that was later taken down and replaced with a version with a more pro-Russian tone.
Arweave has also been used to store documents related to protests in Hong Kong, as well as to preserve articles from Apple Daily, a pro-democracy newspaper in the city that Beijing shut down in June.
The current Ukraine-Russia archive is Arweave’s biggest data collection to date and has swiftly increased. The number of documents added daily to the archive grew 15 times between Feb. 15 and Feb. 24, according to data from ViewBlock.
“The traction of Arweave is even more recognized now,” said Balthazar Gronon, chief technology officer of Ashlar, the blockchain data provider that developed ViewBlock.
Still, it’s worth noting that while the Arweave archive can’t be hacked in the sense of making the data disappear, there are still ways that these kinds of digital records can be manipulated. Since anyone can add to the collection, that includes the possibility of being flooded with inaccurate accounts and misinformation.
Support From Bundlr
Williams said his team first started building the Ukraine-Russia archive a few weeks ago. The project’s current biggest contributor is Bundlr Network, a platform with the goal of making it easier to add data to Arweave.
Bundlr Network launched in September with a focus on supporting non-fungible token storage. It started archiving as tensions increased in Ukraine, according to founder and CEO Josh Benaron.
Benaron, based in London, and another developer on Bundlr Network’s six-person team have worked on automating the archiving process, such as by building a tool that gathers tweets that include keywords and the names of Ukrainian cities.
Benaron said that tweets make up about half of what they archive, and most of the videos they add depict explosions in Ukraine. He said that they’re also pulling in articles from both Russian and Ukrainian news outlets. Bundlr Network is covering the costs of storing the data.
“It’s important for me to provide a true archive of what’s happening at the time from different perspectives,” he said. “The biggest challenge for us is capturing all the data.”
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