Category Archives: Crypto Tools

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.

Secure Messenger Scorecard (May 2017)

This is a draft.

I’m starting my own Secure Messenger Scorecard based on the prior work of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

I’ve created an editable Google Doc for further input and development.

Please scrutinize and contribute by Signaling me, emailing me or tweeting at me.

version one

version two

version three

Moved from Apache to Caddy and RSA to EC TLS for WordPress

^ Qualys SSL Labs test for

^ Security Headers (dot-IO) test for

With very special thanks to this guide, Running WordPress with Caddy. I was also able to remove several unnecessary PHP applications that Apache needed.

Here’s my Caddyfile: {
        } {
        root /var/www/
        log stdout
        errors stderr

header / {
	Content-Security-Policy "default-src 'self'; script-src 'self'; style-src 'self' 'unsafe-inline'"
	Referrer-Policy "strict-origin, strict-origin-when-cross-origin"
        Strict-Transport-Security "max-age=15768000; includeSubDomains; preload"
        X-XSS-Protection "1; mode=block"
        X-Content-Type-Options "nosniff"
        X-Frame-Options "DENY"

fastcgi / /var/run/php/php7.1-fpm.sock {
        ext .php
        split .php
        index index.php

rewrite / {
        to {path} {path}/ /index.php?{query}

tls / {
        protocols tls1.2
        curves p384
        key_type p384

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+

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+

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 >

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 >

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.

Ubuntu OS updates with security and privacy

Never Forget DSA-3733
Validating signatures > MitM > RCE

The Debian developer community refused to implement transport crypto for updates because “signing packages is secure enough”. Utter bullshit.

This is a quick guide on how to dramatically improve the privacy and security of your Ubuntu web server. It requires the installation of “apt-transport-tor”, an application that will allow APT transfers to occur over Tor. There is also an application called “apt-transport-https” that is already installed in Ubuntu that we’ll use.

After reviewing the existing Ubuntu updates mirrors in the USA, I found that Wikimedia has a great TLS configuration. Please contribute to the Google Doc list!

First add Tor Project’s Debian/Ubuntu repository to your system for up-to-date Tor software:

Then perform the following:

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get install apt-transport-tor

sudo vim /etc/apt/sources.list

Edit “sources.list” to just use only “deb”. “deb-src” is only needed if you build from source which most people do not. You can safely delete the deb-src lines from the file. Replace all of the default Ubuntu repos with Wikimedia’s and be sure to add “tor+” before the “https”. Doing so adds end-to-end encryption via HTTPS, and it becomes Torified meaning network adversaries will have a more difficult time analyzing what software and what versions of said software are installed on your web server.

deb tor+ xenial main restricted universe multiverse
deb tor+ xenial-updates main restricted universe multiverse
deb tor+ xenial-backports main restricted universe multiverse
deb tor+ xenial-security main restricted universe multiverse
deb tor+ xenial main

All your future apt-get update, upgrade, and dist-upgrade commands will now be performed over Tor and using high-grade HTTPS.

Firewall changes

If you use UFW to manage your iptables firewall rules, and if you’re properly restricting outbound connections, below is what your config might change to. First reset your UFW rules:

sudo ufw reset


sudo ufw limit 22/tcp
sudo ufw allow 443/tcp
sudo ufw allow out 22/tcp
sudo ufw allow out 25/tcp
sudo ufw allow out 53/udp
sudo ufw allow out 443/tcp
sudo ufw allow out 9050/tcp
sudo ufw deny out to any
sudo ufw enable
sudo ufw status verbose

Or with one command:

sudo ufw limit 22/tcp && sudo ufw allow 443/tcp && sudo ufw allow out 22/tcp && sudo ufw allow out 25/tcp && sudo ufw allow out 53/udp && sudo ufw allow out 443/tcp && sudo ufw allow out 9050/tcp && sudo ufw deny out to any && sudo ufw enable && sudo ufw status verbose

This UFW (iptables) rule set makes it so brute forcing SSH won’t work and allows all incoming HTTPS traffic. These rules also make it so no traffic can leave the web server unless it is SSH (22), SMTP (25), DNS (53), HTTPS (443), or Tor Socks (9050) traffic. Most web servers do not go as far as block all outbound traffic by default, but it is important in case the web server does become compromised. I would usually allow outbound HTTP (80) traffic because the default Ubuntu update repositories require HTTP. However, we will be Torifying Apt so that’s why we allow outbound 9050/tcp. If you don’t want to Torify Apt, you’ll need to allow outbound 80/tcp instead of 9050/tcp.

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, 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, 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 ( VPN service provider in order to connect to 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 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 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 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!

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.


Use Tor Browser, or harden Firefox, for privacy?

Welcome 2016! This is my first post of the new year, and my first post from Germany and from Europe (following an amazing #32C3).

I routinely see people concerned about their personal privacy and computing security as it relates to web tracking. If you are one of these people, thank you for taking the first step toward a world that designs its information systems with privacy and security first. Asking which browser plugins to install is asking the right type of question, but it is not the right question to ask.

From Quinn Norton’s The Hypocrisy of the Internet Journalist:

I could build a dossier on you. You would have a unique identifier, linked to demographically interesting facts about you that I could pull up individually or en masse. Even when you changed your ID or your name, I would still have you, based on traces and behaviors that remained the same — the same computer, the same face, the same writing style, something would give it away and I could relink you. Anonymous data is shockingly easy to de-anonymize. I would still be building a map of you. Correlating with other databases, credit card information (which has been on sale for decades, by the way), public records, voter information, a thousand little databases you never knew you were in, I could create a picture of your life so complete I would know you better than your family does, or perhaps even than you know yourself.

In this context, advertising agencies are no different from the NSA. From NSA Turns Cookies (And More) Into Surveillance Beacons:

[S]py agencies are keen to find any available way to recognize a particular user by their devices’ behavior on the Internet, and that cookies sent with unencrypted web requests are one of the easiest and most straightforward ways of picking out an individual device even as it moves from network to network.

Thinking that you can simply install an app to solve your privacy and security problems is wishful thinking. Have you tested your configuration? Not just once in an ideal scenario, but also when you allow Javascript because you need it?

A better question to ask is, what do trackers track?

Can your browser change your public IP address? Can your browser change or lie about your internal IP address? Can your browser change or lie about your browser resolution? Can your browser hide or lie about your screen resolution? Can your browser hide which browser and version you’re using, the browser plugins and versions you’re using, and the browser extensions and versions you’re using? Proably not, nor can plugins.

These are the types of things that Tor Browser fixes when you use Tor Browser correctly. The right answer to “what plugins support my computing security and personal privacy?” is to not install any plugins and to use Tor Browser.

The default installation of Tor Browser is the most anonymous way to browse the web because it holistically addresses most of the hardest problems to solve when it comes of web tracking.

And don’t go and install more plugins into Tor Browser thinking you are safer. Changing the configuration in any way makes it easier to re-identify you. Get to know the “security slider“, it will be your best friend when using Tor Browser. Learn and understand how and why Tor circuits are used.

Fundamentally, when you install a plugin into Firefox or Chrome, you make your fingerprint more unique, because most people don’t add pugins let alone a unuqie combination of them. Most people also don’t change their public IP address, so most tracking mechanisms can trivially track you based on IP and the subnet of your IP address that your ISP likely dynamically assigns you. Most people sign into de-anonymizing services, and linking your session data to de-anonymized data is trivial. Even if you visit your personal web page via Tor Browser, and you continue to access other sites in the same session, it is probable that it is you visiting and thus probable that the other session data is yours.

From Whonix: Things NOT to do

It’s best not to visit your own personal website where either real names or pseudonyms (which have ever been tied to a non-Tor connection/IP) are attached. Because how many people are visiting your personal website? 90% of all Tor users, or just you, or just very few other people? That’s weak anonymity. Once you visit a website your Tor circuit gets dirty. The exit relay knows that someone visited your website and if the site is not that popular, it’s a good guess that ‘someone’ was you. It wouldn’t be hard to assume that further connections originating from that exit relay come from your machine.

This gets down into operational security. Privacy is not just a matter of information security. You must conciously choose to help yourself by installing and using Tor Browser for nearly 100% of your browsing. You must take the responsibility of telling your service providers not to censor Tor users. You must change your habits if you wish to maintain privacy and thus autonomy. If you need Windows for your work, install an afforable Tails Linux or Whonix laptop next to your main workstation. Don’t give up.

How to: Use Onion Share for Ubuntu

OnionShare is a free software file sharing program created and maintained by Micah lee. OnionShare takes advantage of the Tor network to allow its users to maintain anonymity when sharing digital files.

OnionShare is needed because it works exclusively within the Tor network, meaning it is extremely improbable to track or attribute most network metadata to the people sharing.

If anonymity is your goal, be very careful about how you share the download link. Mainstream email providers, social media platforms, and chat clients all retain metadata and content.

Software tested

Ubuntu 15.10 Desktop x64
Tor Browser 5.0.4
OnionShare 0.8

Getting OnionShare

For those using Ubuntu, Micah made a PPA, or, Personal Package Archive, for easy downloading, installing, and updating. Presuming that you have administrative permissions (sudo), open a terminal window and perform the following:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:micahflee/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install onionshare

OnionShare uses a Tor connection made by Tor Browser to keep the OnionShare application as simple as possible. You will need to download Tor Browser from and have Tor Browser running before you launch OnionShare.

Note: More advanced users can use OnionShare in the command line by using the “–transparent” flag to use SOCK5 proxy, but that is out of the scope of this guide.


After OnionShare is installed, you can search for it by using Unity’s application launcher. Click on the “OnionShare” icon.


Using OnionShare

OnionShare will open, ready for you to drag and drop a file or folder into OnionShare. Drag your files or folders directly into OnionShare where it says “Drag and drop files here”.


Once you have selected the files and folders to share, click “Start Sharing”. OnionShare will automatically shrink the files and folders being shared to help reduce the download size. Wait for OnionShare to create a Tor hidden service for your current file share.




Click “Copy URL” to copy the Tor hidden service address. Share this link with someone that has or can download Tor Browser. You can test your own share in Tor Browser, too.


When you or the person you are sharing with tries to download your file via Tor Browser, a warning prompt will display. Be careful when downloading any files from the Internet, even if you trust the person sending them. Because you are the one sharing and testing this file, click “Download File”.


A second prompt will display asking you if you would like to open the file or to save it for later use. For our test, we will simply open the ZIP file with “Archive Manager”. Click “OK” to download and open the file.


Tor Browser will download you file. If you are testing your own file share, this means you are downloading it from yourself but through the Tor network.


The file sharer will be able to see when someone is downloading, or has downloaded, the files they have shared.


Once the download complete, Archive Manager will open, allowing you to extract the file.


OnionShare privacy benefits

  • OnionShare users are not personally identifiable.
  • OnionShare does not reveal user IP addresses or physical locations because of Tor.
  • Files shared over the Tor network are cryptographically authenticated and private.
  • The use of Tor hidden services prevents network traffic from ever leaving the Tor network, thereby preserving anonymity and complicating passive network surveillance.

OnionShare security warnings

  • OnionShare has not been subjected to an independent security audit.
  • An already-compromised computer system will typically defeat the privacy protections that OnionShare offers, such as screen-grabbing or keystroke logging malware.
  • OnionShare does not save share history. Only other operating system logs could provide evidence of sharing.
  • Active and passive surveillance techniques can still tell if you are using the Internet, and when, but not necessarily what you’re doing on the Internet.