Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC) 2022

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Stopping Silent Sneaks: Defending against Malicious Mixes with Topological Engineering

Mixnets provide strong meta-data privacy and recent academic research and industrial projects have made strides in making them more secure, performance, and scalable. In this paper, we focus our work on stratified Mixnets---a popular design with real-world adoption---and identify that there still exist heretofore inadequately explored practical aspects such as: relay sampling and topology placement, network churn, and risks due to real-world usage patterns. We show that, due to the lack of incorporating these aspects, Mixnets of this type are far more susceptible to user deanonymization than expected. In order to reason and resolve these issues, we model Mixnets as a three-stage ``Sample-Placement-Forward'' pipeline, and using the results of our evaluation propose a novel Mixnet design, Bow-Tie. Bow-Tie mitigates user deanonymization through a novel adaption of Tor's guard design with an engineered guard layer and client guard-logic for stratified mixnets. We show that Bow-Tie has significantly higher user anonymity in the dynamic setting, where the Mixnet is used over a period of time, and is no worse in the static setting, where the user only sends a single message. We show the necessity of both the guard layer and client guard-logic in tandem as well as their individual effect when incorporated into other reference designs. We develop and implement two tools, 1) a mixnet topology generator (Mixnet-Topology-Generator (MTG)) and 2) a path simulator and security evaluator (routesim) that takes into account temporal dynamics and user behavior, to assist our analysis and empirical data collection. These tools are designed to help Mixnet designers assess the security and performance impact of their design decisions. Ultimately, Bow-Tie is a significant step towards addressing the gap between the design of Mixnets and practical deployment and wider adoption because it directly addresses real-world user and Mixnet operator concerns.

Xinshu Ma
University of Edinburgh

Florentin Rochet
University of Namur

Tariq Elahi
University of Edinburgh

Paper (ACM DL)



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