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Tor Weekly News — April 22nd, 2015

Welcome to the sixteenth issue in 2015 of Tor Weekly News, the weekly newsletter that covers what’s happening in the Tor community.

A new era at the Tor Project

Andrew Lewman, who has overseen the Tor Project’s business operations since 2009 as Executive Director, will shortly be moving on to a new position at the head of an internet services company. During Andrew’s time as Executive Director, Tor has developed into a leading privacy tool used every day by millions of users around the world, and the Tor community has grown to include more engineers, researchers, activists, and volunteers than ever before. Thanks to Andrew for everything he has done for the Tor community, and best of luck for the future!

Tor Summer of Privacy — chosen projects announced!

The application period for the first-ever Tor Summer of Privacy — the funded development season inspired by Google Summer of Code — closed last week, with twenty-two proposals submitted before the deadline. All the project ideas were of a very high standard, but sadly funding and mentoring constraints meant that only four could be chosen, and Damian Johnson took to the Tor blog to share the list of the winners.

Donncha O’Cearbhaill will be implementing a system to increase the availability of large onion services by balancing requests across several back-end servers, each running its own Tor instance; Jesse Victors will be working on a project entitled “The Onion Name System: Tor-Powered Distributed DNS for Tor Hidden Services”, based on his thesis; former GSoC student and GetTor project leader Israel Leiva will be returning to carry out further work on the alternative distribution system for Tor software; and Israel’s twin brother Cristóbal will be developing a web-based status dashboard for Tor relays.

These are all exciting and important projects, and as Damian wrote, “we’re thrilled to have them with us”. Even if you submitted a proposal that wasn’t chosen, please don’t be discouraged: a number of the projects rejected for lack of resources are still high on Tor developers’ wishlists, so if you can find any way to contribute in the future, feel free to seek advice and assistance from the community.

Coding for Tor Summer of Privacy officially starts on May 25th. In the meantime, congratulations to the four students!

Miscellaneous news

Yawning Angel announced obfs4proxy-0.0.5. This release is better able to detect whether the parent Tor process has crashed, and also brings IPv6 support to clients. All users are recommended to upgrade: please see Yawning’s announcement for further details.

Anthony G. Basile announced version 20150411 of Tor-ramdisk, the micro Linux distribution whose only purpose is to host a Tor server in an environment that maximizes security and privacy. This release includes updated versions of Tor and the Linux kernel.

David Fifield wondered about the cause of a sudden large increase in the number of Tor clients using the meek pluggable transport that occurred around April 15th.


This issue of Tor Weekly News has been assembled by Harmony.

Want to continue reading TWN? Please help us create this newsletter. We still need more volunteers to watch the Tor community and report important news. Please see the project page, write down your name and subscribe to the team mailing list if you want to get involved!

Tor Summer of Privacy Projects

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We're pleased to announce the projects for this year's Tor Summer of Privacy! Of our twenty-two applicants sadly we only had funding for four, so without further ado here they are!
 

Projects officially begin on May 25th. We're thrilled to have them with us, and have our fingers crossed that they'll stay afterward to become core developers!

Tor Weekly News — April 15th, 2015

Welcome to the fifteenth issue in 2015 of Tor Weekly News, the weekly newsletter that covers what’s happening in the Tor community.

Tor Browser 4.0.8 is out

Mike Perry announced a new stable release by the Tor Browser team. This version is exactly the same as 4.0.7, which was briefly advertised to users last week but then withdrawn because a bug would have caused it to endlessly recommend updating.

This release includes Tor 0.2.5.12, which fixes the recent onion service and client crash bugs.

There is no corresponding Tor Browser alpha update; that series will become the new stable release in a couple of weeks.

Download your copy of Tor Browser 4.0.8 from the project page, or over the in-browser update system.

Hidden services that aren’t hidden

As the name implies, Tor hidden services (also known as “onion services”) are location-hidden and anonymous, just like regular Tor clients. There may be instances, however, in which a potential hidden service operator doesn’t much care about being hidden: they are more interested in the other unique properties of hidden services, like free end-to-end encryption and authentication, or they want to prevent their users from accidentally sending information non-anonymously. For example, even though everyone knows who Facebook are and where to find them, their users still have things to gain from using their .onion address.

At the moment, these kinds of services are still forced to use the regular hidden service protocol, meaning they connect to rendezvous points over a Tor circuit. Hiding someone who doesn’t want to be hidden is an inefficient use of network resources, and needlessly slows down connections to the service in question, so Tor developers have been discussing the possibility of enabling “direct onion services”, which sacrifice anonymity for improved performance.

George Kadianakis requested feedback on a draft of a Tor proposal for this feature. One of the major questions still to be resolved is how to ensure that nobody enables this option by mistake, or fails to understand the implications for their service’s anonymity. Possible solutions include choosing a better name, making the configuration file option sound more ominous, or even requiring the operator to compile Tor themselves with a special flag.

See George’s proposal for more use-cases and full details of the concept, and feel free to comment on the tor-dev list thread.

Tor Summer of Privacy — entry closing soon!

If you’d like to participate in the first-ever Tor Summer of Privacy, you still have the chance — but be quick, as the application period closes on Friday.

Competition for places is already strong, so make it as easy as possible for your entry to be chosen: look at previous applications for an idea of what Tor developers like to see, drum up interest from potential mentors on the tor-dev mailing list or IRC channel, link to your best code samples, and show the community that you can take the initiative in moving your project forward. Good luck!

More monthly status reports for March 2015

A few more Tor developers submitted monthly reports for March: Isis Lovecruft (for work on BridgeDB and pluggable transports), Arlo Breault (reporting on Tor Messenger and Tor Check), Karsten Loesing (for projects including hidden service statistics, translation coordination, and Tor network tools), and Colin C. (for work on support, documentation, and localization).

The Tails team published its March report. Take a look for updates on development, funding, and outreach; summaries of ongoing discussions; Tails in the media; and much more besides.

Miscellaneous news

Nathan Freitas announced the third release candidate for Orbot v15. This version supports the x86 processor architecture, so devices such as the Galaxy Tab 3 and the Asus Zenphone/Padphone are now officially Tor-compatible. See Nathan’s announcement for the full changelog.

Giovanni Pellerano announced GlobalLeaks 2.60.65, featuring lots of bugfixes, improved localization (including eight new languages), and more.

David Fifield located and fixed a problem with meek’s Microsoft Azure backend that was causing it to run much more slowly than the other two options. “If you tried meek-azure before, but it was too slow, give it another try!”

Thanks to John Penner for running a mirror of the Tor Project’s website and software!


This issue of Tor Weekly News has been assembled by Harmony, the Tails team, and other contributors.

Want to continue reading TWN? Please help us create this newsletter. We still need more volunteers to watch the Tor community and report important news. Please see the project page, write down your name and subscribe to the team mailing list if you want to get involved!

A New Era at the Tor Project

Andrew Lewman, our current Executive Director, is leaving The Tor Project to take a position at an Internet services company. While at Tor, Andrew was passionate about using our tools to help people from diverse backgrounds and points of view benefit from online privacy. We thank Andrew for his contributions and wish him well.

The Board has asked Tor’s Executive Committee to plan the transition. As a member of this committee, I can say that I expect that Tor Project co-founder Roger Dingledine will serve as interim Executive Director while we conduct the search for a permanent replacement.

Although we are sad to see Andrew leave, Tor is entering an exciting period of growth. We are exploring the establishment of Tor Labs and launching new programs like our Tor Summer of Privacy.

Our developers are building the next generation of Internet anonymity tools — and we continue to lead the international discussion on Internet freedom and liberty through our public talks and research.

Thanks to the entire Tor community for your help as we move forward!

--Wendy Seltzer
Member of the Board of Directors of the Tor Project

Tor Browser 4.0.8 is released

A new release for the stable Tor Browser is available from the Tor Browser Project page and also from our distribution directory.

This release contains a fix for the update loop issue present in 4.0.7. It is otherwise identical to that release.

Both 4.0.7 and 4.0.8 contain an update to the included Tor software, to fix two crash bugs in the version of the Tor software included prior to 4.0.7. One crash bug affects only people using the bundled tor binary to run hidden services, and the other crash bug allows a malicious website or Tor exit node to crash the underlying tor client by inducing it to load a resource from a hidden service with a malformed descriptor. These bugs do not allow remote code execution, but because they can be used by arbitrary actors to perform a denial of service, we are issuing a security update to address them.

There will be no corresponding 4.5-alpha release for this fix, to allow us to focus on stabilizing that series for release in ~2 weeks.

Note to MacOS users: This is the last planned release that will run on 32 bit MacOS versions. Users of Mac OS 10.8 (Mountain Lion) and newer versions will be automatically updated to the 64 bit Tor Browser 4.5 when it is stabilized in April, and we expect this transition to be smooth for those users. However, the update process for 10.6 and 10.7 users will unfortunately not be automatic. For more details, see the original end-of-life blog post.

Here is the complete changelog since 4.0.6 (covering 4.0.7 and 4.0.8):

  • All Platforms
    • Bug 15637: Fix update loop due to improper versioning
    • Update Tor to 0.2.5.12
    • Update NoScript to 2.6.9.21

Tor Weekly News — April 8th, 2015

Welcome to the fourteenth issue in 2015 of Tor Weekly News, the weekly newsletter that covers what’s happening in the Tor community.

Tor 0.2.5.12 and 0.2.6.7 are out

Roger Dingledine announced new releases in both the stable and alpha series of the core Tor software. Tor 0.2.5.12 and 0.2.6.7 both contain fixes for two security bugs that could be used either to crash onion services, or clients trying to visit onion services. The releases also make it harder for attackers to overwhelm onion services by launching lots of introductions. For full details, please see the release announcement.

The bugs fixed in these releases are not thought to affect the anonymity of Tor clients or onion services. However, they could be annoying if exploited, so onion service operators should upgrade as soon as possible, while Tor Browser users will be updated with the upcoming Tor Browser stable release.

Tor Summer of Privacy — apply now!

Some of Tor’s most active contributors and projects got their start thanks to Google’s Summer of Code, in which the Tor Project has successfully participated for a number of years. This year, Google have decided to focus on encouraging newer, smaller projects, so rather than miss out on the benefits of this kind of intense coding program, Tor is launching its own Summer of Privacy, as Kate Krauss announced on the Tor blog.

The format is the same as before: students have the opportunity to work on new or existing open-source privacy projects, with financial assistance from the Tor Project and expert guidance from some of the world’s most innovative privacy and security engineers.

If that appeals to you (or someone you know), then see Kate’s announcement and the official TSoP page for more information on the program and how to apply. Applications close on the 17th of this month, so don’t leave it too late!

Should onion services disclose how popular they are?

Even on the non-private web, it is not possible by default to determine how popular a certain website is. Search engines and third-party tracking toolbars might be able to estimate the number of visitors a website gets, but otherwise the information is only available to the site’s operators or to groups who are able to measure DNS requests (as well as anyone in a position to eavesdrop on those two).

On the tor-dev mailing list, George Kadianakis posted a detailed exploration of this issue considered from the perspective of Tor onion services. If improvements and additions to the onion service design would as a side effect give an observer an idea of how popular a certain service is, should this be considered a security risk?

Some of the arguments put forward for the inclusion of popularity-leaking features are that they enable the collection of useful statistics; that they allow further optimization of the onion service design; and that concealing onion service popularity might not be necessary or even possible.

On the other hand, disclosing popularity might help an adversary decide where to aim its attacks; it may not actually offer significant performance or research benefits; and it may surprise onion service users and operators who assume that onionspace popularity is no easier to discover than on the non-private web.

“I still am not 100% decided here, but I lean heavily towards the ‘popularity is private information and we should not reveal it if we can help it’ camp, or maybe in the ‘there needs to be very concrete positive outcomes before even considering leaking popularity’”, writes George. “Hence, my arguments will be obviously biased towards the negatives of leaking popularity. I invite someone from the opposite camp to articulate better arguments for why popularity-hiding is something worth sacrificing.”

Please see George’s analysis for in-depth explanations of all these points and more, and feel free to contribute with your own thoughts.

More monthly status reports for March 2015

The wave of regular monthly reports from Tor project members for the month of March continued, with reports from Georg Koppen (for work on Tor Browser), David Goulet and George Kadianakis (working on onion services), Griffin Boyce (with news on secure software distribution, onion service setup, and Tails), Sherief Alaa (with updates about support and Arabic localization), Leiah Jansen (working on communication and graphic design), Sebastian Hahn (improving testability and fixing website issues), and Sukhbir Singh (for work on TorBirdy and Tor Messenger).

Mike Perry reported on behalf of the Tor Browser team, while George Kadianakis did so for SponsorR work, Israel Leiva for the GetTor project, and Colin C. for the Tor help desk.

Miscellaneous news

Nathan Freitas announced version 15 beta 1 of Orbot, which is “functionality complete”. “The main area for testing is using the Apps VPN mode while switching networks and/or in bad coverage, as well as using it in combination with Meek or Obfs4, for example. Also, the implementation is bit different between Android 4.x and 5.x, so please report any difference you might see there.”

Nathan also shared Amogh Pradeep’s analysis of the network calls made in the latest version of the Firefox for Android source code, “to get our Orfox effort started again”.

This week in Tor history

A year ago this week, Nathan Freitas reported that the number of Orbot users in Turkey had quadrupled in the previous month, after an order by the Turkish government to block access to several popular social media websites led to a surge in Tor connections. This week, the same thing happened (albeit more briefly), leading to another increase in Tor use within Turkey.

The best time to prepare for these censorship events is before they happen — and that includes letting people around you know what they should do to ensure their freedom of expression remains uninterrupted. Show them the Tor animation and Tor brochures, help them install Tor Browser and Orbot, and teach them how to configure their social media applications to connect over Tor. If you make a habit of browsing over Tor, you may not even have to take any notice when things get blocked!


This issue of Tor Weekly News has been assembled by Harmony, nicoo, and Roger Dingledine.

Want to continue reading TWN? Please help us create this newsletter. We still need more volunteers to watch the Tor community and report important news. Please see the project page, write down your name and subscribe to the team mailing list if you want to get involved!

Tor Browser 4.0.7 is released

Unfortunately, the 4.0.7 release has a bug that makes it think of itself as 4.0.6, causing an update loop. This version mismatch will also cause the incremental update to 4.0.8 to fail to properly apply. The browser will then download the full update at that point, which should succeed, but at the expense of both user delay and wasted Tor network bandwidth.

For this reason, we have decided to pull 4.0.7 from the website at the moment, and instead prepare 4.0.8 as soon as possible.

Thank you for your patience.

Tor 0.2.5.12 and 0.2.6.7 are released

Tor 0.2.5.12 and 0.2.6.7 fix two security issues that could be used by an attacker to crash hidden services, or crash clients visiting hidden services. Hidden services should upgrade as soon as possible; clients should upgrade whenever packages become available.

These releases also contain two simple improvements to make hidden services a bit less vulnerable to denial-of-service attacks.

We also made a Tor 0.2.4.27 release so that Debian stable can easily integrate these fixes.

The Tor Browser team is currently evaluating whether to put out a new Tor Browser stable release with these fixes, or wait until next week for their scheduled next stable release. (The bugs can introduce hassles for users, but we don't currently view them as introducing any threats to anonymity.)

Changes in version 0.2.5.12 - 2015-04-06

  • Major bugfixes (security, hidden service):
    • Fix an issue that would allow a malicious client to trigger an assertion failure and halt a hidden service. Fixes bug 15600; bugfix on 0.2.1.6-alpha. Reported by "disgleirio".
    • Fix a bug that could cause a client to crash with an assertion failure when parsing a malformed hidden service descriptor. Fixes bug 15601; bugfix on 0.2.1.5-alpha. Found by "DonnchaC".
  • Minor features (DoS-resistance, hidden service):
    • Introduction points no longer allow multiple INTRODUCE1 cells to arrive on the same circuit. This should make it more expensive for attackers to overwhelm hidden services with introductions. Resolves ticket 15515.

Changes in version 0.2.6.7 - 2015-04-06

  • Major bugfixes (security, hidden service):
    • Fix an issue that would allow a malicious client to trigger an assertion failure and halt a hidden service. Fixes bug 15600; bugfix on 0.2.1.6-alpha. Reported by "disgleirio".
    • Fix a bug that could cause a client to crash with an assertion failure when parsing a malformed hidden service descriptor. Fixes bug 15601; bugfix on 0.2.1.5-alpha. Found by "DonnchaC".
  • Minor features (DoS-resistance, hidden service):
    • Introduction points no longer allow multiple INTRODUCE1 cells to arrive on the same circuit. This should make it more expensive for attackers to overwhelm hidden services with introductions. Resolves ticket 15515.
    • Decrease the amount of reattempts that a hidden service performs when its rendezvous circuits fail. This reduces the computational cost for running a hidden service under heavy load. Resolves ticket 11447.
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