Tor, the pentagon's cyberweapon

Karl gmkarl at
Wed Oct 14 15:59:13 PDT 2020

On Wed, Oct 14, 2020, 6:34 PM Peter Fairbrother <peter at> wrote:

> On 14/10/2020 18:22, jim bell wrote:
> > Last year, I tried to start a discussion to implement a new anonymity
> router network, perhaps using the Raspberry Pi computers.   I got a quote
> for 500 Raspberry Pi's, at $70 each.  I included a few ideas, some old,
> some new:
> >
> > 1.    Routers could be anywhere, but would include homes and small
> businesses.  Anyone who has an Internet service with an adequately-large
> data cap. (Recently, I saw that CenturyLink had removed the data cap from
> some of its internet services. especially fiber.
> .
> >
> >   And their data caps, where they still exist, are 1 terabyte/month,
> which I think would be plenty for an anonymity network.
> The problem is that a reliable cheap anonymising network for low-latency
> traffic like web traffic is basically impossible.
> Tor is about as good as we can get. When I was designing m-o-o-t I
> didn't include any web anonymiser for that reason.
> The problem is traffic volume and latency. If we want low-latency web
> traffic - nowadays [1] that's less than 4 seconds - we can't include
> fixed file sizes with realistic constraints on traffic.
> To put some BOTE numbers on that, suppose you want to provide for 1
> million concurrent users. You have about 150 TB per month user traffic
> to play with (500 x 1TB, ~3 hops), 150 MB per month per user, or 450 Baud.

Could you explain your math here?  How did 500TB/3 (am I wrong?) become

> Ouch.
> > 2.    Extensive chaff.   (which, of course, is an old idea, strangely
> it's not yet implemented in TOR)
> Like fixed file sizes - essential for anonymity - chaff and covertraffic
> takes too much traffic, see above.

I don't see how what you said above is related to whether the data is real
or decoy.  Obviously you would keep the sum of the two constant.

> > 3.    "Output nodes" would output only in encrypted form, so that people
> generally could not get in trouble for acting as an output node:  Their
> output could be monitored, but not understood as to its content, since it
> would look like random data.
> That doesn't work - the users want to connect to any web server
> somewhere. You could enforce eg TLS but even that does not hide file
> sizes..

Enforcing TLS is much more reasonable nowadays.  (You could add a plugin to
use http tricks to hide file sizes.). Not what I would focus on once it
gets nonsimple.

> > 4.    I also thought of an idea that such a network should implement
> multiple algorithms for networking, simultaneously, limited only by
> people's imaginations:   People  frequently talk about new ideas for
> anonymity networks, but how might they try them out in practice?   If an
> anonymity network is fated to have ONLY ONE routing method, then all new
> such methods cannot be easily developed:  You'd have to physically build a
> new network, along with all such associated costs, for each new routing
> method.  That's completely illogical.
> >
> >     Should there be any limit to the number of kinds of routing done?
> It's all software.   One advantage of this feature is that all these
> different routing algorithms are mixed together, such it should be harder to
> That's OK if you are doing development, but not for production - unless
> the users decide the routing, as in eg Mixmaster. But you can't (or
> shouldn't) use an anonymiser if you don't know whether it is going to work!

Seems reasonable to make this pluggable.  Final use would need all users to
look the same, and no exits have a predictable source.

> > TOR is doubted for many good reasons, but if it is generally agreed that
> some form of anonymizing network is needed, then people should be willing
> to work to provide an alternative.

Seems to me the smaller it is to build the more likely it is to reach
completion and use.

> I was at some of the early meetings when Roger Dingledene, Paul
> Syverson, Lucky Green, Nick Matthewson, Len Sassaman, myself and others
> were talking about a web anonymiser, which later became Tor.
> Other people at those meetings included many if not most of the top
> anonymity researchers, and some of the top cryptographers, in the world
> at that time. Tor was not conceived as is was by accident or in
> ignorance [2], many people (including myself) thought it was about the
> best that could be done.
> Roger's thought was that TOR would make mass surveillance difficult and
> it would be worth doing for that reason, even though it wouldn't prevent
> targeted attacks by major adversaries. At a set of meetings the next
> year Roger had gotten some funding, iirc from the US Navy, and Nick had
> started work on coding.
> I bowed out almost immediately, Len and Lucky bowed out after a while,
> because we knew it couldn't be done securely on the user level.
> After that I pretty much lost interest, though I did keep an eye on the
> project.
> The problem is that it's a super Zooko's triangle - you simply can't get
> reliably anonymous, low-latency and cheap anonymous web traffic.
> You probably can't even get reliably anonymous and low-latency, at any
> price.
> Peter Fairbrother
> [1] Acceptable low latencies vary according to use and user expectations
> - fifteen years ago people would wait 20 seconds or more for a web page
> to load, nowadays they lose interest at 4 seconds. Actually maybe less
> now, that figure is several years old. And for interactive speech or
> video latencies should be subsecond.
> [2] or with evil intent, at least from Roger and Nick.
> I don't think Paul had any evil intent either, but he was USN and is
> therefore suspect. It's like my friend from GCHQ - we are friends and we
> were sort-of colleagues until I retired, but it's a bit like having a
> policeman live next door - even when you have done no wrong you are
> always aware that he is a policeman.

My gut is that evil intent is pretty rare in a group of like-minded people
putting work in.  It's more likely people are acting on differing
information or experiences, or can't escape something difficult.

> One curiousity, the .onion part of the TOR infrastructure was largely
> driven by Paul.
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