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Re: following on from today's discussion

[Dropping the or-dev CC since this isn't related to Tor development]

On Fri, Aug 18, 2006 at 10:14:29PM +0100, Robert Hogan wrote:
> That aside, I think it has highlighted a security risk  that Tor itself may be 
> guilty of understating to new users, namely that using Tor exposes your 
> traffic to a much higher likelihood of being eavesdropped than normal.
> For example, I am not a network admin by day so I do not have access to public 
> internet traffic through legal means. Yet I am running a Tor exit server, so 
> I can now legally (though unethically) listen to your internet traffic and 
> harvest any passwords that go by.

Actually, look at
It is an open legal question -- that is, there's no clear precedent with
respect to Tor servers -- but it's probably not wise to just assume that
it's legal. Also, remember that there are many jurisdictions out there,
and they all have their own complex laws.

> I do not think the gravity of this trade-off by the tor user (security for 
> anonymity) is adequately represented.

I agree. Somebody should write a clear introduction to Tor, what it does,
and what it doesn't do. One day that somebody will be me, but I would
welcome some early versions to help me along.

> Now that I see it for what it is, I am definitely going to introduce some sort 
> of nag/warning to TorK so that the user is warned at least once that using 
> plaintext protocols carrying authentication information on Tor carries a 
> serious health warning.
> Am I overstating the case? Do others think that the nature of the compromise 
> tor users make is transparent to them?

The reason I haven't emphasized the issue so far is that I think you're
overstating the protection ordinary users get from the Internet as it
is. For example, if you're on a local network with other users (often
including everybody in your neighborhood for cablemodem systems), you're
not in very good shape. Tor solves this issue, and for many users it's
a huge issue.

Then there's the question of the Internet infrastructure itself --
your Internet packets travel over a wide variety of places on the way
to their destination. Sometimes packets get mis-routed to, well, pretty
much anywhere. The chance that any hop along the way is able to observe
them -- for example because of a crooked employee, but also because some
Russian cracker 0wns a computer nearby in the path -- is hard to estimate
in general, but from studying botnets and dealing with net security for
the past decade or so, I don't feel it's as low as you imply.

All that said, I agree with you that most of the danger is probably at
the endpoints of the communication -- on the path from you to your entry
Tor node, and on the path from your exit node to your destination. Tor
solves the first issue and changes the second issue -- possibly for the
worse, depending on your situation.

So barring any actual data about the security of the Internet as a whole,
which seems hard to get, I still stick with my answer from

If you're not using end-to-end encryption, then you're in bad shape,
whether you use Tor (and are exposed to one set of risks) or don't use
Tor (and are exposed to a different set of risks).