Filename: 266-removing-current-obsolete-clients.txt
Title: Removing current obsolete clients from the Tor network
Author: Nick Mathewson
Created: 14 Jan 2016
Status: Superseded
Superseded-by: 264, 272.

1. Introduction

   Frequently, we find that very old versions of Tor should no longer be
   supported on the network.  To remove relays is easy enough: we
   simply update the directory authorities to stop listing relays that
   advertise versions that are too old.

   But to disable clients is harder.

   In another proposal I describe a system for letting future clients go
   gracefully obsolete.  This proposal explains how we can safely
   disable the obsolete clients we have today (and all other client
   versions of Tor to date, assuming that they will someday become

1.1. Why disable clients?

   * Security.  Anybody who hasn't updated their Tor client in 5
     years is probably vulnerable to who-knows-what attacks.  They
     aren't likely to get much anonymity either.

   * Withstand zombie installations. Some Tors out there were once
     configured to start-on-boot systems that are now unmaintained.
     (See 1.4 below.)  They put needless load on the network, and help

   * Be able to remove backward-compatibility code.  Currently, Tor
     supports some truly ancient protocols in order to avoid breaking
     ancient versions or Tor.  This code needs to be maintained and
     tested. Some of it depends on undocumented or deprecated or
     non-portable OpenSSL features, and makes it hard to produce a
     conforming Tor server implementation.

   * Make it easier to write a conforming Tor relay.  If a Tor relay
     needs to support every Tor client back through the beginning of
     time, that makes it harder to develop and test compatible

1.2. Is this dangerous?

   I don't think so.  This proposal describes a way to make older
   clients gracefully disconnect from the network only when a majority
   of authorities agree that they should.  A majority of authorities
   already have the ability to inflict arbitrary degrees of sabotage on
   the consensus document.

1.3. History

   The earliest versions of Tor checked the recommended-versions field
   in the directory to see whether they should keep running.  If they
   saw that their version wasn't recommended, they'd shut down.  There
   was an "IgnoreVersion" option that let you keep running anyway.

   Later, around 2004, the rule changed to "shut down if the version is
   _obsolete_", where obsolete was defined as "not recommended, and
   older than a version that is recommended."

   In, we made obsolete versions only produce a warning,
   and removed IgnoreVersion.  (See 3ac34ae3293ceb0f2b8c49.)

   We have still disabled old tor versions.  With Tor,
   we disabled Tor versions before by having the v1
   authorities begin publishing empty directories only.

   In version, we completely removed support for the v2
   directory protocol used before Tor 0.2.0; there are no longer any v2
   authorities on the network.

   Tor versions before 0.2.1 will currently not progress past fetching
   an initial directory, because they believe in a number of directory
   authority identity keys that no longer sign the directory.

   Tor versions before 0.2.4 are (lightly) throttled in multihop
   circuit creation, because we prioritize ntor CREATE cells over
   TAP ones when under load.

1.4. The big problem: slow zombies and fast zombies

   It would be easy enough to 'disable' old clients by simply removing
   server support for the obsolete protocols that they use.  But there's
   a problem with that approach: what will the clients do when they fail
   to make connections, or to extend circuits, or whatever else they are
   no longer able to do?

     * Ideally, I'd like such clients to stop functioning _quietly_.  If
       they stop contacting the network, that would be best.

     * Next best would be if these clients contacted the network only
       occasionally and at different times.  I'll call these clients
       "slow zombies".

     * Worse would be if the clients contact the network frequently,
       over and over.  I'll call these clients "fast zombies".  They
       would be at their worst when they focus on authorities, or when
       they act in synchrony to all strike at once.

   One goal of this proposal is to ensure that future clients do not
   become zombies at all; and that ancient clients become slow zombies
   at worst.

2. Some ideas that don't work.

2.1. Dropping connections based on link protocols.

   Tor versions before use a renegotiation-based
   handshake instead of our current handshake.  We could detect these
   handshakes and close the connection at the relay side if the client
   attempts to renegotiate.

   I've tested these changes on versions maint-0.2.0 through
   maint-0.2.2.  They result in zombies with the following behavior:

      The client contact each authority it knows about, attempting to
      make a one-hop directory connection.  It fails, detects a failure,
      then reconnects more and more slowly ... but one hour later, it
      resets its connection schedule and starts again.

   In the steady state this appears to result in about two connections
   per client per authority per hour.  That is probably too many.

   (Most authorities would be affected: of the authorities that existed
   in 0.2.2, gabelmoo has moved and turtles has shut down.  The
   authorities Faravahar and longclaw are new. The authorities moria1,
   tor26, dizum, dannenberg, urras, maatuska and maatuska would all get
   hit here.) [two maatuskas? -RD]

   (We could simply remove the renegotiation-detection code entirely,
   and reply to all connections with an immediate VERSIONS cell.  The
   behavior would probably be the same, though.)

   If we throttled connections rather than closing them, we'd only get
   one connection per authority per hour, but authorities would have to
   keep open a potentially huge number of sockets.

2.2. Blocking circuit creation under certain circumstances

   In tor, we began ignoring the UseNTorHandshake option,
   and always preferring the ntor handshake where available.

   Unfortunately, we can't simply drop all TAP handshakes, since clients
   and relays can still use them in the hidden service protocol.  But
   we could detect these versions by:

        Looking for use of a TAP handshake from an IP not associated
        with any known relay, or on a connection where the client
        did not authenticate.  (This could be from a bridge, but clients
        don't build circuits that go to an IntroPoint or RendPoint
        directly after a bridge.)

   This would still result in clients not having directories, however,
   and retrying once an hour.

3. Ideas that might work

3.1. Move all authorities to new ports

   We could have each authority known to older clients start listening
   for connections at a new port P. We'd forward the old port to the new
   port.  Once sufficiently many clients were using the new ports, we
   could disable the forwarding.

   This would result in the old clients turning into zombies as above,
   but they would only be scrabbling at nonexistent ports, causing less
   load on the authorities.

   [This proposal would probably be easiest to implement.]

3.2. Start disabling old link protocols on relays

   We could have new relays start dropping support for the old link
   protocols, while maintaining support on the authorities and older

   The result here would be a degradation of older client performance
   over time.  They'd still behave zombieishly if the authorities
   dropped support, however.

3.3. Changing the consensus format.

   We could allow 'f' (short for "flag") as a synonym for 's' in
   consensus documents.  Later, if we want to disable all Tor versions
   before today, we can change the consensus algorithm so that the
   consensus (or perhaps only the microdesc consensus) is spelled with
   'f' lines instead of 's' lines.  This will create a consensus which
   older clients and relays parse as having all nodes down, which will
   make them not connect to the network at all.

   We could similarly replace "r" with "n", or replace Running with
   Online, or so on.

   In doing this, we could also rename fresh-until and valid-until, so
   that new clients would have the real expiration date, and old clients
   would see "this consensus never expires".  This would prevent them
   from downloading new consensuses.

   [This proposal would result in the quietest shutdown.]

A. How to "pull the switch."

   This is an example timeline of how we could implement 3.3 above,
   along with proposal 264.

     TIME 0:
        Implement the client/relay side of proposal 264, backported
        to every currently extant Tor version that we still

        At the same time, add support for the new consensus type to
        all the same Tor versions.

        Don't disable anything yet.

     TIME 1....N:
        Encourage all distributions shipping packages for those old
        tor versions to upgrade to ones released at Time 0 or later.

        Keep informed of the upgrade status of the clients and
        relays on the Tor network.

        At some point after nearly all clients and relays have
        upgraded to the versions released at Time 0 or later, we
        could make the switchover to publishing the new consensus

B. Next steps.

   We should verify what happens when currently extant client
   versions get an empty consensus.  This will determine whether
   3.3 will not work.  Will they try to fetch a new one from the
   authorities at the end of the validity period.

   Another option is from Roger: we could add a flag meaning "ignore
   this consensus; it is a poison consensus to kill old Tor
   versions."  And maybe we could have it signed only by keys that
   the current clients won't accept.  And we could serve it to old
   clients rather than serving them the real consensus.  And we
   could give it a really high expiration time.  New clients
   wouldn't believe it.  We'd need to flesh this out.

   Another option is also from Roger:  Tell new clients about new
   locations to fetch directories from.  Keep the old locations working
   for as long as we want to support them.  We'd need to flesh this
   out too.

   The timeline above requires us to keep informed of the status of
   the different clients and relays attempting to connect to the tor
   network.  We should make sure we'll actually able to do so.
   has a more full discussion of the above ideas.