On being targeted by the NSA

As quoted in the original article on Das Erste:

We've been thinking of state surveillance for years because of our work in places where journalists are threatened. Tor's anonymity is based on distributed trust, so observing traffic at one place in the Tor network, even a directory authority, isn't enough to break it. Tor has gone mainstream in the past few years, and its wide diversity of users -- from civic-minded individuals and ordinary consumers to activists, law enforcement, and companies -- is part of its security. Just learning that somebody visited the Tor or Tails website doesn't tell you whether that person is a journalist source, someone concerned that her Internet Service Provider will learn about her health conditions, or just someone irked that cat videos are blocked in her location.

Trying to make a list of Tor's millions of daily users certainly counts as widescale collection. Their attack on the bridge address distribution service shows their "collect all the things" mentality -- it's worth emphasizing that we designed bridges for users in countries like China and Iran, and here we are finding out about attacks by our own country. Does reading the contents of those mails violate the wiretap act? Now I understand how the Google engineers felt when they learned about the attacks on their infrastructure.

Yes, we know about the Guardian article


And also the Washington Post article.

We're planning to write up a more detailed analysis later, but for now here's a place to centralize all the "hey did you know about this article" blog comments.

And for the journalists out there who want a statement, here's my quote from the article:

"The good news is that they went for a browser exploit, meaning there's no indication they can break the Tor protocol or do traffic analysis on the Tor network. Infecting the laptop, phone, or desktop is still the easiest way to learn about the human behind the keyboard.

Tor still helps here: you can target individuals with browser exploits, but if you attack too many users, somebody's going to notice. So even if the NSA aims to surveil everyone, everywhere, they have to be a lot more selective about which Tor users they spy on.

Just using Tor isn't enough to keep you safe in all cases. Browser exploits, large-scale surveillance, and general user security are all challenging topics for the average internet user. These attacks make it clear that we, the broader internet community, need to keep working on better security for browsers and other internet-facing applications."

Tor, NSA, GCHQ, and QUICK ANT Speculation

Many Tor users and various press organizations are asking about one slide in a Brazillian TV broadcast. A graduate student in law and computer science at Stanford University, Jonathan Mayer, then speculated on what this "QUICK ANT" could be. Since then, we've heard all sorts of theories.

We've seen the same slides as you and Jonathan Mayer have seen. It's not clear what the NSA or GCHQ can or cannot do. It's not clear if they are "cracking" the various crypto used in Tor, or merely tracking Tor exit relays, Tor relays as a whole, or run their own private Tor network.

What we do know is that if someone can watch the entire Internet all at once, they can watch traffic enter tor and exit tor. This likely de-anonymizes the Tor user. We describe the problem as part of our FAQ.

We think the most likely explanation here is that they have some "Tor flow detector" scripts that let them pick Tor flows out of a set of flows they're looking at. This is basically the same problem as the blocking-resistance problem — they could do it by IP address ("that's a known Tor relay"), or by traffic fingerprint ("that looks like TLS but look here and here how it's different"), etc.

It's unlikely to have anything to do with deanonymizing Tor users, except insofar as they might have traffic flows from both sides of the circuit in their database. However, without concrete details, we can only speculate as well. We'd rather spend our time developing Tor and conducting research to make a better Tor.

Thanks to Roger and Lunar for edits and feedback on this post.

Tor's Response to Prism Surveillance Program

Due to several requests received today from members of the press community and others we felt it was in the best interest of time and consistency to provide a statement regarding today's developments and stories surrounding the NSA Prism surveillance program.

The Tor Project is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to providing tools to help people manage their privacy on the Internet. Beyond our free, open source technology and extensive research we actively foster important conversations with many global organizations in order to help people around the world understand the value of privacy and anonymity online. As a result, members of the core Tor team and the greater Tor community are out in the world sharing knowledge and insights with countless individuals every day - many times handing out free Tor stickers; with no donation requested or expected. Edward Snowden, like tens of thousands of people, put Tor stickers on their devices. He likely got it at a conference from one of us in the past year.

Today, as always, the team at Tor remains committed to building innovative, sustainable technology solutions to help keep the doors to freedom of expression open.

For more on our view on this situation visit also our blog post:

For further questions please contact us at execdir@torproject.org.

PRISM vs Tor

By now, just about everybody has heard about the PRISM surveillance program, and many are beginning to speculate on its impact on Tor.

Unfortunately, there still are a lot of gaps to fill in terms of understanding what is really going on, especially in the face of conflicting information between the primary source material and Google, Facebook, and Apple's claims of non-involvement.

This apparent conflict means that it is still hard to pin down exactly how the program impacts Tor, and is leading many to assume worst-case scenarios.

For example, some of the worst-case scenarios include the NSA using weaponized exploits to compromise datacenter equipment at these firms. Less severe, but still extremely worrying possibilities include issuing gag orders to mid or low-level datacenter staff to install backdoors or monitoring equipment without any interaction what-so-ever with the legal and executive staff of the firms themselves.

We're going to save analysis of those speculative and invasive scenarios for when more information becomes available (though we may independently write a future blog post on the dangers of the government use of weaponized exploits).

For now, let's review what Tor can do, what tools go well with Tor to give you defense-in-depth for your communications, and what work needs to be done so we can make it easier to protect communications from instances where the existing centralized communications infrastructure is compromised by the NSA, China, Iran, or by anyone else who manages to get ahold of the keys to the kingdom.

The core Tor software's job is to conceal your identity from your recipient, and to conceal your recipient and your content from observers on your end. By itself, Tor does not protect the actual communications content once it leaves the Tor network. This can make it useful against some forms of metadata analysis, but this also means Tor is best used in combination with other tools.

Through the use of HTTPS-Everywhere in Tor Browser, in many cases we can protect your communications content where parts of the Tor network and/or your recipients' infrastructure are compromised or under surveillance. The EFF has created an excellent interactive graphic to help illustrate and clarify these combined properties.

Through the use of combinations of additional software like TorBirdy and Enigmail, OTR, and Diaspora, Tor can also protect your communications content in cases where the communications infrastructure (Google/Facebook) is compromised.

However, the real interesting use cases for Tor in the face of dragnet surveillance like this is not that Tor can protect your gmail/facebook accounts from analysis (in fact, Tor could never really protect account usage metadata), but that Tor and hidden services are actually a key building block to build systems where it is no longer possible to go to a single party and obtain the full metadata, communications frequency, *or* contents.

Tor hidden services are arbitrary communications endpoints that are resistant to both metadata analysis and surveillance.

A simple (to deploy) example of a hidden service based mechanism to significantly hinder exactly this type of surveillance is an XMPP client that also ships with an XMPP server and a Tor hidden service. Such a P2P communication system (where the clients are themselves the servers) is both end-to-end secure, and does *not* have a single central server where metadata is available. This communication is private, pseudonymous, and does not have involve any single central party or intermediary.

More complex examples would include the use of Diaspora and other decentralized social network protocols with hidden service endpoints.

Despite these compelling use cases and powerful tool combination possibilities, the Tor Project is under no illusion that these more sophisticated configurations are easy, usable, or accessible by the general public.

We recognize that a lot of work needs to be done even for the basic tools like Tor Browser, TorBirdy, EnigMail, and OTR to work seamlessly and securely for most users, let alone complex combinations like XMPP or Diaspora with Hidden Services.

Additionally, hidden services themselves are in need of quite a bit of development assistance just to maintain their originally designed level of security, let alone scaling to support large numbers of endpoints.

Being an Open Source project with limited resources, we welcome contributions from the community to make any of this software work better with Tor, or to help improve the Tor software itself.

If you're not a developer, but you would still like to help us succeed in our mission of securing the world's communications, please donate! It is a rather big job, after all.

We will keep you updated as we learn more about the exact capabilities of this program.

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