Emerald Onion has launched

The Tor network and the dot-Onion infrastructure was built for security and privacy in mind. This is unlike legacy clear-net infrastructure, which over the years needs routine and dramatic security changes just to solve evolving security chalenges. Even worse, modern security for legacy clear-net infrastructure does very little for privacy.

Vulnerable populations were the first to recognize the importance of a technology like “the onion router”. The United States Navy was among the first. The United States Navy, realizing very quickly that an anonymity network that only the Navy would use, means that any of its users is from the United States Navy. To this day, the United States Navy researches and develops Tor.

Once Tor became a public, free, and open source project, journalists and other vulnerable populations with life-and-death threat models started using Tor. These survivors and human-rights defenders were a red flag. By the time Tor became a public project, other departments from the United States Government, such as the United States National Security Agency, had already started conducting global mass surveillance.

The United States Navy knew and continues to know that Tor is a necessity in a world dominated by global mass surveillance and by governments that strive for power and control.

Emerald Onion envisions a world where access and privacy are the defaults. This is necessary to ensure human rights including access to information and freedom of speech. If we do not have human rights online, we will not have them offline, either. We launched, officially, on July 2nd. We are looking at 10 year+ development and sustainability. Please reach out to me if you can think of ways to support our work.

House Bill 1909: Automatic License Plate Reader Systems

My testimony to the State of Washington House Transportation Committee:

Chair Clibborn and members of the committee, my name is Christopher Sheats, Chair of the Privacy Committee for Seattle’s Community Technology Advisory Board, and Chair of the Seattle Privacy Coalition. I want to make clear that any form of Automatic License Plate Reader (ALPR), regardless of its security or policy controls, is fundamentally a mass-surveillance system for the simple fact that it indiscriminately collects data about everyone.

ALPR mass-surveillance systems collect an incredible amount of personal information.

Where are you and where are you not?
Where are you heading?
What time were you there and not anywhere else?
Who else was traveling or not traveling around that time?

All of these personal facts can facilitate identifying our interests, affiliations, activities, and beliefs. Data collection, and any amount of data retention, allows for the copying and sharing of said data. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics, an “overwhelming majority of person trips—for all purposes—are taken in personal vehicles.” When mass-surveillance data of our vehicles is collected, granularly surveilling a state, a city, a community, or an individual becomes trivial.

Where do they live?
Who lives around them?
Where do they go to church?
Who else goes to their church?
Where do they work?
When do they visit their friends and family?
When do they drop their children off at school or childcare?
When do they leave the house to go grocery shopping?
When do they visit their doctor and how often?

Answering these questions go above and beyond “personal information,” yet these questions become answerable when data collected by an ALRP mass-surveillance system is gathered by an abusive government or hacker, domestic or foreign.

If the State is to condone APRL mass-surveillance systems, whereby we have precluded we will not protect human rights by not collecting personal data in the first place, the only other rational alternative is to not retain collected data for any period longer than absolutely needed.

Thank you for your time.

Concerns of mine that I did not include in my testimony because of the delicate nature of politics:

Regarding House Bill 1909, I have several concerns:

1. How is House Bill 1909 going to impact RCW 40.24 — Address Confidentiality for Victims of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking? Particularly, how is House Bill 1909 going to protect vulnerable people from law enforcement abuses?

2. Is any part of the ALPR mass-surveillance system, including data retention, managed or operated by unregulated third party providers?

3. Why are third parties not explicitly barred from owning and operating ALRP mass-surveillance systems?

4. What specific controls and audit safeguards will be put in place to prevent system operators from performing unapproved searches of people or vehicles?

5. Once data is collected by mass-surveillance systems, it can be copied, used, copied again, and re-used for unimaginable purposes. What specific controls and audit safeguards will be put in place to prevent data copying by federal agency data systems such as regional Fusion Centers?

6. The “Second War Powers Act of 1942” removed Census privacy protections of Japanese-Americans, allowing federal agents to know exactly where go and whom to arrest. How is Washington State going to defend us from unconstitutional policy changes brought on by an illegitimate U.S. President?

Surprise props from the City

From January CTAB Minutes:

One last thing, because I’m trying keep within my five minutes, I really want to say thank you to Christopher Sheats for the ongoing support as chair of CTAB Privacy Committee. I find it very invigorating to go to the CTAB Privacy Committee meetings, and look forward to their continued work and the guidance of that committee. I’m very thankful for the initial feedback. We have a little more baking to do on our side, and then we’ll be back in front of this group and Privacy to think about controls and how we consider deployment of that technology. I imagine that Christopher will have more to share about how the ACLU has been working with Councilmember Gonzalez on a rewrite of the City’s surveillance ordinance, which we agree that the current ordinance is not very effective, just in the way that it’s structured. It lacks accountability. It lacks clear definition. As a result, I don’t think the community or the City is getting the value of that legislation. One thing I’ve encouraged this group to think about is what role you would like to have in providing input to the rewrite of the surveillance ordinance. Be think about how you might want to engage the councilmember in making that desire to [unintelligible]. Christopher, I hope I’m not impeding on your update. But I put that out there to make sure that it’s on your wavelength. If there’s anything I or we can do to in the way of support, please let us know.

Draft proposal for Debian


Please criticize and contribute to the following:


1. The Debian community must immediately deploy Onion Service repositories for Debian downloads and Debian updates.

2. The Debian community must immediately deploy TLS-only repositories for Debian downloads and Debian updates as a backup to Onion Services.

3. The Debian community must assure anonymity-by-default with the employment of apt-transport-tor by changing existing update mechanics.

4. The Debian community must deploy a critical security update to patch existing update mechanics to use Onion Services.


Current and future network adversaries can view and retain which repositories Debian servers connect to (metadata), when (metadata), the updates schedule (information), which updates are being applied (information), and into which operating system (information). This is incredibly valuable information for any adversary wanting to perform minimal attacks against Debian servers. Further, with cheapening data retention, mass-hacking and nation-state dominance is supported by the Debian community’s short-sighted update mechanics.

Edward Snowden has given the world factual evidence describing the capabilities and objectives of global powers and the Debian community has willfully neglected these problems.


Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye — Presented to the Human Rights Council in May 2015:

(2)(A)(9) “Notably, encryption protects the content of communications but not identifying factors such as the Internet Protocol (IP) address, known as metadata. Third parties may gather significant information concerning an individual’s identity through metadata analysis if the user does not employ anonymity tools. Anonymity is the condition of avoiding identification. A common human desire to protect one’s identity from the crowd, anonymity may liberate a user to explore and impart ideas and opinions more than she would using her actual identity. […] Users seeking to ensure full anonymity or mask their identity (such as hiding the original IP address) against State or criminal intrusion may use tools such as virtual private networks (VPNs), proxy services, anonymizing networks and software, and peer-to-peer networks.1 One well-known anonymity tool, the Tor network, deploys more than 6,000 decentralized computer servers around the world to receive and relay data multiple times so as to hide identifying information about the end points, creating strong anonymity for its users.”

Debian powers more than one-third of the Internet. The default behavior of Debian is to obtain updates via clear-text HTTP which discloses the following to any network adversary:

1. Server location via IP address
2. Update server via IP address and DNS resolution
3. Server update schedule
4. Server version
5. Application version

This information, via network analysis, would allow any passive or active adversary to plan effective attacks against any Debian server.

Not all adversaries are the same because not all servers have the same risk. Like people, data mining and data retention capabilities pose grave risks for infrastructure. HTTPS may resolve some of the above information leakage depending on an adversary’s capabilities, but Tor resolves them to a greater degree. Anonymity provides the strongest security and is the only acceptably secure option given the facts.

XKEYSCORE, a FVEY technology, is one example of a modern threat to Internet infrastructure. Via Wikipedia:

On January 26, 2014, the German broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk asked Edward Snowden in its TV interview: “What could you do if you would [sic] use XKeyscore?” and he answered:

“You could read anyone’s email in the world, anybody you’ve got an email address for. Any website: You can watch traffic to and from it. Any computer that an individual sits at: You can watch it. Any laptop that you’re tracking: you can follow it as it moves from place to place throughout the world. It’s a one-stop-shop for access to the NSA’s information.

You can tag individuals… Let’s say you work at a major German corporation and I want access to that network, I can track your username on a website on a form somewhere, I can track your real name, I can track associations with your friends and I can build what’s called a fingerprint, which is network activity unique to you, which means anywhere you go in the world, anywhere you try to sort of hide your online presence, your identity.”

The question posed to Edward Snowden was rightly focused on people. However, an XKEYSCORE-like system can trivially threaten any node on the Internet. If XKEYSCORE-like systems can be programmed to track nations, servers, or application installations, the Debian community must act.


1. Debian server > https://update-server.onion

In scenario 1, operating system and application updates are obtained exclusively within the Tor network with an added layer of Certificate Authority validation ability. HTTP-based Certificate Authority, Domain Name System, and Border Gateway Protocol vulnerabilities do not exist.

2. Debian server > http://update-server.onion

In scenario 2, operating system and application updates are obtained exclusively within the Tor network. HTTP-based Certificate Authority, Domain Name System, and Border Gateway Protocol vulnerabilities do not exist.

3. Debian server > tor+https://update-server.org

In scenario 3, operating system and application updates are obtained via Tor but must leave the Tor network to reach its HTTPS destination. All HTTP-based Certificate Authority, Domain Name System, Border Gateway Protocol, and Man-in-the-Middle vulnerabilities exist once the traffic traverses Tor exit relays onto the normal Internet. Debian servers retain anonymity but security risk is increased.

4. Debian server > tor+http://update-server.org

In scenario 4, operating system and application updates are obtained via Tor but must leave the Tor network to reach its HTTP destination. All HTTP-based Domain Name System, Border Gateway Protocol, and Man-in-the-Middle vulnerabilities exist once the traffic traverses Tor exit relays onto the normal Internet. Debian server retain anonymity but security risk is increased.

5. Debian server > https://update-server.org

In scenario 5, operating system and application updates are obtained via normal Internet with minimal transport security. Server location information, update server information, and server update schedule information easily obtainable, and sophisticated attackers can obtain server version information and package version information. All HTTP-based Certificate Authority, Domain Name System, Border Gateway Protocol, and Man-in-the-Middle vulnerabilities exist.

6. Debian server > http://update-server.org

In scenario 6, the current Debian default, operating system and application updates are obtained via normal Internet with zero transport security. Server location information, update server information, server update schedule information, server version information, and package version information are trivially obtainable. All HTTP-based Domain Name System, Border Gateway Protocol, and Man-in-the-Middle vulnerabilities exist.

Watch Democracy Now! via Tor Onion

Similar to ProPublica’s Onionsite for reading the news with integrity and privacy, I’ve created a repository of recent DN! episodes. I am tired of waiting for DN! to deploy HTTPS and I have doubts they’ll ever go further with an Onion.

If I could obtain a copy of DN! archives, I would explore hosting all of them. My current Onion host is limited in space but I could expand it. I also welcome feedback on ways that I could improve this setup. You can safely access this Onionsite with Tor Browser‘s ‘High’ Privacy and Security Setting.


Below is the simple shell script that I use to grab the daily files, if they exist. It checks every 15 minutes via root’s crontab -e.


cd /var/www/html/

daystamp=$(date +%Y-%m%d)

wget -m -p -E -k -K -np -nd -e robots=off -H -r http://publish.dvlabs.com/democracynow/360/dn$daystamp.mp4

wget -m -p -E -k -K -np -nd -e robots=off -H -r https://traffic.libsyn.com/democracynow/dn$daystamp-1.mp3

wget -m -p -E -k -K -np -nd -e robots=off -H -r http://ewheel.democracynow.org/dn$daystamp.mp4.torrent

chown -R www-data:www-data /var/www/html/

Debian update repos: transport security and privacy

Some friends and I have started thinking about ways to bring attention to this important issue.

In short, network adversaries can view not only what repositories your server operating system connects to (metadata), when (metadata), but precisely which updates are being applied. This allows a network adversary to not only know what vulnerabilities your operating system and applications are vulnerable to, but they know what applications are installed and likely running.

This critical issue is aside from the fact that most repository signing keys are using 1024-bit keys, some of which created in 2004 and do not expire. This is also aside from the fact that there are many man-in-the-middle attacks that HTTP is vulnerable to that high-grade HTTPS is not.

Further, no different than standard HTTP / HTTPS web browsing, non-Torified traffic is vulnerable to all types of Certificate Authority, Domain Name System, and Border Gateway Protocol attacks. It is equally critical to discuss apt-transport-tor.

Debian claims that HTTPS is not for privacy. In August 2014, B_Meson filed a bug on this issue, and it was closed.

Debian claims that apt-secure is good enough for security. This boils down to: “By adding a key to apt’s keyring, you’re telling apt to trust everything signed by the key.” Debian cannot assure that these keys have not been compromised. In Ubuntu, there is still a 1024-bit master signing key from 2004 in the apt-key keychain that does not expire!

I’ve purchased “apt-transport-https.org” (not active) presuming that this will be the homepage for this initiative. The initiative includes documenting popular repos, grade their SSL/TLS, and shame organizations that are neglecting our security and privacy. Default security and privacy is a requirement.

Below is my initial list of popular repositories. Most fail. I am looking for feedback and advice on how we should document these problems and how we can best influence repository maintainers to care about modern security concerns.


  • http is bad.
  • https is better for security.
  • tor+http is better for privacy.
  • tor+https is better for security and privacy.
  • http .onion is best for security and privacy.


  • Does apt-transport-https support configurations such as PFS, HSTS, HSTS Preload, or HPKP?
  • Can installing apt-transport-tor be configured to automatically replace known repos with an Onion replacement in sources.list?
  • Post-Snowden, why isn’t apt-transport-tor the default for all OS distributions?


Debian OS:

Ubuntu OS:

Tails OS (using apt-transport-tor by default):

Subgraph OS (using apt-transport-tor by default):

Kali OS:


Debian nor Ubuntu distinguishes HTTPS mirrors:

Debian OS mirrors (ideal):
http://m4dcywym6p6poxdm.onion/debian/ (Info: http://onionmirors63y7c.onion/)

Ubuntu PPAs:

Tor Project, Inc apps:


An excellent discussion concerning Tails. Tails is a Debian based client and has different threat models than Debian based servers.

I’ve started a Google Doc list grading mirrors.


Here’s what an improved Ubuntu configuration might look like:

sudo apt-get install apt-transport-tor
sudo vim /etc/apt/sources.list
deb tor+https://ubuntu.wikimedia.org/ubuntu/ wily main restricted
deb tor+https://ubuntu.wikimedia.org/ubuntu/ wily-updates main restricted
deb tor+https://ubuntu.wikimedia.org/ubuntu/ wily universe
deb tor+https://ubuntu.wikimedia.org/ubuntu/ wily-updates universe
deb tor+https://ubuntu.wikimedia.org/ubuntu/ wily multiverse
deb tor+https://ubuntu.wikimedia.org/ubuntu/ wily-updates multiverse
deb tor+https://ubuntu.wikimedia.org/ubuntu/ wily-backports main restricted universe multiverse
deb tor+https://ubuntu.wikimedia.org/ubuntu/ wily-security main restricted
deb tor+https://ubuntu.wikimedia.org/ubuntu/ wily-security universe
deb tor+https://ubuntu.wikimedia.org/ubuntu/ wily-security multiverse

Debian example:

sudo apt-get install apt-transport-tor
sudo vim /etc/apt/sources.list
deb tor+http://m4dcywym6p6poxdm.onion/debian/ jessie main
deb tor+http://m4dcywym6p6poxdm.onion/debian/ jessie-updates main
deb tor+http://security.debian.org/ jessie-updates main

Why Tor Matters

As far back as I can remember, I have been introspectively concerned and cautious about my physical safety and well being.

I believe this consciousness started when I was 4 years old. To this day I have vivid memories of being terribly frightened by the thought and act of jumping off of a 1-meter diving board into the deep end of a swimming pool. This was a routine occurrence for me as a child because swimming was the first sport I ever took part in.

Following swimming, at the age of 5, and following the footsteps of my older brother, I began training in martial arts. Karate, for me, taught me about physical awareness and control.


Around my 8th year of life, my mother and brothers became victim to an individual who ultimately forced us to make a decision for our need to do something about the domestic violence we were all wrapped up in. My family could continue to endure the abuse of said individual, or buy a gun and in an act of self-defense potentially commit an act of violence so severe that none of us would ever again be the same, or we could physically move ourselves to a safer location.

The only reason why buying a gun was an option to my mother was because having consulted with the state police, their recommendation was to “shoot the bastard.” We were told there were no laws to help us defend ourselves. This wasn’t an acceptable way of life to my family.

I don’t know if it was because my mother’s martial arts training, her genuine regard for human life, or a combination of the two, but we fit everything into our car that we could and moved to Washington state. In order to best protect everyone involved, we physically relocated our entire family’s life, leaving behind my mother’s house and all of our friends. It was not easy, but from our point of view, necessary.


When my family and I moved to Washington state, my mother took part in domestic violence survival education and we quickly became participants in the Address Confidentiality Program (ACP). The benefits of the ACP included requiring government institutions to use our Secretary of State -provided P.O. Box address as our physical location address. This is a critical feature because our (United States of America) way of life is built around the documentation of our physical residence, including but not limited to the public information made available via mandatory State identification licensing, school registration, vehicle licensing, and common utilities such as water, trash, and power.

For a determined adversary, it is trivial to research or social engineer physical location information from public and private databases. Sadly, since the age of 8, I have been forced to understand the values of privacy as it concerns physical location safety.

Intellectual development

The Internet became a critical facet of my life, almost as much as Pokemon, during my late elementary and middle school years. In the late nineties, my mother saw so much value in a general-purpose computer for me and my brothers that she saved up and purchased a 500MHz Compaq. Life was never the same for me because of my new ability to read, download, and share so much, and without the restrictions imposed at school libraries.

It wasn’t until my second or third year at university where I became exposed to Tor from material I had read on Global Voices. However, at the time, because I was learning about computer networking and Virtual Private Networks, I remember being skeptical to the emergence of a technology dependent on volunteers. I did not understand the value of Tor until several years later.

My routine Tor use started sometime in 2010, around the time that I moved to the Seattle area. Prior to 2010, I had spent several years moving around between a total of roughly 25 different dormitories, apartments, and houses because of my prolonged undergraduate university studentship. Moving to the Seattle area had been my goal for many years. I moved into my first, independently financed, one-bedroom apartment. I finally started understanding the burden that is adulthood and the wonders and consequences of independence.

My use of Tor became routine because of two reasons: one, to enhance my autonomy and independence, which was flourishing for me. The second reason, and probably the catalyst, was my childhood and family’s paranoia concerning our prior experiences of physical and mental violence. I became increasingly conscious of physical location information left behind on the Internet, a place I visited more often than I did my own kitchen.

In 2012, after 6 years of minor Wikipedia editing, I contacted Wikipedia’s administration asking for the ability to edit from the Tor network. Shockingly, they did not support my wishes.


Tor matters because of several human and United States’ rights.

The right to read is a fundamental requirement because of humanity’s need for the consumption, understanding, construction, and dissemination of information over time. Writing things down is an extension of our ability, as a species, to learn and to teach for our collective betterment. Independently, I cannot contribute to society without an unbounded right to access information.

The right to speak, or to contribute, is a fundamental requirement as an individual needing to sustain autonomy and connection. Without the unfettered ability to communicate with those around me, especially on the Internet, I cannot be a part of any system, small or large. Be it a need to warn others about problems, or a need to educate others about myself or our shared world, the right to freely express myself overwhelmingly supports the human condition.

The right to privacy is a fundamental human right that reinforces the development of the prior two rights above, something that cannot be understated. The right to intellectually develop in an autonomous way is the only power I have that not only dictates my individuality, but it supports responsibility in social contexts. I cannot hold myself accountable without the cognitive ability to process information in a way that distinguishes myself from my environments.

The right to read, the right to speak, and the right to privacy are things that the Internet and Tor empower me to exercise in a truly incredible way. If we are to survive as a culture and as a species, Tor has to be understood as a defining technology that embodies the values that we claim to have and want.

My #TA3M talk on Tor, Onion Services, and why browser plug-ins and VPNs don’t protect your privacy

This presentation was given at the University of Washington on January 18, 2016 and is publicly available on Google Docs. If I get worthwhile feedback, I will update the presentation. Like the rest of my blog, the presentation and images are CC-BY. I will include the images at the end of this article (pending).

01 of 31, title

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 01

This quote is from Edward Snowden, from October 2015, via Micah Lee’s interview from The Intercept.

This talk is for everyone. You don’t need to be an activist, journalist or a lawyer to have to need Tor. Even the most boring, uninteresting person in the world should be defending their rights to privacy and freedom of expression by using Tor.

The aim of this ~30 minute talk (plus Q/A) is to help make understanding of Tor and Onion Services easier. It is not a highly technical talk, but it is technical. I expect that users that wish to gain knowledge of how technical systems work, to take advantage of them, must learn technical material.

The talk discusses how the Tor network works to protect your privacy by juxtaposing plain HTTP, HTTPS, and also mainstream VPN technology. I will be discussing why the advertising industry is an even greater threat than even the NSA (to most people) and why VPNs just can’t cut it. Lastly, I will discuss how Onion services is a paradigm shift from standard client-server communications, how it works to protect your privacy, and why Onion services is an important application for service providers concerned about uptime and security.

02 of 31, sources

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 02

Most of the content of my talk is sourced from these two blog posts of mine.



03 of 31, http / postcard

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 03

As you probably know, sending a postcard in the mail allows anyone that handles the postcard to view and retain both the metadata (activity records of who, when, and where) and content. Plain HTTP is no different, except digital content is much easier and cheaper to collect and store.

04 of 31, http / postcard

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 04

This clear-text content and metadata is represented here in purple. It is completely defenseless in transit. Anyone connecting to, for example, bbc.co.uk allows anyone between you and the BBC service provider to view, retain, and maybe even change the metadata or content in transit.

05 of 31, https / letter

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 05

Sending a letter in the mail has one layer of protection, the envelope, and is analogous to HTTPS. The NSA considers HTTPS encrypted traffic “clear text” because metadata is still clear text, and a lot can be learned about the content of HTTPS encrypted traffic through automated analysis.

06 of 31, https / letter

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 06

HTTPS protected content is represented here by a red circle protecting the purple content at the center. Connecting to yandex.ru, even though encrypted with (presumably) high-grade HTTPS, still divulges a great deal of information (metadata) to anyone handling your traffic as it traverses the Internet.

07 of 31, virtual private network… 1-hop proxy

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 07

VPNs are largely one-hop proxies. It is possible to set up your own multi-hop VPN proxies, just like you can set up your own private Tor network if you have the time, expertise, and money. But mainstream VPN providers, to keep the time it takes to send your traffic back and forth across the Internet, only use one proxy. In other words, VPN providers, to keep most people happy, focus on speed rather than privacy.

Purchasing a private PO BOX or mailbox from a UPS store is analogous to purchasing VPN service from a provider. You are paying someone to “one-hop” proxy your mail so that the destination of your mail cannot know your real home address.

08 of 31, vpn / postcard

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 08

In this example, you are using the Ipredator (ipredator.se) VPN service provider in order to connect to amazon.com. Amazon still does not provide transport security and thus privacy for users of their service when searching for products to buy. Your Amazon-bound Internet traffic has one layer of protection, the orange circle, only up until the VPN service provider. Once your Amazon-bound traffic leaves the VPN provider (the one-and-only one-hop proxy), Amazon searches are as naked as postcards.

If network adversaries observing the Amazon searches somewhere between the VPN provider and Amazon may also be able to determine who is doing the searches based on the content of the Internet traffic, because these Amazon searches are just like sending postcards in the mail. Said adversaries can view, record, and change any of the metadata or content.

09 of 31, vpn / letter

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 09

In this example, when connecting with HTTPS to Wikipedia.org and using the Ipredator VPN service, the data (purple) is protected by by a layer of HTTPS (red) and also the VPN (orange). Once the Wikipedia-bound Internet traffic is proxied by Ipredator, it loses the VPN-encrypted (orange) layer, and your traffic’s content is still protected by Wikipedia’s HTTPS-encrypted (red) layer.

10 of 31, vpn circuits

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 10

As previously discussed, VPNs are one-hop proxies. The “circuit” that is made between you and the VPN service provider is static — the operator and the IP subnet never changes. The “IP subnet” of the VPN provider determines the IP address that your Internet traffic uses and is constrained by the pool of available IP addresses the VPN provider has available.

The one-hop proxy / circuit design is purposeful in order to maintain minimal latency (the time it takes for your traffic to reach the VPN provider), and to maximize bandwidth (how much you can download or upload per second).

11 of 31, the onion router… 3-hop proxy

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 11

Tor is more complex and can generally be described as a three-hop proxy. It would be like purchasing PO BOX services from three different, globally diverse mail proxy service providers, and each of those providers automatically works with each other to relay your mail to maximally protect your home address and maybe even your identity.

When sending mail communications, the first mail proxy knows who you are and also knows who the second mail proxy is. The second mail proxy only knows who the first and third mail proxies are. By the time your mail gets to the third and final mail proxy, your home address is not in any of the metadata that is destined for the recipient. And unless you disclosed your identity in the content of your communications, the recipient cannot know your identity, either.

12 of 31, tor / postcard

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 12

1. Tor encrypts your Ebay-destined traffic in three layers before leaving your computer.

2. Green circle: the Tor encrypted traffic from your computer to the Tor guard relay. The guard relay removes this first layer of encryption.

3. Yellow circle: the Tor encrypted traffic from the guard relay to the middle relay. The middle relay removes the second layer of encryption.

4. Orange circle: the Tor encrypted traffic from the middle relay to the exit relay. The exit relay removes the last layer of encryption and sends your traffic on to Ebay. Naked.

Connecting to ebay.com over Tor and searching Ebay does not disclose your IP address or your identity unless you log in to Ebay. Logging in to Ebay would disclose your identity to Ebay and thus may disclose the probability of your physical location if you gave Ebay or PayPal your home address as a shipping destination. If you browse Ebay without logging in but search for things that could allow an adversary to identify who is doing the searches, then you may disclose your identity that way, too.

If network adversaries observing the Ebay searches somewhere between the Tor exit relay and Ebay may also be able to determine who is doing the searches based on the content of the Internet traffic, because these Ebay searches are just like sending postcards in the mail. Said adversaries can view, record, and change any of the metadata or content.

13 of 31, tor / letter

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 13

1. Tor encrypts your Twitter-destined traffic in three layers before leaving your computer. Then, because Twitter requires that you use HTTPS to connect to Twitter, the first connection to Twitter establishes HTTPS (red), and then all of your Twitter-bound traffic will be encrypted in four layers of encryption.

2. Green circle: the Tor encrypted traffic from your computer to the Tor guard relay. The guard relay removes this first layer of encryption.

3. Yellow circle: the Tor encrypted traffic from the guard relay to the middle relay. The middle relay removes the second layer of encryption.

4. Orange circle: the Tor encrypted traffic from the middle relay to the exit relay. The exit relay removes the last layer of encryption and sends your traffic on to Twitter. Because of HTTPS, the content of your Twitter-bound traffic is still protected.

Connecting to twitter.com over Tor and searching Twitter does not disclose your IP address or your identity unless you log in to Twitter. Logging in to Twitter would disclose your identity to Twitter. If you browse Twitter without logging in but search for things that could allow an adversary to identify who is doing the searches, then you may disclose your identity that way, too.

Network adversaries observing Twitter searches somewhere between the Tor exit relay and Twitter can not determine who is doing the searches, because these searches are like letters in the mail. Said adversaries can still view and record any of the metadata but not the content.

14 of 31, tor circuits

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 14

Unlike VPN circuits, Tor circuits are generated randomly by your local Tor client. Tor circuits are required to have significant international hops in order to minimize the threat of surveillance or attack from a potentially malicious volunteer operator operating multiple relays in different IP subnets. In addition to Tor circuit randomness when starting Tor Browser, circuits are automatically and randomly changed every 10 minutes.

The downsides of using Tor is that, due to the required use of three geographically diverse hops, each of which likely has limited bandwidth, both high-latency and low-bandwidth experiences are high probabilities.

This is more of a positive than a negative, especially versus a typical VPN, but a Tor user must trust a random selection of roughly 2,000 guard relay operators and roughly 1,000 exit relay operators per circuit. Further, the Tor specification requires that relays belonging to the same operator cannot be used within the same circuit, presuming any given volunteer operator is not using different IP subnets.

15 of 31, tor circuits

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 15

By now, it should be clear that the number of relay operators is critical to the success of Tor and its users. Similarly, because all Tor traffic generally looks the same, it is similarly critical for the success of the Tor network for there to be a high number of users and services (Onion services).

Most purchasable Internet security services are built using a controlled set of infrastructure. This is a form of centralization. Tor is powerful exclusively because of the decentralized nature of the Tor network and the requirements of the Tor protocol. No other centralized security service can come close to having all of the security and privacy properties as Tor.

16 of 31, ads vs. nsa

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 16

We know that there are two active and constant threats to the Internet and thus its users: governments with intelligence agencies that are bent on the presumption that mass surveillance is valuable, and advertising agencies that are bent on collecting as much information about people as possible in order to sell them products. It just so happens that intelligence agencies are leveraging the work of advertising agencies because of their already deep integration into the large majority of the public Internet. Thus, the “biggest threat” to any Internet user is being attacked by advertising agencies.

However, we know that the NSA and FVEY (Five Eyes) focuses on traffic analysis leaving the Tor network, so it is highly probable that the same focus occurs for IP subnets associated with VPN service providers.



17 of 31, vpn behavior

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 17

18 of 31, vpn behavior

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 18

These are examples of two connections to two random Internet services via a one-hop proxy in Sweden. It should be quite obvious how simple this is and how trivial it would be for a global adversary to track low-latency, one-hop proxy connections.

19 of 31, vpn behavior

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 19

VPN services might feel safe. Especially when you pull out your credit card, you expect to get what you think you’re buying. But its largely false if your goal is to defend personal privacy. VPNs are still really powerful for getting around censorship, sometimes. VPNs are also still really powerful for file sharing. But both advertising agencies and intelligence agencies are not slowed by technologies that are trivial to undermine with automatic network and data analysis.

Also important to understand is that when you hire one corporate entity to safeguard your privacy, you create one target for an adversary to legally or technically attack. Nobody can assure that VPN services do not maintain connection logs; we know that they are required to maintain payment logs, and we know that some service providers have handed over connection information while also advertising that they do not store connection information.

20 of 31, tor behavior

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 20

21 of 31, tor behavior

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 21

These examples of two Tor circuits demonstrates why adding complexity to network connections is valuable, especially compared to standard options (HTTP, HTTPS, or VPN).

22 of 31, tor behavior

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 22

I included this slide again to further stress the importance of diversity of the Tor network.

23 of 31, onion services

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 23

Common client-server connections entails you making a request to a server, to see if that server is available, and to request digital resources if the server is available. This is done by communicating directly with the server. Onion services do not work this way.

Onion services, like the ProPublica Onion site, is like a permanent Tor user that is constantly connected to the Tor network. You, the client, and ProPublica, the server both inform the Tor network of your hidden identities. The only difference is that you, the client, makes an anonymous request to the Tor network to ask if the ProPublica server is available. The Tor network, automatically and anonymously, connects the two of you through a random rendezvous point inside the Tor network. You never actually talk directly to the ProPublica Onion site, and you both have your own three-hops to protect your IP address. Since none of this traffic ever leaves the Tor network, Onion services are not vulnerable to standard forms of passive Internet surveillance.

24 of 31, onion services

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 24

In addition to being free from passive Internet surveillance, Onion services have significant security properties.

It is important for user-focused security to be default, such as high-grade HTTPS. It is also important to empower users by offering a diversity of security properties. It is important to remember that it is impossible for any one organization to fully grasp each personalized threat model for every one of their users.

Aside from the obvious user-focused security benefits of providing Onion services, there are obvious organization-focused security benefits. For example, many Fortune 1000, 500, or 100 companies commonly have website outages because of problems with DNS, BGP, or their CA. Providing Onion services helps mitigate losing access to Web resources because of these failure points.

25 of 31, onion services

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 25

The quote on slide 24 is from Roger Dingeldine as stated in his 32C3 talk, “Tor Onion Services: More Useful Than You Think”. It is a very informative talk and covers deeper issues, problems, and opportunities for the future of Onion services.


Every “State of the Onion” presentation is worth watching and would be an excellent primer into understanding the nature of Tor and the quality of the people behind it.


26 of 31, onion services behavior

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 26

This example of a client accessing an Onion service demonstrates the complexity and importance of Onion services. Because both the client and the server makes independent Tor circuits, both maintain anonymity while also providing end-to-end encryption.

27 of 31, onion services hosting

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 27

If you are interested in learning about or advocating for the use of Onion services, these are some useful resources.




28 of 31, tor browser

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 28

If you are brand new to Tor, or generally need assistance with using a personal computer, these step-by-step guides are perfect for Tor Browser installation and basic use.



29 of 31, tor browser

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 29

Tor Browser, when juxtaposed to normal Web browsers, has significant advantages when the goal is to minimize identity exposure and the effects of Web tracking. Browser plug-ins cannot accomplish these privacy-focused goals, and many of these problems are identity-divulging browser features that advertising agencies always exploit.

30 of 31, tor applications

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 30

This list is a list of Tor related software applications for different platforms. It is not an exhaustive list, and in my talk I briefly described the purpose of each one.

31 of 31, questions?

TA3M Seattle, January 2016 - 31

If you use a version of this presentation, be sure to leave ample time for questions!

GlobaLeaks and SecureDrop: which is right for you?

GlobaLeaks and SecureDrop are both secure and anonymous document submission systems. However, there are important differences between the two that must be understood before choosing either.


Use SecureDrop to best defend legally privileged work, or when utmost security is needed.

Use GlobaLeaks if:

  • You or your organization needs an internal auditing and/or whistleblowing platform, a survey/questionnaire platform, or a file submission platform.
  • You or your organization does not have dedicated technical support to properly manage SecureDrop.
  • You or your organization wants to trial-run a secure and anonymous document submission system to understand the policy and procedural impacts before investing in SecureDrop.
  • You or your organization cannot monetarily afford the SecureDrop infrastructure.


  • Both systems are free software.
  • Both are regularly audited by independent software security firms, and the audit results are published.
  • Both use the Tor network to support user anonymity.
  • Both require consistent administration and updates to maintain software security.
  • Both require careful thought about the system’s physical security.
  • Both require careful thought about organizational policy changes and the organizational procedural changes.


There are many important consequences of their usability decisions. Always perform a careful threat assessment before deploying, and periodically after deployment.


Docs: https://github.com/globaleaks/globaleaks/wiki

GlobaLeaks aims for ease-of-use for both the administrator and users. GlobaLeaks only requires one small Ubuntu 14.04 x86-64 system with root or sudo privileges for installation and system updates. Anyone with basic Linux systems administration can install GlobaLeaks onto, for example, a $200 laptop. Freedom of the Press foundation recommends the Intel NUC for SecureDrop, and that is a good system choice for GlobaLeaks, too.

The administrator needs to be able to install GlobaLeaks onto an Ubuntu system, either Virtual Machine (VM) or computer. After Ubuntu is installed, the GlobaLeaks install script is super simple. Once the install script has completed, the end of the install script will report the Onion site for submissions and administraiton.

GlobaLeaks is incredibly flexible. An administrator could choose to install their GlobaLeaks instance in “the cloud” (someone else’s computer). But there are many security and legal consequences if you have someone else manage the service. The security consequences include the risks associated with hosting sensitive material in a virtual machine that is shared with an unknown amount of unknown people or organizations. Shared virtual hosting environments are notorius, especially if you are trying to keep the location of your Onion service hidden. Additionally, if your work is threatening to any adversary, getting services shutdown or losing access to materials is a higher risk if a 3rd party manages it.

My first encounter with GlobaLeaks was in 2012 when I met one of the core developers at a Tor hackathon. I was so inspired by the project that I wrote the first GlobaLeaks Wikipedia article to help bring attention to the project. Since I’m not a developer, information activism is one of the best things that I can do to support free software and the amazing people that choose to work on free software.

I’ve deployed GlobaLeaks for several small projects. One of the projects needed a secure and anonymous document submission system (non- privileged, professional work), and another needed a secure and anonymous questionnaire to support a privacy-technology workshop.


Docs: https://securedrop.readthedocs.org/en/latest/

SecureDrop aims to be as secure as possible for both the administrator and users. Administration requires intermediate Linux systems administration expertise. Once SecureDrop has been deployed, administration can only be performed locally and is command line only. Further, it is ideal for there to be an administration team, but not everyone needs to have technical skills. It is very important to understand the different systems needed and the roles they play.

SecureDrop requires, at a minimum, four independent but low-power x86-64 computer systems. The four computer systems are necessary to properly compartmentalize specific SecureDrop properties for ideal security via defense-in-depth.

One of these computer systems is connected to the Internet, the SecureDrop web server. Contrary to the default option in GlobaLeaks, the SecureDrop web server is only accessible via Onion services. A second computer system connects to the web server for the sole purpose of event reporting. This is necessary so that if the web server experiences any issues, a dedicated, compartmentalized system will be alerted of trouble. The other two computer systems needed for SecureDrop should never be networked and are called “air-gapped”. One of the air-gapped computer systems is needed to perform administrative functions; namely, the creation of Tails Linux USB drives. The second air-gapped computer system is solely used for reviewing SecureDrop submissions. Both of the air-gapped computer systems run Tails linux.

My first and only SecureDrop deployment was for the ACLU of Washington, which is really incredible. ACLU-WA was many firsts:

– The first non- journalist organization in the world.
– The first ACLU organization.
– The first legal organization.
– The first organization in the Pacific Northwest.

At ACLU-WA, there was a desire to begin experimenting with secure submission systems as an alternative to existing, common forms of communication like e-mail and HTTPS forms that come with inherent vulnerabilities. This decision was made without a fully developed sense of what the myriad internal policy implications would be. We knew ahead of deployment that a system like SecureDrop would pose certain organizational policy and procedural consequences, but waited until after receiving our first submission to finalize all our administrative practices. Most importantly, we know that existing legal intake methods used by legal organizations pose concrete risks because they all depend on communication systems that are not designed to withstand certain passive surveillance systems.

I was not part of ACLU-WA staff or part of the technical team that installed SecureDrop. My voluntary role at ACLU-WA was to design the landing page, to create our advanced threat modeling page, to advise on website and SecureDrop hardening, and to advise on organizational policy changes.

An open letter for organizations to support Tor onion services


There was a time when organizations used to ask the question, why would we want to use the Internet? There were no easy paradigms for business leaders to understand the implications. Early adopters of the Web slowly learned the value and effects of persistent information broadcasting, including reach into new and unexpected audiences. These organizations not only seeded their presence in online communities, but online communities started to shape the motivations and goals of organizations.

Following the early adoption phase, mass adoption took hold and organizations deepened their understanding. It became clear that connecting with people on this extraordinary level is not without risk and that businesses need to incorporate organizational information assurance policies. Since the beginning, encryption has been critically important to protect business interests.

Organizations are still in the process of adapting to new paradigm shifts. We take for granted TCP protocols that make web pages show up, complete, on user’s screens, because we consider that satisfactory. We take for granted the increasing affordability of data storage because we can do more for less. We not only ignore the effects of billion-dollar industries the are built and driven by the collection of personal data, but we support those industries by focusing on usability and profit. At what point do we ask the question, how much do we actually love our users?

In 2013, a significant opportunity opened up that allows organizations that use Information and Communication Technologies to understand the unintended consequences of clear-text content and metadata sharing. As more and more users depend on the services that organizations provide, organizations are learning more and more about how their technology and policy choices affect their users.

We have reached a point that it is no longer ethically acceptable to claim that our services, and thus our users, do not require both default security and also a choice in security technologies. It is no longer ethically acceptable to prioritize the security of our databases over the security and empowerment of our users.

Employing high-grade HTTPS is step one in adapting to the use of open standards and protocols. However, HTTPS reinforces the use of centralized trust authorities that, fundamentally, have deep security problems of their own. Organizations have long had the opportunity to leverage a free and decentralized security technology, and that technology is called Tor onion services.

Tor onion services mitigate many wide-spread security concerns including Certificate Authority attacks, Border Gateway Protocol attacks, and Domain Name System attacks. Adopting Tor onion services also happens to empower our users by giving them greater autonomy and control of their data and information. We can never understand individualized threat models for all our users; it is our responsibility to first admit that we will never understand such a complex landscape, and second we must employ this free and adaptive technology that raises the bar of security best practices.