advocacy

Tor website needs your help!

Tor started more than eleven years ago. The project website has gone through three major revisions in that time. It looks like it’s again time for important changes.

Tor has shifted in the recent years from being a project prominently used by researchers, developers, and security experts to the wider audience of anyone concerned about their privacy. Tor’s user base continues to grow. While this is a very good news for the anonymity of every Tor user, we need to make information that matters more accessible and better structured. The support team already receive close to 30 new requests every day, and it would be a better experience for newcomers, users, and journalists to directly find their answers.

Creating the ideal website for Tor is not an easy task. We have very diverse audiences with very diverse expectations. We need to gather information from different sources. Some pages should be multi-lingual. As outdated information could endanger our users, it should be easy to keep up-to-date. Our users deserve beautiful, clear, and comprehensive graphics to allow everyone to quickly understand Tor better. We’ve had some starting discussions, but we’re very much in need of your help.

Up to the challenge? Do you want to help improving a website visited everyday by millions of people looking for protection against surveillance? Then feel free to join the website team mailing list. We need usability experts, technical writers, designers, code wizards of the modern web, static website generator experts, documentalists… Join us and help!

Thanks!

Thank you from The Tor Project for your support, advocacy, and help over the past few years!

CALEA 2 and Tor

Journalists and activists have been asking me this week about the news that the Obama administration is now considering whether to support the latest version of the FBI's "Going Dark" legislation. Here are some points to add to the discussion.

  • This is far from law currently. Nobody's even published any proposed text. Right now the White House is considering whether to back it, and now is a great time to help them understand how dangerous it would be for America.
  • Forcing backdoors in communication tools is a mandate for insecurity. Haven't they been paying attention to just how much these same systems are under attack from foreign governments and criminals? Did they not learn any lessons from the wiretapping scandals in Greece and Italy, where CALEA backdoors were used to surveil politicians, without law enforcement even knowing about it? You cannot add a backdoor to a communications system without making it more vulnerable to attack, both from insiders and from the outside.
  • The Justice Department is being really short-sighted here by imagining that the world is black and white. We've heard from people at the FBI, DEA, NSA, etc who use Tor for their job. If we changed the design so we could snoop on people, those users should go use a system that isn't broken by design — such as one in another country. And if those users should, why wouldn't criminals switch too?
  • In any case, it seems likely that the law won't apply to The Tor Project, since we don't run the Tor network and also it's not a service. (We write free open source software, and then people run it to form a network.)
  • The current CALEA already has an ugly trickle-down effect on the citizens of other countries. Different governments have different standards for lawful access, but the technology doesn't distinguish. So when the Egyptian general plugs in his telco box and sees the connector labelled "lawful access", he thinks to himself "I *am* the law" and proceeds with surveilling his citizens to stay in power. To put it bluntly, America's lawful intercept program undermines its foreign policy goals.

And lastly, we should all keep in mind that they can't force us to do anything. You always have the alternative of stopping whatever it is you're doing. So for example if they try to "force" an individual directory authority operator to do something, the operator should just stop operating the authority (and then consider working with EFF and ACLU to establish precedent that such an attempt was illegal). And so on, all the way up the chain. Good thing the Internet is an international community.

Trip report, 29c3

Jacob and I did another Tor talk at CCC this year. This time we focused on explaining all the various Tor project components (mostly development-related) that need help from the broader community.

The talk went well, but we were in the smaller room, and we and the conference organizers had failed to communicate that it was meant to be more of a workshopy atmosphere. We had a lot of people there who just wanted to see the sequel to our spectacle last year, and it meant we turned away many hundred Tor enthusiasts. Live and learn I guess. I did end up holding a post-talk Tor Q&A session that lasted for seven hours.

I'm still patiently waiting for the official video to emerge [Edit: here it is!], but in the meantime there's a youtube copy of the video stream; you can look at the slides too.

Some other highlights from Congress:

  • Be sure to watch the DoJ/NSA whistleblower talk (blurb).
  • We talked to Christian Grothoff about NAT piercing for Flash Proxy. One of the main deficiencies in the current Flash Proxy design is that the censored user needs to be reachable on the Internet (i.e. not behind a firewall or NAT). While we can't expect the flash proxy bridge running in a browser to be able to craft arbitrary packets (required for most NAT piercing tricks), Peter Palfrader pointed out that we *can* expect the Flash Proxy facilitator to be able to send such packets on behalf of each volunteer bridge. Cute trick — wonder if it'll work.
  • I introduced Harry Halpin (W3C) to David Fifield (Flash Proxy). Web browsers are trying to catch up to Skype in terms of real-time media interactions. That means UDP flows, NAT piercing, link encryption, and more, all in the browser. Flash Proxy could sure make use of all that. And the folks working on the WebRTC specifications could use some broader use cases.
  • I met several great people from Bits of Freedom, the Dutch NGO that is a sort of hybrid EFF/ACLU for the Netherlands. It seems like only a few years ago that we were lamenting that Europe has too few advocacy organizations to challenge bad laws and policies — data retention, ACTA, etc. That's changing!
  • I talked to Linus Nordberg, who runs several fast exits in Sweden as part of DFRI and has been pondering running a bunch of bridges too. The question is: what are the tradeoffs between running both the bridges and exits on the same network (more centralization) vs partitioning them so they run on distinct netblocks? Counterintuitively, due to the "no more than one node on a given /16" rule in Tor's path selection strategy, centralizing the bridges and exits on the same netblock actually improves safety against some adversaries. My recommendation to him was that having more bridges and exits is still better than not, even though the diversity issues remain open and complex research questions.
  • I also talked to Linus about what we should do with relays whose exit policies only allow ports commonly used for plaintext traffic. Is that a hint that they're set up by jerks to sniff traffic? Or did the operator not even think about that issue? Should we set the BadExit flag for them? It seems that's a tough arms race for us to win, since they could just choose to exit to a few more ports and suddenly they blend back in. Ultimately I think we need to work harder to establish relationships with all the fast exit relays. We're doing pretty well in terms of knowing the operators of the CCC relays, the Torservers.net relays, the Akamai relays, etc. Will we eventually get to the point where we can cap the bandwidth weights for relays that we haven't met personally? Perhaps we can even bring back the Named or Valid flags for real? In any case, the short-term answer is "send them mail and start a conversation".
  • I talked to trams about sandboxing Flash. It would be great to ship the Tor Browser Bundle with some wrappers that prevent Flash from doing scary things. (Ok, it would be even better to wrap the whole OS, but let's not get hasty.) He has a set of protection wrappers that work on OS X, but his next question is what behaviors to allow? I suggested that to start, we should pick exactly the behaviors Youtube uses — then we'll make a lot of Tor users happier while still not opening the attack surface too much. Next messy steps include "that's nice for OS X users, but what about Windows users?" and "How does this relate to FF17's new plugin-container notion?"
  • I met with the Wau Holland Foundation board about having WHF be our European coordinator for exit relay funding. It's tricky to get everything organized in a way that's compatible with non-profit laws in both the US and Germany, and also in a way where the community understands how the relationships work. We're getting closer.
  • I met with Andy Isaacson of Noisebridge, which operates several fast exits in the US under its Noisetor project. I'd like to sign Noisebridge up to be a US-based coordinator for exit relay funding. But Andy quite reasonably worries that once we start giving Noisetor money for exits, the individual contributions they get to run their exits will disappear. One resolution might be to do one of those "matching funding" deals, where we offer to match every dollar they raise up to some amount. Ultimately, I hope they work with their community to make a plan that lets them either grow the capacity or diversity of the relays they run, or extend the lifetime of their existing relays.
  • I talked to bunnie about the open laptop he's working on. Over in Torouter land, we've had a series of experiences where we pick what looks like a fine architecture for a tiny Tor relay. We work with the vendor, help everything go smoothly, and then at the last minute it seems like the vendor goes sideways with some for-profit proprietary alternate plan. :( I really want to live in a world where a fully open platform exists — hardware design and documentation, firmware, device drivers, software, everything. If you can do anything to help bunnie succeed, please do!

Wading into social waters

Recently, we've been introduced to two "Tor Project" Facebook Org pages. Neither of which are run by us at Tor, yet. There was also a Google+ page for a while, too. We currently use a few social media methods, such as mailing lists, pgp web of trust, internet relay chat, Identi.ca, and Twitter. Some people are very upset Tor is seemingly supporting Facebook, Google+ and others.

We're expanding into Facebook, Google+, Reddit, and others because our users are asking for it. There are existing Tor communities in many places, and we don't need to formally be at them all. It's great when individuals step up to the challenge and represent Tor in positive ways. However, as people join these communities, they are looking for a real discussion with us. For many people, these platforms are the primary means of communication.

We do have some concerns about social media sites. Let's enumerate these concerns.

  1. Current social media solutions don't respect user privacy, however it's all we have today. With buttons like "+1", "Like", and "Tweet this" strewn about websites, tracking your normal web activity, Tor is at least one solution to help you stop this global tracking. We believe you should be fully in control of your own data and metadata.

  2. The users are currently using these systems in very unsafe ways. We can join the system and set up a presence with details about how to use these systems more safely--or if they cannot be used safely at all. The goal is to educate people.The EFF has an explanation of these risks as well.

  3. We can get our message out to people and have a discussion with them, where they are, even though we don't control the medium and risk getting kicked off the system.

  4. Some are impersonating us now, and not at the quality level we want to see. A bad answer or impression from a fake Tor is worse than no answer at all.

Why don't we write our own?

Writing and deploying our own social media system is beyond the scope of our mission. However, tor can provide an anonymous base for such a system. We have hope for systems like Diaspora, tent, and FreedomBox.

April 2012 Progress Report

Our progress report for April 2012 is now available. Highlights include tls/openssl updates, bridgeDB plans, tor cloud updates, obfsproxy updates, shadow tor simulator thoughts, new tor alpha release, support queue stats, and some press and speaking slots.

Available as a pdf with full color graphs, https://archive.torproject.org/monthly-report-archive/2012-April-Monthly...

or as a plain text file for portability and readability, https://archive.torproject.org/monthly-report-archive/2012-April-Monthly...

February 2012 Progress Report

Our progress report for February 2012 is now available. It hightlights recent work with deep packet inspection and censorship circumvention in Iran and Kazakhstan. Also progress on a new tor status site based on new protocols, and general outreach and travels.

We implemented a new format this month to better reflect everything going on within Tor.

Available as a pdf with full color graphs, https://archive.torproject.org/monthly-report-archive/2012-February-Mont...

or as a plain text file for portability and readability, https://archive.torproject.org/monthly-report-archive/2012-February-Mont...

Call for papers: Free and Open Communications on the Internet (FOCI) Workshop

The 2nd USENIX Workshop on Free and Open Communications on the Internet (FOCI '12) seeks to bring together researchers and practitioners from technology, law, and policy who are working on means to study, detect, or circumvent practices that inhibit free and open communications on the Internet.

The Internet offers great promise for improving the communication capabilities of citizens, but our increasing dependence on networked communications also makes it easier for organizations to control, monitor, and block communications. ISPs and governments routinely restrict access to Internet content and services, either by censoring access to information or by degrading the performance of services or blocking them entirely. Similarly, ISPs can degrade network performance for certain sets of users for some or all services, for arbitrary purposes. ISPs have been found to block or throttle certain application traffic routinely. This growing trend toward blocking, tampering, or otherwise restricting communications on the Internet calls for improved techniques both for monitoring the state of restrictions on Internet content and communications, in order to inform users, and for circumventing attempts to censor, degrade, or otherwise tamper with Internet communications.

The broadening scope of attacks on Internet freedom is forcing more disciplines to address the issue. Last year's workshop brought together four research communities:

  • Those studying network neutrality and performance degradation
  • Those measuring content censorship and blocking of resources and services
  • Those designing and evaluating censorship circumvention tools
  • Those who work on the wider implications of censorship, bringing perspectives from the worlds of policy, law, ethics, and political and social sciences

This second workshop aims to repeat and promote this critical interdisciplinary approach.

Six-page short-paper submissions are due April 26 (edit: May 3), and the workshop is August 6 near Seattle. See the full Call for Papers for details.

October 2011 Progress Report

The October 2011 Progress report is available in PDF and text formats. It contains details of the six major releases, new censorship events in China, and results of a concerted effort to work on hiding Tor's network signature, amongst other progress.

July 2011 Progress Report

The July 2011 Progress Report is at the bottom of this post and at https://blog.torproject.org/files/2011-July-Monthly-Report.pdf.

Highlights include continued progress on protocol obfuscating proxy, a new bridge guard design, outreach, scalability improvements, orbot updates, and a number of translation updates.

Update 2011-08-15: based on feedback, created a plaintext version of the pdf. It doesn't contain the images obviously, but does contain all of the content. Generated the text file via pandoc. The text file is here, https://blog.torproject.org/files/2011-July-Monthly-Report.txt

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