[tor-dev] Self publishing over Tor Hidden Services

Arturo Filastò art at baculo.org
Fri Mar 23 22:45:39 UTC 2012

Tor Hidden Services are great, though their impact is grossly limited by the
fact that they are not at all easy to deploy. Systems such as Tor2web allow
people that decide to publish anonymously to be reachable by anybody not
a Tor client.

For dealing with the usability aspect of Tor Hidden Services, this GSoC I am
going to be mentoring APAF: Anonymous Python Application Framework. The goal
is to give easy to use tools for people to do self publishing.

This is a basic description of the project:

1. Overview
  Tor Hidden Services are underused compared to their potential, the goal
  of APAF is to provide an easy system to allow network related python
  application developers to build their software in a way that it runs as
  a Tor Hidden Service (Tor HS).
  The framework will allow developers to easily build .exe, .app, statically
  linked linux binaries that contain the python interpreter and the Tor
  This will allow the end user to easily start running that service on their
  machine, by simply downloading a package. This is similar to what is
done with the
  Tor Browser Bundle (TBB).

2. Motivation
  One of the reasons for which Tor HS are not used that much is that
there is
  no simple way for an application developer to ship their application
with a
  Tor binary and automatically configure a Tor HS.
  This leads to users not being able to easily run Tor Hidden Services
on their
  desktop machines limiting the diffusion of HSs.
  An example use case is a person that wishes to run a temporary chat
server on
  their home machine. With APAF a chat server developer could package such a
  python application and the end user will be able to run it by
downloading a package
  and executing it.

3. What is built?
  APAF compiles all the dependencies for all the target systems.
  The software that will come bundled with it are:
  * the Python interpreter (cpython bundled with PyInstaller:
  * Tor
  * The desired python dependecies (computed with PyInstaller)
  The build system must be configurable and extensible.
  It should allow easy bundling of third party applications such as
p7zip, gpg, etc
 as APAF modules, in order to let the project grow with new functionalities.
  The output of the build process will be:
  - Win32: MyApplication.exe
  - OSX: MyApplication.app (inside an Application.dmg container)
  - Linux: Deb build or statically linked binary
  The buildsystem should download the latest release of Tor for the
appropriate platform
  and extract the required files into the build structure, in order to
be packaged within the application.
  Note: Another possibility is that it could build Tor from source for
the desired target
  platforms, but this may require some additional effort.

4. What happens when I start APAF?
  When APAF starts the user running it is presented with a splash screen
  displays the startup progress. The image in the splash screen should
be customizable
  by the application developer.
  Another option would be to start the system browser and point it to<APAF_port>/ and display the bootstrap process inside
of the bundled
  web based UI.
  At first launch APAF will show a startup splash screen with a progress
bar describing
  application startup event informations, optionally displaying an image.
  Then the system browser will be started to let the user access APAF
UI, that
  will provide a wizard for bootstrapping the setup of the Tor Hidden
 If the APAF application is already running by clicking on it, it will
just start the browser
to open directly the APAF UI.
  By default APAF will come with a web application that is used for
  and checking on the status of the running Tor HS. It should provide
  the following functionality:
  * Check the current status of the Tor HS (it's hostname and port mapping)
  * Start and stop tor Hidden Service
  * API to add/remove new Tor Hidden service mapping
  * Select from the list of bundled applications the ones to run
  * Test it's reachability from the Tor network (by doing a request over
Tor to it's .onion address)
  * Configure Tor (User Interface to edit torrc)
   * Close Awaf

5. Web Applications
  One of the first applications that will be used as an example for APAF
will be
  a simple python web application. The application will simply serve to
the client
  static files.
  The basic scaffolding that this web application provides should allow
  to build their own web application based on this example.
  The application will be written using TornadoWeb

6. Security Features
  Outbound Connection Torrification
  The framework must provide support to automatically torify all or
specific outbound connection.
  The entire python application framework (Tornadoweb) should be
forbidden to make any outbound
  connections directly, it should not leak out of the Tor network.
  Inbound Connection (Tor Hidden Service)
  APAF will expose to the Tor network the configured Tor Hidden Service
running the bundled server
  The user will be able to properly configure their HS and choose if to
allow connections
  from tor2web (in the case of a web application) or not.
  Ideally the application should come with security enhancements such as
sandboxing and hardening of
  the system to minimize anonymity leaks and security vulnerability

7. Documentation
  APAF must provide detailed documentation on:
  - how to setup the build environment (eventually on multiple operating
  - how to customize your own enviroment for your own anonymous web
  - any specific documentation on particular procedures and/or internal
  - user manual for running an APAF built application

Specific to Google Summer of Code the student will complete the following:

For GSoC the student is expected to create the build system capable of
building a simple
web application that serves static files. It should also include a web
UI for a wizard setup,
checking the status of the HS and configuring it.

I believe this project has some common goals with the work TAILS wants
to do on
the "TAILS server edition" [1].

I would be very interested in having feedback on this topic to manage to
set the scope of the tasks to be done during GSoC.

maker is interested in working on this project and we have been
discussing it
with him in the past days.

- Art.

[1] tails.boum.org/todo/server_edition/

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