‘Internet-scale anonymity’: Researchers unveil high-speed Tor alternative

© Toru Hanai
An international team of researchers have presented a new routing network they say paves the way for internet-scale anonymity.” A more secure alternative to the Tor, the new HORNET suggests better scaling and much greater browsing speeds.

The “High-speed Onion Routing at the Network Layer” (HORNET) was developed by five researchers from the UK, the USA and Switzerland. A research paper, presented earlier this week, outlines details of their project which is yet to undergo large scale tests and a peer review process.

HORNET seems on the surface to be a reaction to a volley of revelations concerning the global surveillance programs, which essentially destroyed the notion of online privacy and anonymity. The developers sought to combine the anonymity of the Dark Net with the high-speed browsing internet users are accustomed to.

“HORNET is designed to be highly efficient,” researchers said. Without sacrificing security, the network supports data transfer speeds of up to 93GBps and can be scaled at little cost.

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In the so-called onion routing networks, the data packet is encrypted by each node as it passes to its destination. However the process takes time and resources, especially when the number of users grows. So HORNET researchers decided to overcome the weaknesses of Tor and reduce the cryptography work required from each node.

“Instead of keeping state at each relay, connection state (such as onion layer decryption keys) is carried within packet headers, allowing intermediate nodes to quickly forward traffic for large numbers of clients,” says the paper.

While often associated with illegal activities such as drug and arms traffic, Tor is designed to enable anonymous communication and browsing. And the HORNET, researchers say, is a new routing scheme paving the way for “internet-scale anonymity” that will “frustrate pervasive surveillance.”

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The technology offers one more opportunity for future HORNET users: it makes the system more secure. Intermediate nodes, indeed, do not waste time on processing information about sender and recipient and become thus even less vulnerable to surveillance attacks. However it is not the only method of improving security which has been used in the creation of HORNET.

“To protect against these and other surveillance threats, several anonymity protocols, tools, and architectures have been proposed”, says the paper. “HORNET offers payload protection by default, and can defend against some global observation attacks.”