What is a "sneakernet"?

Sneakernet (snēk-ər-net): a slang term referring to the act of physically transporting data between computers rather than sharing over a network. The name is a play on the sneakers worn by whoever transports the data in physical space and the term network. Rhymes with “ethernet.”

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Why Use a SneakerNet instead of the Internet?

A sneakernet might be employed for a variety of reasons:

  • Access: A lack of access to the internet or other networks, necessitating that electronic data be hand delivered.
  • Efficiency: Sneakernets can also be more efficient at transferring large amounts of data, rather than the internet—what might take hours to first upload then download online might take just a few minutes to copy onto a thumb drive and walk over to the new computer.
  • Bandwidth: Many internet service providers subject their users to monthly download and upload limits, and employing a sneakernet can be an effective way to avoid exceeding those caps.
  • Security: Sneakernets are also used as a security measure for transfering highly sensitive data vulnerable to interception or when bringing data into a network that has been isolated as an additional security precaution.

Storage devices commonly used in a sneakernet:

  • USB (thumb) drives
  • SD cards
  • DVDs
  • External hard drives
  • Smart phones

How Does OMPT’s Sneakernet Work?

OMPT’s partners often find themselves working in remote locations that lack access to electricity, nevermind a reliable internet connection. Though 4G continues to grow, bringing internet access to once-digitally isolated regions, much of the world’s poorest and most rural villages remain cut-off from the internet. To transport and share the content they create, our partners employ their own sneakernets, employing microSD cards to physically carry video content to underserved communities.

Sneakernets in the real world

  • Netflix’s original DVD-by-mail service is one of the world’s largest, most well-known and popular sneakernets and employs DVDs as its physical storage device. Gamefly uses a similar sneakernet for video game rentals.
  • Dissidents, human rights groups and NGOs in North Korea share Western films and TV shows through USB drives in an attempt to counter propaganda and spark a cultural revolution. Learn more at https://flashdrivesforfreedom.org/.
  • The sneakernet used by OMPT relies on microSD cards. SD cards are the dominant storage device used by cameras, including those provided by OMPT.

Related terms

Air gap: One or more computers isolated from any other networks. The term “air gap” refers to the physical space (or gap of air) between the segregated computers and networked computers.

Data mule: Someone (or something) that is used to physically transport data. The term mule refers to a person paid to carry or transport something, generally contraband, and also exists as an acronym (Mobile, Ubiquitous LAN Extension). OMPT workshop participants may act as data mules when delivering videos they make to remote locations.