21st Annual Network & Distributed System Security Symposium (NDSS '14)
Tor is a distributed onion-routing network used for achieving anonymity and resisting censorship online. Because of Tor’s growing popularity, it is attracting increasingly larger
threats against which it was not securely designed. In this paper, we present the Sniper Attack, an extremely low cost but highly destructive denial of service attack against Tor that an adversary may use to anonymously disable arbitrary Tor relays. The attack utilizes valid protocol messages to boundlessly consume memory by exploiting Tor’s end-to-end reliable data transport. We design and evaluate a prototype of the attack to show its feasibility and efficiency: our experiments show that an adversary may consume a victim relay’s memory by as much as 2187 KiB/s while using at most only 92 KiB/s of upstream bandwidth. We extend our experimental results to estimate the threat against the live Tor
network and find that a strategic adversary could disable all of the top 20 exit relays in only 29 minutes, thereby reducing Tor’s bandwidth capacity by 35 percent. We also show how the attack enables the deanonymization of hidden services through selective denial of service by forcing them to choose guard nodes in control of the adversary. Finally, we discuss defenses against the Sniper Attack that provably render the attack ineffective, and suggest defenses against deanonymization by denial-of-service attacks in general that significantly mitigate the threat.