Tor just announced that they have detected and blocked an attack that may have allowed hidden services and possibly users to be de-anonymized.
It looks like this may be connected to the recently canceled BlackHat talk on Tor vulnerabilities. One hopes so, otherwise the attack may have been more hostile than simple research.
Tor is releasing updated server and client code to patch the vulnerability used in this attack. This shows once again one of the key architectural weaknesses in Tor, the distributed volunteer infrastructure. On the one hand, it means that you are not putting all of your trust in one entity. On the other hand, you really don’t know who you are trusting, and anyone could be running the nodes you are using. Many groups hostile to your interests would have good reason to run Tor nodes and to try to break your anonymity.
The announcement from Tor is linked below.
The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs recently announced a contest to create a method to identify Tor users, with a prize of about $114,000.
Clearly the government is worried about the ability of Tor to allow people to bypass the increasingly draconian Internet laws that have been put in place. This puts a big target on Tor, but people have been working on breaking Tor for years. This year a talk at Black Hat on cracking Tor anonymity was pulled without explanation after it was announced and scheduled.
Being free and well established, Tor has the largest user base of any privacy service, so it is the obvious first target. Its distributed design also introduces paths for attack not available in other designs like Anonymizer Universal.
It will be interesting to see if this move drives Tor users to other services, and whether that in turn leads to expanded efforts to crack those tools.
Irish Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes has stepped in to have a database of civil registration records removed from the website IrishGenealogy.ie. The problem is that the database contains information on living persons which is often used for identity verification.
That would include things like mother’s maiden name and birth date. While these are public records, previously they had required payment of a fee, and it was not easily searchable on-line.
Of course, in the era of social media, these kinds of authenticators should have been disposed of long ago. Too many of them can be easily discovered by looking through Facebook accounts and the like.
This case also highlights the troubling nature of public records. In the past records were public in the sense that anyone could go to a government building and access the paper records. They could not be easily be searched as a whole, and the entirety of the records pulled into a private database. This is a kind of security by obscurity, but a useful one. With Internet records, many people are not comfortable with just how public much of this information is. The old inconvenience placed a low but real barrier to data access, effectively insuring that it was only done for specific people and for specific purposes. It is not at all clear how to get that without loosing all the advantages of Internet accessibility.
Multiple sources are reporting that Google services are once again available in China. They had been blocked in the lead up to the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square protests.