Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Computer Science

First Advisor

Dirk Grunwald

Second Advisor

Douglas Sicker

Third Advisor

Shivakant Mishra

Abstract

Conventional wisdom dictates that the level of anonymity offered by low latency anonymity networks increases as the user base grows. However, the most significant obstacle to increased adoption of such systems is that their security and performance properties are perceived to be weak. In an effort to help foster adoption, this dissertation aims to better understand and improve security, anonymity, and performance in low latency anonymous communication systems.

To better understand the security and performance properties of a popular low latency anonymity network, we characterize Tor, focusing on its application protocol distribution, geopolitical client and router distributions, and performance. For instance, we observe that peer-to-peer file sharing protocols use an unfair portion of the network’s scarce bandwidth. To reduce the congestion produced by bulk downloaders in networks such as Tor, we design, implement, and analyze an anonymizing network tailored specifically for the BitTorrent peer-to-peer file sharing protocol. We next analyze Tor’s security and anonymity properties and empirically show that Tor is vulnerable to practical end-to-end traffic correlation attacks launched by relatively weak adversaries that inflate their bandwidth claims to attract traffic and thereby compromise key positions on clients’ paths. We also explore the security and performance trade-offs that revolve around path length design decisions and we show that shorter paths offer performance benefits and provide increased resilience to certain attacks. Finally, we discover a source of performance degradation in Tor that results from poor congestion and flow control. To improve Tor’s performance and grow its user base, we offer a fresh approach to congestion and flow control inspired by techniques from IP and ATM networks.

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