TCE Guest Lecture: Hiding in a Panopticon: Grand Challenges in Internet Anonymity

Speaker:
Prof. Bryan Ford (Yale University)
Date:
Monday, 11.5.2015, 11:30
Place:
EE Meyer Building 1061

Many people have legitimate needs to avoid their online activities being tracked and linked to their real-world identities - from citizens of authoritarian regimes, to everyday victims of domestic abuse or law enforcement officers investigating organized crime. Current state-of-the-art anonymous communication systems are based on onion routing, an approach effective against localized adversaries with a limited ability to monitor or tamper with network traffic. In an environment of increasingly powerful and all-seeing state-level adversaries, however, onion routing is showing cracks, and may not offer reliable security for much longer. All current anonymity systems are vulnerable in varying degrees to five major classes of attacks: global passive traffic analysis, active attacks, "denial-of-security" or DoSec attacks, intersection attacks, and software exploits. Achieving tracking resistance in the future Internet will require solving the grand challenges presented by these classes of attacks.

The Dissent project is prototyping a next-generation anonymity system representing a ground-up redesign of current approaches. Dissent is the first anonymity and pseudonymity architecture incorporating protection against the five major classes of known attacks. By switching from onion routing to alternate anonymity primitives offering provable resistance to traffic analysis, Dissent makes anonymity possible even against an adversary who can monitor most, or all, network communication. A collective control plane renders a group of participants in an online community indistinguishable even if an adversary interferes actively, such as by delaying messages or forcing users offline. Protocol-level accountability enables groups to identify and expel misbehaving nodes, preserving availability, and preventing adversaries from using denial-of-service attacks to weaken anonymity. The system computes anonymity metrics that give users realistic indicators of anonymity protection, even against adversaries capable of long-term intersection and statistical disclosure attacks, and gives users control over tradeoffs between anonymity loss and communication responsiveness. Finally, virtual machine isolation offers anonymity protection against browser software exploits of the kind recently employed to de-anonymize Tor users. Dissent is still an early proof-of-concept with many limitations and missing pieces, but we hope it serves to illustrate directions in which solutions to the grand challenges of online anonymity might be found.

Bio:
Bryan Ford currently leads the Decentralized/Distributed Systems (DeDiS) research group at Yale University, but will be moving to EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland in July 2015. Ford's work focuses broadly on building secure systems, touching on many particular topics including secure and certified OS kernels, parallel and distributed computing, privacy-preserving technologies, and Internet architecture. He has received the Jay Lepreau Best Paper Award at OSDI, and multiple grants from NSF, DARPA, and ONR, including the NSF CAREER award. His pedagogical achievements include PIOS, the first OS course framework leading students through development of a working, native multiprocessor OS kernel. Prof. Ford earned his B.S. at the University of Utah and his Ph.D. at MIT, while researching topics including mobile device naming and routing, virtualization, microkernel architectures, and touching on programming languages and formal methods.

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