[tor-dev] Automating Bridge Reachability Testing

Isis isis at torproject.org
Sat Jul 21 21:05:05 UTC 2012

Hash: SHA256

Hello Everyone.

I've already gotten a bit of good feedback on the trac ticket[0], but I'm going
to post my research/writeup/proposal/whateveryouwanttocallit here so more
people can discuss it.

isis agora lovecruft

[0] https://trac.torproject.org/projects/tor/ticket/6414


Automating Bridge Reachability Testing
- --------------------------------------

An effort was made earlier this year to create a discovery system for current
bridge reachability status #5028. This resulted in the development and
deployment of
OONI's bridgeT], which uses txtorcon to attempt a connection, speaking the
full Tor protocol, to the set of bridges being tested. Some bridges were
scanned, and results were gathered. We would like to go back and automate this
process, and possibly revise it if a better methodology is proposed. Anyone
with ideas or interest should feel free to join the discussion here.

While this automation is intended to be geolocationally agnostic, it is
trivial to test a bridge's reachability from a country which does not block
Tor, and therefore automation methodology should be developed according to the
worst-case scenarios. Countries which block Tor, or have blocked Tor, include
China, Iran, Lebanon, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Ethiopia. In order to
ensure that the fewest amount of Tor bridges are blocked during reachability
testing, it seems wise to assume that the test is being conducted from one of
these countries. Also, any test methodology which produces accurate results
from inside China or Iran would likely work just as well from any
non-Tor-blocking country.

I. Brief Overview of Dynamic Tor Bridge Blocking

- From my understanding so far (please correct me if I have misunderstood
something, or if there is more information), China's mechanism for blocking
Tor bridges takes the following steps (unconfirmed data is prefaced by a
question mark):

    1. OP --> OR/Bridge Connection

         a. Alice (OP/client in China) connects to Bob (OR/bridge), completes
         the TLS handshake, and sets up circuits.

         b. This works for roughly fifteen minutes.

    2. Protocol Identification & Fingerprinting

         a. The GFC identifies Tor via fingerprinting the cipher list in the
         TLS Server Helo.

         b. Tests for the precise trigger in the fingerprint were conducted
         (I'll leave said tester(s) anonymous unless they would like to speak
         up) by fuzzing the TLS handshake ServerHello, and the precise
         fingerprint for triggering the GFC's nascent probes was determined to
         be a specific 5 bytes. (?) It was also found that the GFC blocks
         packets <= 79 bits.

         c. Philip Winter's research showed that fragmentation of the
         ciphersuite list would not trigger a probe [5].
    3. Network Enumeration

         a. The GFC adds Bob's IP and port to a queue of addresses to be
         checked. These queues are processed every fifteen minutes (hence why
         Alice's connection functions normally at first).

         b. A probe is sent to Bob during queue processing. The GFC probes are
         not yet fully understood, and unverified data in this section is
         prefaced by a '?'. Thus far, the following is believed to occur:

             * (?) Reportedly (speak up if you wish), there are eight "edge
               routers" in China. The reporter stated that there was "one for
               each province", however there are twenty-two Provinces in PRC
               -- twenty-three if you count Taiwan. There is one "core router"
               which controls/routes to the eight "edge routers". Because all
               traffic into and out of China passes through these eight
               routers, all netblocks within China are essentially a private
               network behind the "edge routers". (See question #2 below.)

             * (?) Because these "edge routers" are intercepting all traffic,
               they are able to temporarily hijack any IP from the contained

             * A hijacked IP and a random port (the range appears to be
               ~35000-60000) are used as the source to send a probe to the
               queued IP:port of the suspected bridge. (See question #3

             * The probe does a TCP connect.

             * Then it sends a TLS ClientHello and waits for the cipher list
               in the ServerHello message.

             * If the cipher list matches that used by Tor, the IP:port gets
               blacklisted. Previous research has shown that this blacklisting
               is not permanent, but lasts for 12 hours after the last
               successful connection by a probe [1]. (See question #4)

II. Testing Bridge Reachability

As Roger has stated on the Tor Blog, we can either do active or passive scans
to check if a bridge has been blocked [4]. Passive scans, wherein either the
bridge or the client report connections, are unreliable without results from
active scans in the former case [5], and could potentially reduce privacy and
anonymity in the later case.

II. A. Active Scans

==== Direct Methods ====

- From most innocuous (least Tor-like) to most conspicuous (most Tor-like):

ICMP type-8 ping / echo
   Tells us if the host running the Tor bridge is online, but not necessarily
   if the ORPort is open.

TCP ping / ACK
   If TCP ACKs are timed to be sent infrequently (probably no more than one
   every five minutes or so), they can appear to be random network noise
   rather than a scan. If we get a RST back, we know that we can at least
   communicate with the bridge's ORPort though the GFC. This might look odd,
   if it gets noticed, especially since the GFC is stateful and might realize
   the ACKs are unsolicited.

   This still doesn't tell us if Tor is running, but, again, a SYN/ACK would
   let us know if the ORPort is reachable and accepting connections, a RST
   that it is reachable and not accepting connections (or the GFC is sending
   false TCP RSTs), and no response would mean that the GFC, or some other hop
   is dropping packets. Philip Winter's research showed that the client's SYN
   is transmitted through the GFC, which instead drops the SYN/ACK response of
   known Tor relays/bridges [2].

TCP connect()
   We could try a normal full TCP connect (SYN & ACK). This would be the most
   genuine-to-the-Tor-protocol test available for regions where SSL is being
   blocked. It could be useful here to test different types of fragmentation,
   for example, the old trick involving overlapping fragments to rewrite the
   TCP headers in the first fragment [25].

SSL Handshake
   We could try doing a normal SSL handshake, as if contacting, for example,
   an Apache webserver over HTTPS. Another interesting idea would be to run an
   SSLObservatory from inside China, and simply pretend that the bridges are
   HTTPS webservers, which would look just like the normal SSLObservatory for
   bridges whose ORPort is set to :443 [14, 15]. As of this morning, a quick
   check on Tor relays shows that 27% of relays are run on :443 :

    isis at acab:/var/lib/tor$ cat cached-microdesc-consensus | grep -e \
    >"^r\ [a-zA-Z0-9]*\ /*" | grep " 443 " -c


    isis at acab:/var/lib/tor$ cat cached-microdesc-consensus | grep -e \
    >"^r\ [a-zA-Z0-9]*\ /*" -c


    isis at acab:/var/lib/tor$ python -c 'from __future__ import \
    >division;a=799/2912;print a'


    with the most common ports being:

    isis at acab:/var/lib/tor$ cat cached-microdesc-consensus | grep -e \
    >"^r\ [a-zA-Z0-9]*\ /*" | cut -d " " -f 7 | sort | uniq -ic | sort -gr
           1592 9001
            762 443
            217 80
             34 9090
             33 8080
             21 9002
             20 444
             11 9031
             11 110
              9 22
              7 21

    I would assume that the percentage of bridges running on :443 is higher
    than that of relays (question #5). We could safely automate the testing of
    those relays without actually speaking Tor to them, by appearing to be an
    SSLObservatory (question #6). This would provide us with an extensive set
    of canaries to help mitigate the zig-zag enumeration attack [9] (see
    question #7). However, in regions which block Tor based on the ciphersuite
    list in the ServerHello, such as in Iran in June 2011, it doesn't matter
    what ciphersuite we send as the client [16].

    For those bridge not running on :443, we could have the bridge scanner
    mimic another protocol and service which uses TLS/SSL, such as IMAPS,
    SFTP, for instance it could pretend to be a client connecting to a Dovecot
    or vsftp server.

'''Tor TLS/SSLv3 Handshake'''

    We can drive a Tor Client, or a script pretending to be Tor (which should
    know about the different handshake versions, specifically their command
    and CERT cells [10]), to handle the TLS negotiation. Interestingly, for
    the v2 and v3 protocols, we can use any ciphersuite list we like, as long
    as we include


    in addition to at least one extra that is not any of those four. Tor
    clients before send a fixed ciphersuite list, and the GFC
    sends a probe based on this fixed ciphersuite list [12]. It is apparently
    also the case that the GFC will ''not'' send a probe if the standard fixed
    ciphersuite is altered by at least two ciphers [12]. To assist with this,
    hellais wrote a handy Python script for grabbing the default ciphersuite
    list from the source code of Firefox [13]. Also, as mentioned previously,
    we can fragment the sending of the ciphersuite list to avoid triggering a
    probe [5].

==== Indirect Methods ====

As Roger also mentions, we could use some variant of the idle scan. [4, 8, 17]
There are a few:

    1. Use nmap / hping.

        a. For nmap, there is an NSE script for zombie discovery, which can be
        combined with blockfinder to collect lists of hosts (probably printers
        or other archaic networked devices) with globally sequential IPIDs [7,

    2. Use idlescanner, a Python script which uses the "content upload"
    feature of popular sites, e.g. Reddit, Imgur, Facebook, Digg, Tinypic,
    Tineye, etc., to attempt a connection to the bridge [19, 20]. This may not
    be entirely accurate, because it is based purely on the waiting for the
    upload site to timeout.

    3. Use FTP PROXY or some other obscure bounce mechanism [21]. These need
    to be further researched.

    4. Now we start to get into some crazier ideas. If we set up a bridge
    purposefully to act as a canary, then we could send from an box inside
    China a bunch of TCP SYNs with spoofed IP headers to the canary bridge to
    trigger a bunch of probes. Then we trigger the probes with something
    (Winter wrote a program to do this called tcis [22, 23], and hellais
    ported it to Python in OONI [24]) forcing the probes to go after the
    canary bridge, during the two minutes that the probes have hijacked IP
    addresses, we use the probes' hijacked IP addresses as zombies for idle
    scan of bridge. This would require some preliminary mucking with the
    probes to see if they have any mechanism we could leverage to "see" if the
    bridge's packets made it to the probe. Basically we force the probe to
    hijack an IP, which we then zombify while it's chasing the canary, and get
    the zombie probe to scan the the bridge for us, without ''it'' actually
    scanning it, so it doesn't get blocked, and the traffic doesn't look
    suspicious to anyone keeping an eye on the probes.

    5. A commenter on the Tor blog had the idea to try to "borrow a Chinese
    botnet" to do the scans for us, since the botnet would probably attract a
    lot more attention by the Chinese officials than any amount of Tor
    bridges. Also, with this idea, the scan could be made to look like your
    standard botnet running around launching PHP exploits at everyone and
    their mothers. This is a highly entertaining idea, but it's also a bit
    unethical (though I'm not certain -- do the ends justify the means in this
    case?), and it might come back to bite us.

        a. If there were a way to get an in-country botnet to "take notice" of
        certain bridges, we could do a sort of "Here boy, fetch!" trick. For
        example, if a botnet appears to be having infected hosts report-back
        to an IRC channel, or scanning for Windows hosts with port 139 open,
        we could mimic the responses an infected host would give while
        spoofing the bridge's IP. I have no idea how feasible or reliable that
        would be.

III. Automation Concerns and Desired Features

We should avoid scanning bridges that we suspect are not blocked. Therefore,
eventually there should be an easy way to automate feedback loops between
Karsten's metrics and the bridge scanner. That way, once connections in a
certain country drop significantly, the automated tests initiate in order to
discover if those bridges are in fact unreachable.

Design Features:
    1. Allow for either eventual integration with, or some type of feedback
       mechanismfor, metrics-db.

    2. Should be automatable in a safe manner, i.e. the bridge scanner should
       know that a a full Tor connection to a specific bridge will likely
       result in that bridge being blocked, and thereby skip running any test
       which include a full Tor connection.

    3.  Should be easily incrementable, meaning it should be simple to tell the
       test "only try TCP SYNs for this list of bridges", or "try everything
       up until a Tor-specific TLS/SSL handshake".

    4. GeoIP awareness.

IV. Implementation

I propose the test have all of the Active Direct Methods outlined above, and
an easy way to test one at a time. For the actual testing, I want to err on
the side of caution, in order to avoid getting bridges blocked. Therefor,
during bridge reachability testing, we should test via most innocuous method
first, wait a while (probably a day or two), see what we learn, then proceed
to the next method.

I was planning to use Python, because it's fast (in terms of coding time), we
don't need to worry about portability in this instance, and it gives me less
headaches than C. And Java makes me want to set things on fire. James Arthur
Gosling, take it back.

For the indirect scanning methods, I believe these will be difficult to
entirely automate, but I plan to implement them so that they require as little
human interaction as possible. If any of them prove reliable, they can be used
as fallback methods when information concerning specific bridges is needed
immediately and there is a human willing to run the tests.

IV. A. Project Timeline

July 2012
    Two weeks of continued research and discussion until end of July.

August 2012
    Four weeks for initial development phase. Beta tests should be deployed by
    31 August, and gathered data saved for evaluation of testing methods.

September 2012
    Four weeks for evaluation of data previously gathered from beta testing,
    and continued development of bridge reachability testing tools. Alpha
    release should be deployed by 30 August.

October 2012
    Two weeks for final development, with a useable, automated bridge
    reachability testing tool produced by 14 October.

    Two weeks for final testing, data collection and report generation, and
    discussion of further steps for integrating the automation of bridge
    reachability testing with general Tor metrics.

November 2012
    The project should be completed by 1 November 2012.

- --------------------------------------------

== Active Questions: ==

 1. Should this automation be considered part of OONI? Or BridgeDB? Or is it
 part of some other project?

 2. If there are only eight "edge routers":
    a. What are their IP addresses?
    b. Which protocols return traceroute data for these routers?
    c. Is the "core router" on this side of the "edge routers", or the other?
    d. What is the usual TTL of packets from the probes?

 3. For how long is an IP hijacked by the GFC probe?

 4. Roger mentions that "if the bridge had no other interesting services
 running (like a webserver), they just blackholed the IP address...but if
 there was an interesting service, they blocked the bridge by IP and port." Do
 the probes enumerate all ports, just common ones, or just privileged ports?

 5. What percentage of current bridges are running on port 443?

 6. Does the GFC automatically flag connections to TLS/SSL services which did
 not previously complete a DNS resolve?
    a. If so, (because most browsers cache DNS resolutions) what is the max
    time interval between the last successful clientside DNS resolution and a
    client's request for the GFC to remember that DNS was resolved?
    b. Do connection directly to IP addresses on port 443 stand out due to a
    lack of DNS resolution?

 7. Does the GFC queue all TLS/SSL connections for later enumeration?

- ----------------------------------------------

- ----------------
[1] "How China Is Blocking Tor". Winter, Philip, and Lindskog, Stefan.
    Karlstad University, Sweden (2011). p.7, section 5.1.
[2] Ibid. p.6, section 4.2.
[3] Ibid. p.19, section 6.3.
[4] "Research problem: Five ways to test bridge reachability". Dingledine, Roger.
    The Tor Project (2011).
[5] "Case study: Learning whether a Tor bridge is blocked by looking at its aggregate usage statistics".
    Loesing, Karsten. The Tor Project (2011).
[6] "Level Four Traceroute". http://pwhois.org/lft/
[7] "ipidseq.nse - nmap script for globally sequential IP ID discovery"
[8] "Idle Scan". http://nmap.org/book/idlescan.html
[9] "paketto". http://dankaminsky.com/2002/11/18/77/
[10] "Research problems: Ten ways to discover Tor bridges". Dingledine, Roger.
     The Tor Project (2011). Point #10.
[11] "Tor Protocol Specification". Dingledine, Roger, and Mathewson, Nick.
     The Tor Project (2012). Sections 2-4.
[12] "GFW probes based on Tor's SSL cipher list".
[13] "get_mozilla_ciphers.py - Get the default ciphers of Mozilla Firefox".
[14] "EFF's SSL Observatory". https://www.eff.org/observatory
[15] "SSLObservatory git repository". https://git.eff.org/public/observatory.git
[16] "Iran blocks Tor; Tor releases same-day fix". Dingledine, Roger.
     The Tor Project (2011).     
[17] "new tcp scan method". Sanfilippo, Salvatore. (1998).
[18] "Ioerror's blockfinder git repository". https://github.com/ioerror/blockfinder
[19] "Zombie Scans using Unintended Public Services".
[20] "idlescanner.py - Use unintentional web services for portscanning".
[21] "FTP Bouncing for Portscanners - FTP PROXY".
[22] "How the Great Firewall of China is Blocking Tor". Winter, Philipp.
     Karlstads Universitet (2012). http://www.cs.kau.se/philwint/static/gfc/
[23] "NullHypothesis' tcis git repository". https://github.com/NullHypothesis/tcis
[24] "OONI - chinatrigger.py - Python port of tcis".
[25] "An Analysis of Fragmentation Attacks". Anderson, Jason. (2001).
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