[tor-dev] Proposal 195: TLS certificate normalization for Tor 0.2.4.x

Nick Mathewson nickm at freehaven.net
Fri Mar 9 17:02:23 UTC 2012

Filename: 195-TLS-normalization-for-024.txt
Title: TLS certificate normalization for Tor 0.2.4.x
Author: Jacob Appelbaum, Gladys Shufflebottom, Nick Mathewson, Tim Wilde
Created: 6-Mar-2012
Status: Draft
Target: 0.2.4.x

0. Introduction

   The TLS (Transport Layer Security) protocol was designed for security
   and extensibility, not for uniformity.  Because of this, it's not
   hard for an attacker to tell one application's use of TLS from

   We proposes improvements to Tor's current TLS certificates to
   reduce the distinguishability of Tor traffic.

0.1. History

   This draft is based on parts of Proposal 179, by Jacob Appelbaum
   and Gladys Shufflebottom, but removes some already implemented parts
   and replaces others.

0.2. Non-Goals

   We do not address making TLS harder to distinguish after the
   handshake is done.  We also do not discuss TLS improvements not
   related to distinguishability (such as increased key size, algorithm
   choice, and so on).

1. Certificate Issues

   Currently, Tor generates certificates according to a fixed pattern,
   where lifetime is fairly small, the certificate Subject DN is a
   single randomly generated CN, and the certificate Issuer DN is a
   different single randomly generated CN.

   We propose several ways to improve this below.

1.1. Separate initial certificate from link certificate

   When Tor is using the v2 or v3 link handshake (see tor-spec.txt), it
   currently presents an initial handshake authenticating the link key
   with the identity key.

   We propose instead that Tor should be able to present an arbitrary
   initial certificate (so long as its key matches the link key used in
   the actual TLS handshake), and then present the real certificate
   authenticating the link key during the Tor handshake.  (That is,
   during the v2 handshake's renegotiation step, or in the v3
   handshake's CERTS cell.)

   The TLS protocol and the Tor handshake protocol both allow this, and
   doing so will give us more freedom for the alternative certificate
   presentation ideas below.

1.2. Allow externally generated certificates

   It should be possible for a Tor relay operator to generate and
   provide their own certificate and secret key.  This will allow a relay or
   bridge operator to use a certificate signed by any member of the "SSL
   mafia,"[*] to generate their own self-signed certificate, and so on.

   For compatibility, we need to require that the key be an RSA secret
   key, of at least 1024 bits, generated with e=65537.

   As a proposed interface, let's require that the certificate be stored
   in ${DataDir}/tls_cert/tls_certificate.crt , that the secret key be
   stored in ${DataDir}/tls_cert/private_tls_key.key , and that they be
   used instead of generating our own certificate whenever the new
   boolean option "ProvidedTLSCert" is set to true.

   (Alternative interface: Allow the cert and key cert to be stored
   wherever, and have the user provide their respective locations with
   TLSCertificateFile and TLSCertificateKeyFile options.)

1.3. Longer certificate lifetimes

   Tor's current certificates aren't long-lived, which makes them
   different from most other certificates in the wild.

   Typically, certificates are valid for a year, so let's use that as
   our default lifetime.  [TODO: investigate whether "a year" for most
   CAs and self-signed certs have their validity dates running for a
   calendar year ending at the second of issue, one calendar year
   ending at midnight, or 86400*(365.5 +/- .5) seconds, or what.]

   There are two ways to approach this.  We could continue our current
   certificate management approach where we frequently generate new
   certificates (albeit with longer lifetimes), or we could make a cert,
   store it to disk, and use it for all or most of its declared

   If we continue to use fairly short lifetimes for the _true_ link
   certificates (the ones presented during the Tor handshake), then
   presenting long-lived certificates doesn't hurt us much: in the event
   of a link-key-only compromise, the adversary still couldn't actually
   impersonate a server for long.[**]

   Using shorter-lived certificates with long nominal lifetimes doesn't
   seem to buy us much.  It would let us rotate link keys more
   frequently, but we're already getting forward secrecy from our use of
   diffie-hellman key agreement.  Further, it would make our behavior
   look less like regular TLS behavior, where certificates are typically
   used for most of their nominal lifetime.  Therefore, let's store and
   use certs and link keys for the full year.

1.4. Self-signed certificates with better DNs

   When we generate our own certificates, we currently set no DN fields
   other than the commonName.  This behavior isn't terribly common:
   users of self-signed certs usually/often set other fields too.
   [TODO: find out frequency.]

   Unfortunately, it appears that no particular other set of fields or
   way of filling them out _is_ universal for self-signed certificates,
   or even particularly common.  The most common schema seem to be for
   things most censors wouldn't mind blocking, like embedded devices.
   Even the default openssl schema, though common, doesn't appear to
   represent a terribly large fraction of self-signed websites.  [TODO:
   get numbers here.]

   So the best we can do here is probably to reproduce the process that
   results in self-signed certificates originally: let the bridge and relay
   operators to pick the DN fields themselves.  This is an annoying
   interface issue, and wants a better solution.

1.5. Better commonName values

   Our current certificates set the commonName to a randomly generated
   field like www.rmf4h4h.net.  This is also a weird behavior: nearly
   all TLS certs used for web purposes will have a hostname that
   resolves to their IP.

   The simplest way to get a plausible commonName here would be to do a
   reverse lookup on our IP and try to find a good hostname.  It's not
   clear whether this would actually work out in practice, or whether
   we'd just get dynamic-IP-pool hostnames everywhere blocked when they
   appear in certificates.

   Alternatively, if we are told a hostname in our Torrc (possibly in
   the Address field), we could try to use that.

2. TLS handshake issues

2.1. Session ID.

   Currently we do not send an SSL session ID, as we do not support session
   resumption.  However, Apache (and likely other major SSL servers) do have
   this support, and do send a 32 byte SSLv3/TLSv1 session ID in their Server
   Hello cleartext.  We should do the same to avoid an easy fingerprinting
   opportunity.  It may be necessary to lie to OpenSSL to claim that we are
   tracking session IDs to cause it to generate them for us.

   (We should not actually support session resumption.)

[*] "Hey buddy, it's a nice website you've got there.  Sure would be a
    shame if somebody started poppin' up warnings on all your user's
    browsers, tellin' everbody that you're _insecure_..."

[**] Furthermore, a link-key-only compromise isn't very realistic atm;
     nearly any attack that would let an adversary learn a link key would
     probably let the adversary learn the identity key too.  The most
     plausible way would probably be an implementation bug in OpenSSL or

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