Online anonymity has long been one of the most crucial and most sought after aspects about communication for many. The Tor network specifically, has so far been the one-stop-shop when it comes to online anonymous communication, which coincidentally has made Tor one of the prime targets for international governments' law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and NSA. However, MIT researchers have developed a new anonymous communication platform, which promises to offer users heightened security against even the most determined attackers.
MIT's anonymity network uses a series of servers called mixnet to shuffle the order in which messages are received and passed on, thereby deterring anyone from conducting traffic analysis and uncovering the points of origin of the messages. It is this shuffling system that gives the network its name – Riffle.
Albert Kwon, MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science and lead author of the research paper that details the inner workings of Riffle, told IBTimes UK that "mixnet collects many users' input before sending any out. By doing so, weakness of Tor against traffic analysis attacks is significantly mitigated."
In addition to reshuffling the order of the incoming and outgoing messages and encasing the messages in several layers of encryption, Riffle adds a two-step security measure called a "verifiable shuffle" and "authentication encryption" to ensure that messages are not tampered by malicious entities. This involves messages being sent to not just one but all servers, after which outgoing messages are stamped with verifiable "mathematical proof", which helps authenticate the encrypted message. The added measures ensure that any attempt made by malicious parties to tamper with messages is easily identified and prevented.
"Assuming our threat model holds and at least one of our servers is uncompromised, we guarantee anonymity. In that sense, it should be less likely to be compromised, since Tor requires a significant portion of their volunteer servers to be honest," added Kwon
MIT researchers also estimated that file sharing with numerous users could aid Riffle to achieve a bandwidth of over 100KB/s and lower bandwidth-intensive use could handle "over 100,000 users with less than 10 second latency in the case of microblogging".
At present, Riffle functions as a prototype and is not available for public use. According to Kwon, Riffle "aims to provide higher levels of anonymity, at cost of the efficiency Tor is able to provide. Moreover, the two technologies can be used together to get even higher levels of anonymity".