Crowdfunding the Future (of Hidden Services)
Hidden Services have received a lot of attention in 2015, and Tor is at the center of this conversation. Hidden Services are a Tor technology that allows users to connect to services (blogs, chats, and many other things) with neither the user nor the site giving up identifying information.
In fact, anything you can build on the internet, you can build on hidden services. But they're better--they give users things that normal networking doesn't authentication and confidentiality are built in; anonymity is built in. An internet based on hidden services would be an internet with Tor built in--a feature that users could take for granted. Think of what this might mean to millions of users in countries like China, Iran, or the UK. Yet currently, only about 4% of Tor's traffic comes from hidden services.
So we at Tor have been considering how we might meet the challenge of making them more widely available. In this post, we will briefly discuss the role of hidden services before we explore the idea of using crowdfunding to pay for bold, long-term tech initiatives that will begin to fulfill the promise of this technology.
Hidden Services are a critical part of Tor's ecosystem
Hidden Services provide a means for Tor users to create sites and services that are accessible exclusively within the Tor network, with privacy and security features that make them useful and appealing for a wide variety of applications.
For example, hidden services are currently used by activists and journalists to publish blogs--in anonymity and free from retaliation. They are used by NGOs to securely receive information on government corruption and injustice from concerned citizens. Newspapers such as the Washington Post, and human rights groups such as Amnesty International use them to receive leaked information. They are used by people looking for the latest cat facts, companies that want to secure the path of their clients or by people chatting securely and anonymously -- including at-risk journalists talking to sources.
In addition, developers use hidden services as a building block to incorporate Tor's security and anonymity features into totally separate products. The potential of hidden services is huge, and much of it is yet to be explored.
Next Steps for Hidden Services
We want to make this technology available to the wider public as these services will play a key role in the future of secure communications. This means that we must increase the uses for hidden services, bring them to mobile platforms for anonymous mobile apps, and vastly increase the number of people who use them.
Since our goal is wider use, it is imperative that we build them to be more secure, easier to set up, better performing, and more usable. Clearly, the questions that we answer in early deployment efforts will inform how we answer the deeper questions pertaining to massive worldwide deployment.
We must engage a large number of people to bring hidden services to the next level. Until now, hidden services development largely relied on the volunteer work of developers in their spare time. This will not be sufficient if we are to make the leap to transformative hidden services.
We are currently evaluating funding strategies that will support our Hidden Service initiatives in the short-, intermediate- and long-term. In order to fit the requirements more conservative large funders have, so we can fully sponsor the Next Generation Hidden Services, we must put preliminary pieces in place. And for that we will reach out to crowdfunding. To do this right, we need your feedback.
Crowdfunding allows us to engage the broader community in grasping the opportunity that this new technology promises. We are confident that we can deliver significant advancements in the hidden services field in the short-term, and that many small donors who understand their context will be eager to contribute. We intend to begin by prioritizing the improvement of the security, usability, and performance of the current hidden services system.
Further, we want to make sure we support the efforts of community projects and that the community is participating in shaping the evolution of hidden services. For example, it would be important to assist and improve the Tor integration of projects such as SecureDrop, Pond, Ahmia and Ricochet. We are in the unique position to be able to shape the Tor protocol to make these projects easier to use and better performing, and we would like to identify ways to promote broader deployment of these projects.
Identifying, prioritizing and meeting future challenges will require engagement throughout the greater community. For instance, as changes and enhancements are introduced, we hope to speak with the best bug hunters, cryptographers and privacy experts and ask them to audit our code and designs. Non-technical users could help us evaluate the usability of our improvements.
For this crowdfunding campaign we have identified a few possible ideas-- but the point of this post is to ask you for yours. Here are three projects that we have come up with so far:
An application that Hidden Service operators could use to learn more about the activity of their Hidden Service. The operator would have access to information on user activity, security information, etc., and will receive important system-generated updates, including log messages
A way to set up public hidden services with improved performance but reduced server-side anonymity. Basically, hidden services that don't care about anonymity but still want to protect their clients with Tor's cryptography and anonymity, will be able to run faster since they don't need to protect their own anonymity. This is an optional feature that suits the needs of large sites like Facebook and reddit, and will make their hidden services faster while also reducing the traffic they cause to the network. Also by optimizing for performance in this specialized feature, we can optimize for security even more in the default hidden services configuration.
Tor has been at the center of hidden services from the beginning. We have big lists of changes we need to do to the Tor protocol to increase the security of hidden services against cryptanalysis, DoS and deanonymization attacks. We also want to improve guard security, allow operators to store their cryptographic keys offline and enable scaling of hidden services to new levels. This is a big project but we hope to start crunching through it as part of this crowdfunding campaign.
Your Idea for Hidden Services?
Long story short, we are looking for feedback!
Also, we are curious about which crowdfunding platforms you prefer and why.
In the following weeks, we will update you on our progress, incorporating feedback we receive from the community. We hope to make this process as transparent and public as possible!
EDIT: The "Unhidden Services" paragraph was expanded and changed to "Fast-but-not-hidden Services". The previous name was too scary and the description not sufficient to show the potential of the project. Please send us better names for this feature!