Astoria – Advanced Tor Client Built to Withstand NSA Attacks

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In response to the relentless NSA and GCHQ spying, secure internet communications have become more vital than ever, due to this, researchers at academic university have built an advanced Tor client, Astoria, to help eliminate eavesdropping and prevent NSA-style attacks.

While the NSA, among other powerful intelligence agencies scour the data lines collecting communications, researchers have built Astoria, aimed at making it far more difficult to eavesdrop and spy on high-profile personnel.

Tor, the world’s largest anonymity network, is a program that allows users to surf the web anonymously, adding several security measures to ensure communications are secure and encrypted from prying eyes. Tor does this through siphoning your communications through a series of encrypted nodes, encrypting each bit of traffic at every server it connects to. Tor makes use of this anonymous technology with over 6,000 different nodes scattered throughout the world, making it nearly impossibly to identify users on the network.

However, new opponents have begun targeting Tor, endangering the anonymity of millions.

Security researchers from American and Israeli academics identified it possible for a third-party to take control of the Tor entry and exit nodes, giving hackers the possibility at deanonymizing Tor users traffic. Research said within minutes and a series of “timing attacks,” agencies would able to deanonymize traffic.

While 58 percent of all Tor nodes online access popular websites everyday, they become susceptible to network-level attackers, such as Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) or the United States National Security Agency (NSA). Researchers also revealed that 85.7 percent of Tor circuits from Britain were vulnerable, while Chinese users were most at risk to all styles of attacks.

Though Tor is built to give complete anonymity to its end user, the NSA and other intelligence agencies have the capacity to to both measure and view traffic coming from the Tor network nodes. When both sides of the traffic can be viewed by intelligence agencies, Tor nodes in their control could correspond data in a timing attack and easily identify the end user.

Tor Project and developers have been aware of the threat for over a decade now and have worked hard to stop intelligence agencies from spying on its users.

To handle the government-style attacks possibly breaking Tor’s anonymity, Astoria is born, a new advanced Tor client meant to deal with these high-risk situations.

American-Israeli researchers claim Astoria can take the number of vulnerable connections of the Tor network from a staggering fifty eight percent, and drop it to a measly five point eight percent. Astoria can help eliminate the danger of successful attacks on Tor users, but the clients advanced algorithm can also predict upcoming attacks and begin to selectively choose secure nodes, skewing timing attack opportunities.

“In addition to providing high-levels of security against attacks, Astoria also has performance that is within a reasonable distance from the current available Tor client,” researchers wrote in their paper titled Measuring and mitigating AS-level adversaries against Tor [PDF]. “Unlike other AS-aware [autonomous system aware]Tor clients, Astoria also considers how circuits should be built in the worst case,” when no safe relays are available. “Further, Astoria is a good network citizen and works to ensure that all the circuits created by it are load-balanced across the volunteer-driven Tor network.”

Astoria is designed to consider how secure connections should be made, even “when there are no safe possibilities.” Researchers also said Astoria running in its most secure configuration should not add any noticeable load to the Tor network, keeping the bandwidth reasonable.

Astoria has yet to become available for download, though when the advanced Tor client becomes public we will keep you informed.

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Brandon Stosh is the founder and CEO of www.freedomhacker.net. Stosh is a cyber security researcher and professional consultant who strives to provide reliable news on cyber-security based topics.

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