April 16, 2012

Emerging subtle requirements: pretending to be Skype

Bruce Schneier points at SkypeMorph:

To prevent the Tor traffic from being recognized by anyone analyzing the network flow, SkypeMorph uses what's known as traffic shaping to convert Tor packets into User Datagram Protocol packets, as used by Skype. The traffic shaping also mimics the sizes and timings of packets produced by normal Skype video conversations. As a result, outsiders observing the traffic between the end user and the bridge see data that looks identical to a Skype video conversation.

The SkypeMorph developers chose Skype because the software is widely used throughout the world, making it hard for governments to block it without arousing widespread criticism. The developers picked the VoIP client's video functions because its flow of packets more closely resembles Tor traffic. Voice communications, by contrast, show long pauses in transmissions, as one party speaks and the other listens.

Yup, it is a time honoured tradition in firewall hopping to pretend to be someone else who gets an easier ride. Typically, we have webapps because applications needed to be let through the firewall. To respond to firewalls getting pernickety, everyone started layering their simple traffic over HTTP. It worked, but annoyed the firewall people who realised they'd been bypassed.

But, if HTTP wants to do this, it can't. Or Skype - how does it pretend to be Skype?

There is an answer. If we scale up this approach - copying the best over time - then the best will try to be better. Better, in this case, means removing any and all information that can be analysed.

In other words, Indistinguishable from Random.

In the past we would have said that defeating traffic analysis is too hard. But that's what is going at the coal face, regardless of the theoretical view. So let's take it to its logical conclusion - the end game is not to copy someone else, but to be indistinguishable from random.

When everyone is doing that, we all win. Skype is already a long way there, it seems. Can your protocol do better?

Posted by iang at April 16, 2012 03:08 PM | TrackBack
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Hit preview to see your comment as it would be displayed.