Filename: 187-allow-client-auth.txt
Title: Reserve a cell type to allow client authorization
Author: Nick Mathewson
Created: 16-Oct-2011
Status: Closed
Target: 0.2.3.x


  Proposals 176 and 184 introduce a new "v3" handshake, coupled with
  a new version 3 link protocol.  This is a good time to introduce
  other stuff we might need.

  One thing we might want is a scanning resistance feature for
  bridges.  This proposal suggests a change we should make right
  away to enable us to deploy such a feature in future versions of


  If an adversary has a suspected bridge address/port combination,
  the easiest way for them to confirm or disconfirm their suspicion
  is to connect to the address and see whether they can do a Tor
  handshake.  The easiest way to fix this problem seems to be to
  give out bridge addresses along with some secret that clients
  should know, but which an adversary shouldn't be able to learn
  easily.  The client should prove to the bridge that it's
  authorized to know about the bridge, before the bridge acts like a
  bridge.  If the client doesn't show knowledge of the proper
  secret, the bridge should act like an HTTPS server or a bittorrent
  tracker or something.

  This proposal *does not* specify a way for clients to authorize
  themselves at bridges; rather, it specifies changes that we should
  make now in order to allow this kind of authorization in the


  Currently, now that proposal 176 is implemented, if a server
  provides a certificate that indicates a v3 handshake, and the
  client understands how to do a V3 handshake, we specify that the
  client's first cell must be a VERSIONS cell.

  Instead, we make the following specification changes:

  We reserve a new variable-length cell type, "AUTHORIZE".

  We specify that any number of PADDING or VPADDING or AUTHORIZE
  cells may be sent by the client before it sends a VERSIONS cell.
  Servers that do not require client authorization MUST ignore such
  cells, except to include them when calculating the HMAC that will
  appear in the CLOG part of a client's AUTHENTICATE cell.

  We still specify that clients SHOULD send VERSIONS as their first
  cell; only in some future version of Tor will an AUTHORIZE cell be sent


  This change allows future versions of the Tor client to know that
  some bridges need authorization, and to send them authentication
  before sending them anything recognizably Tor-like.

  The authorization cell needs to be received before the server can
  send any Tor cells, so we can't just patch it in after the
  VERSIONS cell exchange: the server's VERSIONS cell is unsendable
  until after the AUTHORIZE has been accepted.

  Note that to avoid scanning attacks, it's not sufficient to wait
  for a single cell, and then either handle it as authorization or
  reject the connection.  Instead, we need to decide what kind of
  server we're impersonating, and respond once the client has
  provided *either* an authorization cell, *or* a recognizably valid
  or invalid command in the impersonated protocol.

Alternative design: Just use pluggable transports

  Pluggable transports can do this too, but in general, we want to
  avoid designing the Tor protocol so that any particular desirable
  feature can only be done with a pluggable transport.  That is, any
  feature that *every* bridge should want, should be doable in Tor

  Also, as of 16 Oct 2011, pluggable transports aren't in general
  use.  Past experience IMO suggests that we shouldn't offload
  architectural responsibilities to our chickens until they've

Alternative design: Out-of-TLS authorization

  There are features (like port-knocking) designed to allow a client
  to show that it's authorized to use a bridge before the TLS
  handshake even happens.  These are appropriate for bunches of
  applications, but they're trickier with an adversary who is
  MITMing the client.

Alternative design: Just use padding.

  Arguably, we could only add the "VPADDING" cell type to the list
  of those allowed before VERSIONS cells, and say that any client
  authorization we specify later on will be sent as a VPADDING
  cell.  But that design is kludgy: padding should be padding, not
  semantically significant.  Besides, cell types are still fairly

Counterargument: specify it later

  We could, later on, say that if a client learns that a bridge
  needs authorization, it should send an AUTHORIZE cell.  So long as
  a client never sends an AUTHORIZE to anything other than a bridge that
  needs authorization, it'll never violate the spec.

  But all things considered, it seems easier (just a few lines of
  spec and code) to let bridges eat unexpected authorization now
  than it does to have stuff fail later when clients think that a
  bridge needs authorization but it doesn't.

Counterargument: it's too late!

  We've already got the prop176 branch merged and running on a few
  servers.  But as of this writing, it isn't in any Tor version.

  Even if it *is* out in an alpha before we can get this proposal
  accepted and implemented, that's not a big disaster.  In the worst
  case, where future clients don't know whom to send authorization
  to so they need to send it to _all_ v3 servers, they will at worst
  break their connections only to a couple of alpha versions which
  one hopes by then will be long-deprecated already.