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Theme fund: NGI0 PET
Start: 2019-06
End: 2019-06
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Tor Bandwidth Scanner

The Tor network is comprised of thousands of volunteer-run relays around the world, and millions of people rely on it for privacy and freedom online everyday. To monitor the Tor network's performance, detect attacks on it, and better distribute load across the network, we employ what we call Tor bandwidth scanners. The bandwidth scanners are run by the directory authorities, which are special relays that maintains a list of currently-running relays. This project will make a number of improvements to the new bandwidth scanner call sbws, to make it easier for directory authorities to deploy it, for relay operators to better diagnose issues and for end users to benefit from increased quality of experience.

Why does this actually matter to end users?

On the internet, every computer by design gets a unique number - a so called internet protocol address (or for short IP address). This address is used to send information from your computer to the other computer you want to communicate with, and of course back. Unlike a traditional radio, you often need to send messages to receive messages on the internet. Computers are a great engineering achievement but they are certainly not magic, and thus they need to be able to somehow find each other. The IP address makes this possible. Unfortunately, the fact that every computer has a unique number opens up the possibility of abuse by dishonest actors. Because even though it is none of their business, breaking privacy is a profitable business. If they link what you do on the left side of the internet to what you do on the right side of the internet, they can create a profile and sell this to the highest bidder - with any bad luck to people that want to use it for nefarious purposes.

While work is under way to replace the design of the internet within the Next Generation Internet initiative, there are multiple ways to avoid your IP address being tracked on the current internet. A popular method to attempt to anonymize ones internet presence is to use the Tor network. Tor is a network of millions of computers and users that send messages among each other to confuse someone watching internet traffic. The network that helps to protect the privacy of journalists, activists, whistleblowers and other users is run by volunteer nodes that bounce communication details around to prevent tracking and snooping.

Like any network, Tor needs to protect itself from attacks and keep up performance so its users can safely and quickly get around online. On the Tor network this can be done with a bandwidth scanner. These scanners are run by special nodes called directory authorities which maintain a list of currently-running nodes on the Tor network. This project will improve the new bandwidth scanner so directory authorities can better use it and diagnose issues on the Tor network more quickly. Keeping closer watch on network performance and vulnerabilities ultimately will improve the performance of Tor and the quality of experience for its users, making it a more attractive alternative to the 'common' internet.

Logo NLnet: abstract logo of four people seen from above Logo NGI Zero: letterlogo shaped like a tag

This project was funded through the NGI0 PET Fund, a fund established by NLnet with financial support from the European Commission's Next Generation Internet programme, under the aegis of DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement No 825310.