Enough about Hacker Factor's '0days'

This post first appeared on my old blog in February 2021. It is preserved, but maybe not updated, here.

Last summer Dr. Neal Krawetz AKA "Hacker Factor" made a series of posts on his blog about Tor "0days." This post is a summary of Tor Project's response to one of his posts. Neither this post nor Tor Project's tweet serve as a perfect point-by-point rebuttal of everything he claims in the post, nor all of his "0day" posts. The things that he says that are skipped over here are not automatically valid just because they are skipped. The theme of the responses hold for just about everything he ever says about Tor. As they say, it's easier to spread bullshit than it is to refute it.

Okay wait. Many of the things he says aren't bullshit. He has some valid points. He just can't express those points in a productive manner anymore. His Tor posts are riddled with phrases that instantly put Tor people on the defensive, so it's a masochistic exercise to review them again every time someone asks "hey, what's your thoughts on this HF guy's post from last year?"

The Tor Project tweet is a level headed response (that I helped write); again, this is just a summary of that response, and I'm taking the opportunity to vent while writing it. I will take no questions or comments, nor read emails about this post. I'm freely using inflammatory, emotionally charged language because-- unlike HF--I do not expect, or want, a conversation to come out of this. This is a crass cathartic exercise for me.

The title of the HF blog post this post deals with is "Tor 0day: Burning Bridges." You can find it with your favorite search engine; I'm not going to help drive traffic to his site.

Here we go. The actual content of this "short" post I'm writing for my own reference. Links to additional anti-HF texts on the Internet are at the end of this post.

Use of the word 0day

HF knows exactly what he's doing when he uses the term "0day." He's not stupid. He knows what people immediately think when they here that term. He knows 0day sounds scary and gets people excited about a dangerous new discovery. He knows he'd get media attention.

He hides behind "well technically I'm correct because one of the little-used definitions of 0day includes things that aren't fixed and exist in the wild." You're technically and pointlessly correct, HF. And every time someone calls you out on this inflammatory word choice, you get the free rebuttal of "you're not even addressing the real issues! You just don't like my (perfectly valid!!!1!) word choice. You clearly have nothing." No. Fuck you. Use this excuse again if/when you see this, then fuck right off.

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This is (and was) a publicly documented information leak. There are many ways the user's OS can be leaked (one of them is even on purpose!), and fixing just one of them without fixing many of the others is pointless.

People should report bugs like this so they can be documented and fixed in batches. People should not throw a hissy fit when the bug isn't fixed right away in order to validate their sense of self-importance.

Tor's TLS fingerprint

The way Tor uses TLS between relays and between a client and their relay is (and always has been) fingerprintable. This has been publicly known since 2007. Before HF, it was brought up in 2018 in a much more slanderous and make-a-name-for-yourself-at-the-cost-of-others tone (archive copy).

HF's proposed solution is the wrong one. Tor Project has decided on a better one: bridges with pluggable transports.

Obfs4 is identifiable

Perhaps surprisingly, this is known. It's also an important problem. It's being worked on at a pace slower than HF finds acceptable.

But HF presents variations on known attacks without evidence that they work at a large scale. Two possible issues: too much state to keep track of, or too many false positives such that the adversary is unwilling to deploy it. Luckily for HF, the bar for publishing "science" in a blog post is on the ground. He can say things confidentially and non-experts believe him. Shame on you, HF.

He further shows that he barely looked into this before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard?) by

  • admitting to not knowing of any prior work (in response Tor Project points him to some),

  • citing a paper to support the claim that the Great Firewall can detect obfs4 when the paper say the opposite,

  • citing a blog post about obfs4 bridges being blocked in China, then ignoring that the issue discussed therein is about bridge distribution. Remember HF, in this section you were talking about fingerprintable network activity.

Additional links

Matt Traudt (pastly)

Tech, Pets, and Vettes