[tor-dev] Proposal 188: Bridge Guards and other anti-enumeration defenses

Nick Mathewson nickm at torproject.org
Thu Oct 20 00:09:17 UTC 2011

Filename: 188-bridge-guards.txt
Title: Bridge Guards and other anti-enumeration defenses
Author: Nick Mathewson
Created: 14 Oct 2011
Status: Open

1. Overview

   Bridges are useful against censors only so long as the adversary
   cannot easily enumerate their addresses. I propose a design to make
   it harder for an adversary who controls or observes only a few
   nodes to enumerate a large number of bridges.

   Briefly: bridges should choose guard nodes, and use the Tor
   protocol's "Loose source routing" feature to re-route all extend
   requests from clients through an additional layer of guard nodes
   chosen by the bridge.  This way, only a bridge's guard nodes can
   tell that it is a bridge, and the attacker needs to run many more
   nodes in order to enumerate a large number of bridges.

   I also discuss other ways to avoid enumeration, recommending some.

   These ideas are due to a discussion at the 2011 Tor Developers'
   Meeting in Waterloo, Ontario.  Practically none of the ideas here
   are mine; I'm just writing up what I remember.

2. History and Motivation

   Under the current bridge design, an attacker who runs a node can
   identify bridges by seeing which "clients" make a large number of
   connections to it, or which "clients" make connections to it in the
   same way clients do.  This has been a known attack since early
   versions {XXXX check} of the design document; let's try to fix it.

2.1. Related ideas: Guard nodes

   The idea of guard nodes isn't new: since 0.1.1, Tor has used guard
   nodes (first designed as "Helper" nodes by Wright et al in {XXXX})
   to make it harder for an adversary who controls a smaller number of
   nodes to eavesdrop on clients.  The rationale was: an adversary who
   controls or observes only one entry and one exit will have a low
   probability of correlating any single circuit, but over time, if
   clients choose a random entry and exit for each circuit, such an
   adversary will eventually see some circuits from each client with a
   probability of 1, thereby building a statistical profile of the
   client's activities.  Therefore, let each client choose its entry
   node only from among a small number of client-selected "guard"
   nodes: the client is still correlated with the same probability as
   before, but now the client has a nonzero chance of remaining

2.2. Related idea: Loose source routing

   Since the earliest versions of Onion Routing, the protocol has
   provided "loose source routing".  In strict source routing, the
   source of a message chooses every hop on the message's path.  But
   in loose source routing, the message traverses the selected nodes,
   but may also traverse other nodes as well.  In other words, the
   client selects nodes N_a, N_b, and N_c, but the message may in fact
   traverse any sequence of nodes N_1...N_j, so long as N_1=N_a,
   N_x=N_b, and N_y=N_c, for 1 < x < y.

   Tor has retained this feature, but has not yet made use of it.

3. Design

   Every bridge currently chooses a set of guard nodes for its
   circuits.  Bridges should also re-route client circuits through
   these circuits.

   Specifically, when a bridge receives a request from a client to
   extend a circuit, it should first create a circuit to its guard,
   and then relay that extend cell through the guard.  The bridge
   should add an additional layer of encryption to outgoing cells on
   that circuit corresponding to the encryption that the guard will
   remove, and remove a layer of encryption on incoming cells on that
   circuit corresponding to the encryption that the guard will add.

3.1. An example

   This example doesn't add anything to the design above, but has some
   interesting inline notes.

      - Alice has connected to her bridge Bob, and built a circuit
        through Bob, with the negotiated forward and reverse keys KB_f
        and KB_r.

      - Alice then wants to extend the circuit to node Charlie.  She
        makes a hybrid-encrypted onionskin, encrypted to Charlie's
        public key, containing her chosen g^x value.  She puts this in
        an extend cell: "Extend (Charlie's address) (Charlie's OR
        Port) (Onionskin) (Charlie's ID)".  She encrypts this with
        KB_f and sends it as a RELAY_EARLY cell to Bob.

      - Bob receives the RELAY_EARLY cell, and decrypts it with KB_f.
        He then sees that it's an extend cell for him.

        So far, this is exactly the same as the current procedure that
        Alice and Bob would follow.  Now we diverge:

      - Instead of connecting to Charlie directly, Bob makes sure that
        he is connected to his guard, Guillaume.  Bob uses a
        CREATE_FAST cell (or a CREATE cell, but see 4.1 below) to open a
        circuit to Guillaume.  Now Bob and Guillaume share keys KG_f
        and KG_b.

      - Now Bob encrypts the Extend cell body with KG_f and sends it
        as a RELAY_EARLY cell to Guillaume.

      - Guillaume receives it, decrypts it with KG_f, and sees:
        "Extend (Charlie's address) (Charlie's OR Port) (Onionskin)
        (Charlie's ID)".  Guillaume acts accordingly: creating a
        connection to Charlie if he doesn't have one, ensuring that
        the ID is as expected, and then sending the onionskin in a
        create cell on that connection.

        Note that Guillaume is behaving exactly as a regular node
        would upon receiving an Extend cell.

      - Now the handshake finishes.  Charlie receives the onionskin
        and sends Guillaume "CREATED g^y,KH".  Guillaume sends Bob
        "E(KG_r, EXTENDED g^y KH)".  (Charlie and Guillaume are still
        running as regular Tor nodes do today).

      - With this extend cell, and with all future relay cells
        received on this circuit, Bob first decrypts the cell with
        KG_r, then re-encrypts it with KB_r, then passes it to Alice.
        When Alice receives the cell, it will be just as she would
        have received if Bob had extended to Charlie directly.

      - With all future outgoing cells that he receives from Alice,
        Bob first decrypts the cell with KA_f, and if the cell does
        not have Bob as its destination, Bob encrypts it with KG_f
        before passing it to Guillaume.

   Note that this design does not require that our stream cipher
   operations be transitive, even though they are.

   Note also that this design requires no change in behavior from any
   node other than Bob the bridge.

   Finally, observe that even though the circuit is one hop longer
   than it would be otherwise, no relay's count of permissible
   RELAY_EARLY cells falls lower than it otherwise would.  This is
   because the extra hop that Bob adds is done with a CREATE_FAST
   cell, and so he does not need to send any RELAY_EARLY cells not
   originated by Alice.

4. Other ideas and alternative designs

   In addition to the design above, there are more ways to try to
   prevent enumeration.

4.1. Make it harder to tell clients from bridges

   Right now, there are multiple ways for the node after a bridge to
   distinguish a circuit extended through the bridge from one
   originating at the bridge.  (This lets the node after the bridge
   tell that a bridge is talking to it.)

   One of the giveaways here is that the first hop in a circuit is
   created with CREATE_FAST cells, but all subsequent hops are created
   with CREATE cells.  In the above design, it's no longer quite so
   simple to tell, since all of the circuits that extend through a
   bridge now reach its guards through CREATE_FAST cells, whether the
   bridge originated them or not.

   (If we adopt a faster circuit extension algorithm -- for example,
   Goldberg, Stebila, and Ustaoglu's design instantiated over
   curve25519 -- we could also solve this issue by eliminating
   CREATE_FAST/CREATED_FAST entirely, which would also help our
   security margin a little.)

   The CREATE/CREATE_FAST distinction is not the only way for a
   bridge's guard to tell bridges from orginary clients, however.
   Most importantly, a busy bridge will open far more circuits than a
   client would.  More subtly, the timing on response from the client
   will be higher and more highly variable that it would be with an
   ordinary client.  I don't think we can make bridges behave wholly
   indistinguishably from clients: that's why we should go with guard
   nodes for bridges.

4.2. Client-enforced bridge guards

   What if Tor didn't have loose source routing?  We could have
   bridges tell clients what guards to use by advertising those guard
   in their descriptors, and then refusing to extend circuits to any
   other nodes.  This change would require all clients to upgrade in
   order to be able to use the newer bridges, and would quite possibly
   cause a fair amount of pain along the way.

   Fortunately, we don't need to go down this path.  So let's not!

4.3. Separate bridge-guards and client-guards

   In the design above, I specify that bridges should use the same
   guard nodes for extending client circuits as they use for their own
   circuits.  It's not immediately clear whether this is a good idea
   or not.  Having separate sets would seem to make the two kinds of
   circuits more easily distinguishable (even though we already assume
   they are distinguishable).  Having different sets of guards would
   also seem like a way to keep the nodes who guard our own traffic
   from learning that we're a bridge... but another set of nodes will
   learn that anyway, so it's not clear what we'd gain.

5. Other considerations

   What fraction of our traffic is bridge traffic?  Will this alter
   our circuit selection weights?

   Are the current guard selection/evaluation/replacement mechanisms
   adequate for bridge guards, or do bridges need to get more

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