Tor, the most popular browser for the “Deep Web” has suffered some setbacks lately, at least as far as its users are concerned. The Tor browser, which promises the most anonymity available online, is used by people ranging from whistle blowers to criminals. Recent police operations on the deep web, from child pornography arrests to the two-time dismantling of the online drug marketplace Silk Road (as previously reported by the Inquisitr), have left many questioning how secure the Firefox-based Tor browser actually is – and its speed and stability have never been anything to write home about.
Now, according to a report from Ars Technica, a group of researches from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, Carnegie Mellon University, and University College London, have published a paper claiming to have developed a much better version of Tor’s “onion routing network” that they’re dubbing HORNET.
The new Tor architecture is being proposed by Chen Chen of Carnegie Mellon University, Daniele Enrico Asoni, David Barrera, and Adrian Perrig of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and George Danezis of University College London, and works in a similar manner to the existing protocol. HORNET (High-speed Onion Routing at the NETwork layer) dumps parts of Tor’s network routing management for a drastic increase in speed – up to 93 gigabits per second, supposedly – and uses a dual-onion protocol for increased anonymity, alongside a modified version of Tor’s “rendevous point” negotiation; the practical upshot of which is increased security and a considerable reduction in the cryptography work required for each packet. In layman’s terms, that means it’s not only more secure than Tor, it’s a lot faster.
As ZDNet reports, the researchers explicitly claim that while HORNET’s security is not perfect (and short of taking a system offline, unplugging it and storing it in the nearest volcano, there is no perfect security) an attacker would need to control “a significant percentage of ISPs” in multiple geographic locations to compromise a user. This is a huge change from Tor which, while relatively secure, can still be compromised from a single “end-point.”
There are plenty of people and organizations that will not be happy to see a better Tor emerged. As CNET noted last year, it is likely that the NSA puts anyone who uses or is interested in online privacy tools on a watch list, and nobody wants to see criminals handed better tools. On the other hand, nobody wants to live in a police state either, and increasingly, whistle blowers, citizen journalists, and those functioning under oppressive regimes need tools to preserve themselves from corporate and government retribution. Tor is one of those tools; HORNET looks to be an even better one.
Now that the paper is in the wild, expect to see HORNET-based browsers in the near future.
[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]