[tor-dev] Proposal: Increase Acceptable Consensus Age
mikeperry at torproject.org
Tue Oct 16 22:41:11 UTC 2012
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Title: Increase Acceptable Consensus Age
Author: Mike Perry
This proposal aims to extend the duration that clients will accept
old consensus material under conditions where the directory authorities
are either down or fail to produce a valid consensus for an extended
period of time.
Currently, if the directory authorities are down or fail to consense
for 24 hours, the entire Tor network will cease to function. Worse,
clients will enter into a state where they all need to re-bootstrap
directly from the directory authorities, which will likely exacerbate
any potential DoS condition that may have triggered the downtime in the
The Tor network has had such close calls before. In the past, we've
been able to mobilize a majority of the directory authority operators
within this 24 hour window, but that is only because we've been
exceedingly lucky and the DoS conditions were accidental rather than
If a DoS attack was deliberately timed to coincide with a major US
and European combined holiday such as Christmas Eve, New Years Eve, or
Easter, it is very unlikely we would be able to muster the resources to
diagnose and deploy a fix to the authorities in time to prevent network
Based on the need to survive multi-day holidays and long weekends
balanced with the need to ensure clients can't be captured on an old
consensus forever, I propose that the consensus liveness constants be
set at 3 days rather than 24 hours.
This requires updating two consensus defines in the source, and one
descriptor freshness variable. The descriptor freshness should be
set to a function of the consensus freshness.
See Implementation Notes for further details.
Security Concerns: Using an Old Consensus
Clients should not trust old consensus data without an attempt to
download fresher data from a directory mirror.
As far as I could tell, the code already does this. The minimum
consensus age before we try to download new data is two hours.
However, the ability to accept old consensus documents does introduce
the ability of malicious directory mirrors to feed their favorite old
consensus document to clients to alter their paths until they
download a fresher consensus from elsewhere. Directory guards
(Proposal 207) may exacerbate this ability.
This proposal does not address such attacks, and seeks only a modest
increase in the valid timespan as a compromise.
Future consideration of these and other targeted-consensus attacks
will be left to proposals related to ticket #7126. Once those
proposals are complete and implemented, raising the freshness limit
beyond 3 days should be possible.
There appear to be at least three constants in the code involved with
using potentially expired consensus data. Two of them
(REASONABLY_LIVE_TIME and NS_EXPIRY_SLOP) involve the consensus itself,
and two (OLD_ROUTER_DESC_MAX_AGE and TOLERATE_MICRODESC_AGE) deal with
Two additional constants ROUTER_MAX_AGE and ROUTER_MAX_AGE_TO_PUBLISH
are only used when submitting descriptors for consensus voting.
FORCE_REGENERATE_DESCRIPTOR_INTERVAL is the maximum age a router
descriptor will get before a relay will re-publish. It is set to 18
OLD_ROUTER_DESC_MAX_AGE is set at 5 days. TOLERATE_MICRODESC_AGE
is set at 7 days.
The consensus timestamps are used in
OLD_ROUTER_DESC_MAX_AGE is checked in routerlist_remove_old_routers(),
router_add_to_routerlist(), and client_would_use_router().
It is my opinion that we should combine REASONABLY_LIVE_TIME and
NS_EXPIRY_SLOP into a single define, and make OLD_ROUTER_DESC_MAX_AGE a
function of REASONABLY_LIVE_TIME and FORCE_REGENERATE_DESCRIPTOR_INTERVAL:
#define REASONABLY_LIVE_TIME (3*24*60*60)
#define NS_EXPIRY_SLOP REASONABLY_LIVE_TIME
#define OLD_ROUTER_DESC_MAX_AGE \
Based on my review of the above code paths, these changes should be all
we need to enable clients to use older consensuses for longer while
still attempting to fetch new ones.
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