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Tor Versus Road Warrior

Lately, I have been doing some research regarding Tor, and the technology behind it. Further, I wanted to compare it to other products such as Freenet and I2P. In the process, I stumbled upon this post regarding comparing Tor to a proprietary product called "Road Warrior" from a company called "Cryptohippie". Initially, I tried commenting on the post, but it seems that the WordPress installation at the Daily Anarchist is broken, as every attempt to supply a comment led to a 404 error page. So, instead, I'll post the comment here:

Interesting read. I know the post is more than 3 years old, however I stumbled upon it looking up some alternatives to Tor. Not because I think Tor is bad, but because I'm interested in what the world is doing with the Edward Snowden revelations, and what's out there.

You make some interesting points, mostly with are standing on shaky ground.

1. "Tor is slow". Well, yes and no. Sure, going through 3 random hops to get to your destination is going to add latencies to your round trip connection. That's somewhat expected though. However, with that said, I usually don't have any issue watching YouTube videos, downloading updates from my operating system vendor, or downloading PDFs and other multimedia from the Internet. There have also been updates since this post was published, where the algorithms Tor use have been greatly optimized, lowering latencies, and increasing bandwidth. Personally, I don't generally see any undue latency burdens compared to standard clear net connections. For me, the bandwidth and performance is acceptible.

2. "When someone owns something and generates income from it, they almost always take care of it, and usually work hard to improve it". Sure, that is, when it's financially convenient, which isn't always the case. Many times, companies shift focus, lose investments, or just plain go under, and the product goes with it. We could list example, after example, where commercial products failed, where Free and Open Source products not only survived, but thrived. Especially when it comes to crypto, proprietary and commercial products usually don't fare well. OpenVPN rules the VPN world. OpenSSH rules the SSH world. OpenSSL rules the secure web and email worlds. The standard crypto libraries are all Free and Open Source Software, not proprietary. Even the standard crypto protocols, which Road Warrior relies on, are open not encumbered by patents, such as AES, SHA1/SHA2, etc. Because this is a criticism of "free" software, however, you are aware that there are financial contributions by the EFF to develop the Tor product, just like there are financial contributions from IBM, Oracle, Red Hat, and even Microsoft, to develop the Linux kernel- another "free" software.

3. "Tor may include malicious nodes". Sure. This will be a problem when you use ANY service, and is not unique to Tor. When using any Internet service, there is a level of trust that must be maintained between the provider, and the user. As an example, HTTPS connections could be decrypted on the server, logged, and shared. However, with the 3-random relay node selection, it is actually pretty difficult for a node operator to compromise an entire Tor client connection. In fact, that's kind of the point with the "onion" layer encryption. Really, the only thing that is practical, is controlling both the entry and exit nodes, at which connection profiles could be built based on traffic patterns, IP addresses, times of connections, and sites visited. This is possible by controlling a large number of the relay nodes in existence. As such, entry guards were introduces to minimize this attack. Even DNS, if not properly tunneled through Tor, could give away details about what your doing with your Tor connection. Regardless, no service is 100% secure, and Tor is no exception.

4. "Tor is only for web browsing". Garbage. This couldn't be further from the truth. I use Tor for my email IMAPS/SMTPS connections, for IRC over SSL, XMPP, DNS, SSH, FTP, and so much more. If your application supports using a SOCKS proxy, or if you can setup a transparent proxy for all connections to go through, it just works. Tor is completely agnostic with regards to the protocol. I use email, IRC, XMPP, and web over Tor, all the time, with very little problems.

5. "Tor requires all the software on your computer that accesses the internet to be cooperative. Many programs, however, (whether created by shady marketers, governments, crooks, or just poorly written) are not cooperative, but bypass Tor and give away your network identity". Sure. Many software programs will not allow the ability to change network connections and take advantage of a SOCKS proxy, like your browser or chat clients. However, it's not difficult to build a transparent proxy, to force all software programs over Tor. This can be done at the router, a separate server, or on the local client.

6. "For most people, Tor is to hard to use regularly. This makes security errors and leaks much more likely." This hits the nail squarely on the head, but it's not Tor's fault, and the same thing could be said for Road Warrior. Crypto is just hard. There is a reason for the mantra "don't roll your own crypto". There is a reason many cryptographers have doctorate degrees in mathematics and/or computer science. Crytpo is just exceptionally difficult to grasp. Very little about it is actually intuitive. This is why PGP is not more widely implemented. This is why people don't run encrypted filesystems on their computer. This is why people share their entire lives on Facebook and Instagram. People want things to Just Work, with very little to no work on their part. Unless Tor is 100% transparent, the only people deploying Tor will be nerds and system administrators. Same will be said for PGP, I2P, Freenet, Bitmessage, etc., and even your own product, Road Warrior. Unless cryptography and perfect forward secrecy, among other technologies, are fully 100% baked into the product, people won't deploy it. It has to be just part of the normal way things are done, transparently, such as HTTPS, DNSsec, IPsec, etc. The only thing expected out of people, is the ability to use a browser or an email client. IE- a dumbed down client application. If you expect them to hook in an additional utility, it probably won't happen.

Now, some of my own personal criticisms of Road Warrior.

1. First and foremost, Road Warrior is closed source, proprietary software. This isn't looked upon favorably in the cryptographic community. Especially for a cryptographic tool. I might believe that you're not intentionally being malicious with your Road Warrior product, or have implemented back doors for the NSA, but how do I know you've used encryption standards and best practices? How can the community evaluate that there are no serious bugs, or security vulnerabilities, without access to the source code? How do I know you're addressing CVEs? Just trusting some company, because they say so, is a big leap. Has Road Warrior been independently audited for security? If so, I'm not finding the results anywhere on the site. If the product is to remain proprietary, closed source, then at least provide your customers with the full results of a security audit.

2. All traffic goes through Cryptohippie's servers. With Tor, traffic is split out among a fully distributed, decentralized, voluntary network. Every relay is donated. My traffic might go through Denver on one connection, and Amsterdam on the other. Not so with Road Warrior. While the servers might be geographically separated, customers can't run their own server. As such, the IP list is very static, and makes Cryptohippie a very large single point of failure. Even further, how do I know you're not examining my packets? It's one thing to trust that some random Tor server on the network is not malicious. It's another to trust a company, who is in control of all of the anonymizing servers. Cryptohippie may not be malicious, but what about a disgruntled Cryptohippie employee? Cryptohippie even has an email service. This is a lot of eggs in one basket for a crypto product.

3. Because Cryptohippie is in control of the full stack, Cryptohippie would be aware of a single client and the destination servers they visit. Child porn? Illegal drug trade? Whistle blowing to journalists? Posting to a forum about overthrowing a government? Cryptohippie would know about each of this. I'm sure you're aware, as I am administrating a Tor exit node, that the FBI will make requests regarding illegal content moving across a public IP address. With Tor, the administrator of the exit node is not in control of the content entering and leaving the server. While exit nodes have been seized by governments in the past, no system administrator has been charged with the data communicating over that IP address in question. That is why the hardware is seized, for the possibility of logs or stored data. Requesting client data, such as the originating IP address requesting the data, is not possible, as it's not known. So, with Tor, it's ineffective for the FBI to request an exit node operator to hand over the Tor client data. With Cryptohippie, because that company is fully in charge of the entire network, including accounting details, warrants to release customer information is not only effective, it's easy. If Cryptohippie wishes to remain in business, it must comply with local laws, which includes turning over data to law enforcement.

4. Finally, this may seem petty, but where do your clients go for support? No bug tracker or community forum is present, unless it's behind the login. Looking around your site, I'm seeing copyrights haven't been updated since 2007-2008, which doesn't instill a lot of confidence for me as a client of yours. If your basic website doesn't have an updated copyright, how do I know your Road Warrior software does as well? And if the copyright hasn't been updated in your Road Warrior product, then how do I know you've been addressing bugs and vulnerabilities, introducing new features, or even general maintenance of the software?

I'm sure Cryptohippie is a fine company, and Road Warrior is a fine piece of software. But this blog post glosses over the issues, and is a bit sensationalist, if not a little bit incorrect.

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