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I just got a couple of requests for information about PipeNet and I
realized that I never did make my final description of it public. The
attached informal write-up was done shortly after Crypto '96 as a result
of discussions with Hal Finney, David Wagner, and Eric Hughes. I haven't
worked on it since then, mostly because the Onion Routing project is doing
similar work and appears to be much better funded (I did send them a copy
of this write-up per their request).
Consider a network of processors which send messages to each other
asynchronously. We assume that each node is identified by its public key,
and that links between nodes are secure. The adversary may control a
fixed subset of the nodes. However all messages between any two honest
nodes are confidential and always arrive (unmodified) in the order sent
(this can be achieved with a standard transport level security protocol).
The protocol is based on the idea of virtual link encryption.
After an anonymous connection is established, the originating node sends a
constant stream of (constant size) packets to a second node at a fixed
rate. The second node shuffles the packets it receives during a time unit
and forwards them in random order to others.
A connection is a path in the network. The first node in the path is the
caller, and the last node is the receiver. The rest are called switches.
Anonymity in this scheme is asymmetric - the caller is anonymous, but not
the receiver. Each node in the path shares a key with the caller and
knows the nodes immediately in front of and behind it. Every pair of
adjacent nodes shares a link id.
Each switch in the path therefore has a key and two associated ids. Call
the id that it shares with the previous node (the one closer to the
caller) type A, and call the other id type B. For each id, the switch
expects exactly one packet tagged with that id in each time unit. When it
receives a packet tagged with a type A id, it decrypts that packet with
the associated key, tags it with the corresponding type B id, and forwards
it to the next node. When it receives a packet tagged with a type B id,
it encrypts the packet with the associated key, tags it with the
corresponding type A id, and forwards it to the previous node. The
forwarding is always done at the end of the time unit, and the order in
which packets are sent is random.
For each packet going from the caller to the receiver, the caller must
multi-encrypt it with the keys it shares with each of the nodes in the
path, starting with the receiver. It then sends the packet to the first
switch tagged with the appropriate link id. Each switch will strip a
layer of encryption and forward the packet to the next node. For a packet
going from the receiver to the caller, the receiver encrypts it with the
key it shares with the caller and sends it to the last switch in the path.
Each switch will add a layer of encryption and forward the packet to the
To establish a connection, the caller (N0) performs the following steps:
1. Select a node (N1) at random and establish a key (K1) and link id (S1)
2. Select another node (N2) at random.
3. Request that N1 establish a link id (S2) with N2.
4. Establish a key (K2) with N2 through N1.
5. Request that N1 use K1 to decrypt all messages tagged with S1, tag the
decrypted message with S2 and forward them to N2. Also request that N1
use K1 to encrypt all messages tagged with S2, tag the encrypted messages
with S1 and forward them to N0.
6. Repeat steps 2 to 4 l-2 times. (Name the i-th node, key, and id Ni,
Ki, and Si respectively.)
7. Repeat steps 2 to 4 a final time, but with the receiver node (Nl)
instead of a random node.
We assumed earlier that communications links between honest nodes are
vulnerable to delay attacks. Therefore we must ensure that link delays do
not reveal traffic information. Each node expects one packet from each
link id in each time unit. Extra packets are queued for processing in
later time units. However, if it does not receive a packet for a link id
in a particular time unit, it stops normal processing of packets for that
time unit and queues all packets. This ensures that any delay is
propagated through the entire network and cannot be used to trace a
The process of making and breaking connections must also not leak
information. This can be done by using a protocol analogous to mix-net.
Link forming/destroying requests are queued and performed in batches in a
way similar to queuing and mixing of e-mail in a mix-net.