Filename: 257-hiding-authorities.txt
Title: Refactoring authorities and making them more isolated from the net
Authors: Nick Mathewson, Andrea Shepard
Created: 2015-10-27
Status: Meta

0. Meta status

   This proposal is 'accepted' as an outline for future proposals, though
   it doesn't actually specify itself in enough detail to be implemented as
   it stands.

1. Introduction

   Directory authorities are critical to the Tor network, and represent
   a DoS target to anybody trying to disable the network. This document
   describes a strategy for making directory authorities in general less
   vulnerable to DoS by separating the different parts of their

2. Design

2.1. The status quo

   This proposal is about splitting up the roles of directory
   authorities.  But, what are these roles?  Currently, directory
   authorities perform the following functions.

   Some of these functions require large amounts of bandwidth; I've noted
   that with a (BW).  Some of these functions require a publicly known
   address; I've marked those with a (PUB). Some of these functions
   inevitably leak the location from which they are performed. I've marked
   those with a (LOC).

   Not everything in this list is something that needs to be done by an
   authority permanently!  This list is, again, just what authorities do now.

     * Authorities receive uploaded server descriptors and extrainfo
       descriptors from regular Tor servers and from each other. (BW, PUB?)

     * Authorities periodically probe the routers they know about in
       order to determine whether they are running or not.  By
       remembering the past behavior of nodes, they also build a view of
       each node's fractional uptime and mean time between
       failures. (LOC, unless we're clever)

     * Authorities perform the consensus protocol by:

          * Generating 'vote' documents describing their view of the
            network, along with a set of microdescriptors for later
            client use.

          * Uploading these votes to one another.

          * Computing a 'consensus' of these votes.

     * Authorities serve as a location for distributing consensus
       documents, descriptors, extrainfo documents, and

          * To directory mirrors. (BW?, PUB?, LOC?)

          * To clients that do not yet know a directory mirror. (BW!!, PUB)

   These functions are tied to directory authorities, but done

     * Bandwidth measurement (BW)

     * Sybil detection

     * 'Guardiness' measurement, possibly.

2.2. Design goals

   Principally, we attempt to isolate the security-critical,
   high-resource, and availability-critical pieces of our directory
   infrastructure from one another.

   We would like to make the security-critical pieces of our
   infrastructure easy to relocate, and the communications between them
   easy to secure.

   We require that the Tor network remain able to bootstrap itself in
   the event of catastrophic failure.  So, while we can _use_ a running
   Tor network to communicate, we should not _require_ that a running
   Tor network exist in order to perform the voting process.

2.3. Division of responsibility

   We propose dividing directory authority operations into these modules:

      ----------       ----------    --------------    ----------------
      | Upload |======>| Voting |===>| Publishing |===>| Distribution |
      ----------       ----------    --------------    ----------------
          I                 ^
          I    -----------  I
          ====>| Metrics |===

   A number of 'upload' servers are responsible for receiving
   router descriptors.  These are publicly known, and responsible for
   collecting descriptors.

   Information from these servers is used by 'metrics' modules
   (which check Tor servers for reliability and measure their history),
   and fed into the voting process.

   The voting process involves only communication (indirectly) from
   authorities to authorities, to produce a consensus and a set of

   When voting is complete, consensuses, descriptors, and microdescriptors
   must be made available to the rest of the world.  This is done by
   the 'publishing' module.  The consensuses, descriptors, and mds are then
   taken up by the directory caches, and distributed.

   The rest of this proposal will describe means of communication between
   these modules.

3. The modules in more detail

   This section will outline possibilities for communication between the
   various parts of the system to isolate them.  There will be plenty of
   "may"s and "could"s and "might"s here: these are possibilities, in
   need of further consideration.

3.1. Sending descriptors to the Upload module

   We retain the current mechanism: a set of well-known IP
   addresses with well-known OR keys to which each relay should upload a
   copy of its descriptors.

   The worst that a hostile upload server can do is to drop descriptors.
   (It could also generate large numbers of spurious descriptors in
   order to increase the load on the metrics system. But an attacker
   could do that without running an upload server)

   With respect to dropping, upload servers can use an anytrust model:
   so long as a single server receives and honestly reports descriptors
   to the rest of the system, those descriptors will arrive correctly.

   To avoid DoS attacks, we can require that any relay not previously known
   to an upload module perform some kind of a proof of work as it first
   registers itself.  (Details TBD)

   If we're using TLS here, we should also consider a check-then-start TLS
   design as described in A.1 below.

   The location of Upload servers can change over time; they can be
   published in the consensus.

   (Note also that as an alternative, we could distribute this functionality
   across the whole network.)

3.2. Transferring descriptors to the metrics server and the voters

   The simplest option here would be for the authorities and metrics
   servers to mirror them using Tor.  rsync-over-ssh-over-Tor is a
   possibility, if we don't feel like building more machinery.

   (We could use hidden services here, but it is probably okay for
   upload servers and to be known by the the voters and metrics.)

   A fallback to a non-Tor connection could be done manually, or could
   require explicit buy-in from the voter/metrics operator.

3.3. Transferring information from metrics server to voters

   The same approaches as 3.2 should work fine.

3.4. Communication between voters

   Voters can, we hope, communicate to each other over authenticated
   hidden services.  But we'll need a fallback mechanism here.

   Another option is to have public ledgers available for voters to talk
   to anonymously.  This is probably a better idea.  We could re-use the
   upload servers for this purpose, perhaps.

   Giving voters each others' addresses seems like a bad idea.

3.5. Communication from voters to directory nodes

   We should design a flood-distribution mechanism for microdescriptors,
   listed descriptors, and consensuses so that authorities can each
   upload to a few targets anonymously, and have them propagate through
   the rest of the network.

4. Migration

   To support old clients and old servers, the current authority IP
   addresses should remain as Upload and Distribution points.  The
   current authority identity keys keys should remain as the keys for

A.1. Check-then-start TLS

   Current TLS protocols are quite susceptible to denial-of-service
   attacks, with large asymmetries in resource consumption.  (Client
   sends junk, forcing server to perform private-key operation on junk.)

   We could hope for a good TLS replacement to someday emerge, or for
   TLS to improve its properties.  But as a replacement, I suggest that
   we wrap TLS in a preliminary challenge-response protocol to establish
   that the use is authorized before we allow the TLS handshake to

   (We shouldn't do this for all the TLS in Tor: only for the cases
   where we want to restrict the users of a given TLS server.)