Tor Project developers are making several security improvements with news that Carnegie Mellon University researchers in Pittsburgh had unmasked both the servers and users of some dark web sites and provided that information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Tor’s statement confirms that CMU attack was employed in late 2014 by the law enforcement in an operation dubbed Operation Onymous, which Europol and the FBI conducted.
This dark web purge brought down several Tor hidden services including some of the most famous Tor-based dark web markets for drugs, which included the Silk Road 2.0, leading to more than 17 arrests.
Tor project, for its part, has made several efforts to patch the weakness that the researchers took advantage of, and subsequently block the attack, which it first detected in July 2014.
All these security improvements to the facility are aimed to make dark web sites remain completely anonymous.
A Tor developer who wanted to stay anonymous for privacy reasons said, “The plan of our new design of onion services will include improved performance together with enhanced security.
We have broken down the development into smaller modules, and we are beginning to build the basis.
The whole process is a pretty insane engineering work.”
He said that the Tor project had a small group of developers in the past, but in their new developments, they will move the capacity of engineering a bit farther out.
There have been a lot of enthusiasm within the Tor Network for private services, and that’s why they intend to seek more high-level skilled developers as well as more funding to build the next generation of onion servers.
The attack on the Tor network in 2014 by the University was primarily a “guard node” attack.
These nodes are part of the Tor project that can be quickly set up by anyone.
“A guard node is the first hop of the Tor circuit and, as a result, the single most of the network that can read the real Internet Protocol address of a covered service.”
The Tor project developer said. In simpler terms, a guard node is the first part of a Tor project that the dark web sites connect to so as to disguise the location of their servers.
The Tor project developer said, “The way Tor network picks entry guards currently is not ideal and the current code manages this feature is not bulletproof.
“ For instance, traditionally each onion router would have three guard nodes assigned to it, but from last September, each onion router just uses a single guard node and, therefore, exposes itself to a less number of relays.
Last July, the Tor project successfully improved the attack vector, which the university was making use of, (it was referred to as the RELAY_EARLY_confirmation attack).
Since then, they have devised more enhanced designs for securing guard nodes.
A majority of the Tor project’s developers are planning on how to perform better guard node selection. In fact, one of them is currently writing a code for this.
They are also modeling how the onion services pick a guard node at present, and they are stimulating other methods of doing it to identify the one that exposes itself to less number of relays.
Remember, the fewer relays you get exposed to, the more safe you are.
Tor network developers have also been working tirelessly on other security issues as well.
For example, a series of talks and papers have abused the directory server of private services trying to estimate the activity of specific dark web sites, or to launch DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks against the dark web sites.
Tor project is going to fix this by making it much more difficult for the attacker’s nodes becoming the responsible relay of an anonymous service and enhance the ability to track usage and uptime information.
They intend to use a distributed random number generator, several computers combined to generate a single and a fresh unpredictable random number.
Tor network developers are also working to make it tough for directory services to get an address on the next generation design.
If an individual doesn’t know a dark web site address, then in the future system, they won’t get it out by just hosting its HSDir entry.
They are also planning to do other impressive performance improvements.
They plan to make onion router services scalable in massive infrastructures such as Facebook.
They are looking for better load balancing as well as high availability.
They really want to make it more serious. Load balancing functions to distribute the traffic load of a dark web site to several servers to ensure that no single server becomes overloaded with all the users.
If a server is overloaded, it stops responding and create additional problems.
Any attack that particularly overloads a dark web site making it stop responding is referred to as DoS (Denial of Service) attack.
To ensure that the dark web sites stay hidden, the Tor project is making some changes so that when directory servers exchange information with a client, an “ephemeral identity” is employed.
“So from now the directory server will never read the long-term identity,” the Tor developer said.
Nick Mathewson, the chief architect of the Tor software and the co-founder of the Tor Project, is developing a magic circuit crypto – new encryption design that will make it more difficult to carry out an active confirmation attack.
Active confirmation attacks are more devastating than passive attacks, but the Tor developers say that they are working to defend the Tor network against them.
The particular kind of confirmation attack that the new crypto developed by Nick is going to defend against is the “tagging attack.”
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