[tor-dev] Proposal 258: Denial-of-service resistance for directory authorities

Nick Mathewson nickm at freehaven.net
Thu Oct 29 16:25:58 UTC 2015

[Here's a new proposal from Andrea.  See ticket 4581 for
implementation details.]

Filename: 258-dirauth-dos.txt
Title: Denial-of-service resistance for directory authorities
Author: Andrea Shepard
Created: 2015-10-27
Status: Open

1. Problem statement

   The directory authorities are few in number and vital for the
   functioning of the Tor network; threats of denial of service
   attacks against them have occurred in the past.  They should be
   more resistant to unreasonably large connection volumes.

2. Design overview

   There are two possible ways a new connection to a directory
   authority can be established, directly by a TCP connection to the
   DirPort, or tunneled inside a Tor circuit and initiated with a
   begindir cell.  The client can originate the former as direct
   connections or from a Tor exit, and the latter either as fully
   anonymized circuits or one-hop links to the dirauth's ORPort.

   The dirauth will try to heuristically classify incoming requests
   as one of these four indirection types, and then in the two
   non-anonymized cases further sort them into hash buckets on the
   basis of source IP.  It will use an exponentially-weighted moving
   average to measure the rate of connection attempts in each
   bucket, and also separately limit the number of begindir cells
   permitted on each circuit.  It will periodically scan the hash
   tables and forget counters which have fallen below a threshold to
   prevent memory exhaustion.

3. Classification of incoming connections

   Clients can originate connections as one of four indirection

    - DIRIND_ONEHOP: begindir cell on a single-hop Tor circuit
    - DIRIND_ANONYMOUS: begindir cell on a fully anonymized Tor
    - DIRIND_DIRECT_CONN: direct TCP connection to dirport
    - DIRIND_ANON_DIRPORT: TCP connection to dirport from an exit

   The directory authority can always tell a dirport connection from
   a begindir, but it must use its knowledge of the current
   consensus and exit policies to disambiguate whether the
   connection is anonymized.

   It should treat a begindir as DIRIND_ANONYMOUS when the previous
   hop in the circuit it appears on is in the current consensus, and
   as DIRIND_ONEHOP otherwise; it should treat a dirport connection
   as DIRIND_ANON_DIRPORT if the source address appears in the
   consensus and allows exits to the dirport in question, or as
   DIRIND_DIRECT_CONN otherwise.  In the case of relays which also
   act as clients, these heuristics may falsely classify
   direct/onehop connections as anonymous, but will never falsely
   classify anonymous connections as direct/onehop.

4. Exponentially-weighted moving average counters and hash table

   The directory authority implements a set of
   exponentially-weighted moving averages to measure the rate of
   incoming connections in each bucket.  The two anonymous
   connection types are each a single bucket, but the two non-
   anonymous cases get a single bucket per source IP each, stored in
   a hash table.  The directory authority must periodically scan
   this hash table for counters which have decayed close to zero and
   free them to avoid permitting memory exhaustion.

   This introduces five new configuration parameters:

    - DirDoSFilterEWMATimeConstant: the time for an EWMA counter to
      decay by a factor of 1/e, in seconds.

    - DirDoSFilterMaxAnonConnectRate: the threshold to trigger the
      DoS filter on DIRIND_ANONYMOUS connections.

    - DirDoSFilterMaxAnonDirportConnectRate: the threshold to
      trigger the DoS filter on DIRIND_ANON_DIRPORT connections.

    - DirDoSFilterMaxBegindirRatePerIP: the threshold per source IP
      to trigger the DoS filter on DIRIND_ONEHOP connections.

    - DirDoSFilterMaxDirectConnRatePerIP: the threshold per source
      IP to trigger the DoS filter on DIRIND_DIRECT_CONN

   When incrementing a counter would put it over the relevant
   threshold, the filter is said to be triggered.  In this case, the
   directory authority does not update the counter, but instead
   suppresses the incoming request.  In the DIRIND_ONEHOP and
   DIRIND_ANONYMOUS cases, the directory authority must kill the
   circuit rather than merely refusing the request, to prevent an
   unending stream of client retries on the same circuit.

5. Begindir cap

   Directory authorities limit the number of begindir cells
   permitted in the lifetime of a particular circuit, separately
   from the EWMA counters.  This can only affect the
   DIRIND_ANONYMOUS and DIRIND_ONEHOP connetion types.  A sixth
   configuration variable, DirDoSFilterMaxBegindirPerCircuit,
   controls this feature.

6. Limitations

   Widely distributed DoS attacks with many source IPs may still be
   able to avoid raising any single DIRIND_ONEHOP or
   DIRIND_DIRECT_CONN counter above threshold.

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