Filename: 239-consensus-hash-chaining.txt
Title: Consensus Hash Chaining
Author: Nick Mathewson, Andrea Shepard
Created: 06-Jan-2015
Status: Open

1. Introduction and overview

  To avoid some categories of attacks against directory authorities
  and their keys, it would be handy to have an explicit hash chain in

2. Directory authority operation

  We add the following field to votes and consensuses:

          previous-consensus ISOTIME [SP HashName "=" Base16]* NL

  where HashName is any keyword.

  This field may occur any number of times.

  The date in a previous-consensus line in a vote is the valid-after
  date of the consensus the line refers to.  The hash should be
  computed over the signed portion of the consensus document. A
  directory authority should include a previous-consensus line for a
  consensus using all hashes it supports for all consensuses it knows
  which are still valid, together with the two most recently expired

  When this proposal is implemented, a new consensus method should be
  allocated for adding previous-consensus lines to the consensus.

  A previous-consensus line is included in the consensus if and only
  if a line with that date was listed by more than half of the
  authorities whose votes are under consideration.  A hash is included
  in that line if the hash was listed by more than half of the
  authorities whose votes are under consideration.  Hashes are sorted
  lexically with a line by hashname; dates are sorted in temporal

  If, when computing a consensus, the authorities find that any
  previous-consensus line is *incompatible* with another, they must
  issue a loud warning.  Two lines are incompatible if they have the
  same ISOTIME, but different values for the the same HashName.

  The hash "sha256" is mandatory.

3. Client and cache operation

  All parties receiving consensus documents should validate
  previous-consensus lines, and complain loudly if a hash fails to

  When a party receives a consensus document, it SHOULD check all
  previous-consensus lines against any previous consensuses it has
  retained, and if a hash fails to match it SHOULD warn loudly in the
  log mentioning the specific hashes and valid-after times in
  question, and store both the new consensus containing the
  mismatching hashes and the old consensus being checked for later
  analysis.  An option SHOULD be provided to disable operation as a
  client or as a hidden service if this occurs.

  All relying parties SHOULD by default retain all valid consensuses
  they download plus two; but see "Security considerations" below.

  If a hash is not mismatched, the relying party may nonetheless be
  unable to validate the chain: either because there is a gap in the
  chain itself, or because the relying party does not have any of the
  consensuses that the latest consensus mentions.  If this happens,
  the relying party should log a warning stating the specific cause,
  the hashes and valid-after time of both the consensus containing the
  unverifiable previous-consensus line and the hashes and valid-after
  time of the line for each such line, and retain a copy of the
  consensus document in question.  A relying party MAY provide an
  option to disable operation as a client or hidden service in this
  event, but due to the risk that breaks in the chain may occur
  accidentally, such an option SHOULD be disabled by default if

  If a relying party starts up and finds only very old consensuses
  such that no previous-consensus lines can be verified, it should log
  a notice of the gap along the lines of "consensus (date, hash) is
  quite new.  Can't chain back to old consensus (date, hash)".  If it
  has no old consensuses at all, it should log an info-level message
  of the form "we got consensus (date, hash).  We haven't got any
  older consensuses, so we won't do any hash chain verification"

4. Security Considerations:

   * Retaining consensus documents on clients might leak information
     about when the client was active if a disk is later stolen or the
     client compromised.  This should be documented somewhere and an
     option to disable (but thereby also disable verifying
     previous-consensus hashes) should be provided.

   * Clients MAY offer the option to retain previous consensuses in
     memory only to allow for validation without the potential disk