Privacy-Preserving & Incrementally-Deployable Support for Certificate Transparency in Tor

Authors: Rasmus Dahlberg (Karlstad University), Tobias Pulls (Karlstad University), Tom Ritter, Paul Syverson (U.S. Naval Research Laboratory)

Volume: 2021
Issue: 2
Pages: 194–213
DOI: https://doi.org/10.2478/popets-2021-0024

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Abstract: The security of the web improved greatly throughout the last couple of years. A large majority of the web is now served encrypted as part of HTTPS, and web browsers accordingly moved from positive to negative security indicators that warn the user if a connection is insecure. A secure connection requires that the server presents a valid certificate that binds the domain name in question to a public key. A certificate used to be valid if signed by a trusted Certificate Authority (CA), but web browsers like Google Chrome and Apple’s Safari have additionally started to mandate Certificate Transparency (CT) logging to overcome the weakest-link security of the CA ecosystem. Tor and the Firefox-based Tor Browser have yet to enforce CT. In this paper, we present privacy-preserving and incrementally-deployable designs that add support for CT in Tor. Our designs go beyond the currently deployed CT enforcements that are based on blind trust: if a user that uses Tor Browser is man-in-the-middled over HTTPS, we probabilistically detect and disclose cryptographic evidence of CA and/or CT log misbehavior. The first design increment allows Tor to play a vital role in the overall goal of CT: detect mis-issued certificates and hold CAs accountable. We achieve this by randomly cross-logging a subset of certificates into other CT logs. The final increments hold misbehaving CT logs accountable, initially assuming that some logs are benign and then without any such assumption. Given that the current CT deployment lacks strong mechanisms to verify if log operators play by the rules, exposing misbehavior is important for the web in general and not just Tor. The full design turns Tor into a system for maintaining a probabilistically-verified view of the CT log ecosystem available from Tor’s consensus. Each increment leading up to it preserves privacy due to and how we use Tor.

Keywords: Certificate Transparency, Tor

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