Timing Analysis in Low-Latency Mix Networks: Attacks and Defenses

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Abstract

Mix networks are a popular mechanism for anonymous Internet communications. By routing IP traffic through an overlay chain of mixes, they aim to hide the relationship between its origin and destination. Using a realistic model of interactive Internet traffic, we study the problem of defending low-latency mix networks against attacks based on correlating inter-packet intervals on two or more links of the mix chain. We investigate several attack models, including an active attack which involves adversarial modification of packet flows in order to “fingerprint” them, and analyze the tradeoffs between the amount of cover traffic, extra latency, and anonymity properties of the mix network. We demonstrate that previously proposed defenses are either ineffective, or impose a prohibitively large latency and/or bandwidth overhead on communicating applications. We propose a new defense based on adaptive padding.