The Spirit of the Vuvuzela Lives on as a Protector of Online Privacy

A group of researchers from MIT has thought of what the next anonymous network might look like.

Tor has been the network of choice for activists, journalists, the military, and anyone else who wishes to keep their internet activity private. However, Tor isn't a perfect system. Past experiments have shown that by observing data traffic through a few well-placed nodes on the network, the identities of a number of users can be compromised.


So a team of researchers from MIT has presented an alternative solution inspired by the vuvuzela — the infamous noisemakers that blared during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

“Tor operates under the assumption that there’s not a global adversary that’s paying attention to every single link in the world,” explained Nickolai Zeldovich, an associate professor of computer science and engineering. “Maybe these days this is not as good of an assumption. Tor also assumes that no single bad guy controls a large number of nodes in their system. We’re also now thinking, maybe there are people who can compromise half of your servers.”

The new system is fondly named Vuvuzela because it works just like one. It floods the network with so much dummy information that it's difficult to tell what's real and what's fake. It's pretty brilliant, protecting both metadata and message data, like Tor, but adding a third layer in securing “against adversaries that observe and tamper with all network traffic,” the researchers write. “Vuvuzela’s key insight is to minimize the number of variables observable by an attacker, and to use differential privacy techniques to add noise to all observable variables in a way that provably hides information about which users are communicating.”

Vuvuzela may very-well be the next step in anonymous browsing. However, this system isn't ready for deployment. It has limitations it needs to overcome before it's ready, but it shows what the future of anonymous browsing might look like.

***

Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at PCMag.com where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker

Photo Credit: CLEMENS BILAN / Getty Staff

 

Tor has been the network of choice for activists, journalists, military, and anyone else who would wishes to keep their internet activity private. However, Tor isn't a perfect system. Past experiments have shown that by observing data traffic through a few well-placed nodes on the network, the identities of a number of users can be compromised.

So a team of researchers from MIT have presented an alternative solution to hide a user's identity and they were inspired by the Vuvuzela—the infamous noisemakers that blared during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

“Tor operates under the assumption that there’s not a global adversary that’s paying attention to every single link in the world,” explained Nickolai Zeldovich, an associate professor of computer science and engineering. “Maybe these days this is not as good of an assumption. Tor also assumes that no single bad guy controls a large number of nodes in their system. We’re also now thinking, maybe there are people who can compromise half of your servers.”

The new system is fondly named Vuvuzela, because it works just like one. It floods the network with so much dummy information that it's difficult to tell what's real and what's fake. It's pretty brilliant, protecting both metadata and message data, like Tor, but adds a third layer in securing “against adversaries that observe and tamper with all network traffic,” the researchers write. “Vuvuzela’s key insight is to minimize the number of variables observable by an attacker, and to use differential privacy techniques to add noise to all observable variables in a way that provably hides information about which users are communicating.”

Vuvuzela may very-well be the next step in anonymous browsing. However, this system isn't ready for deployment. It has limitations it needs to overcome before it's ready, but it shows what the future of anonymous browsing might look like.

Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at PCMag.com where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker

Photo Credit: CLEMENS BILAN / Getty Staff
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