Do You See What I See? Differential Treatment of Anonymous Users

TitleDo You See What I See? Differential Treatment of Anonymous Users
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsKhattak, S., Fifield D., Afroz S., Javed M., Sundaresan S., Paxson V., Murdoch S. J., & McCoy D.
Published inProceedings of the Network and Distributed System Security Symposium (NDSS)
Date Published02/2016

The utility of anonymous communication is undermined by a growing number of websites treating users of such services in a degraded fashion. The second-class treatment of anonymous users ranges from outright rejection to limiting their access to a subset of the service’s functionality or imposing hurdles such as CAPTCHA-solving. To date, the observation of such practices has relied upon anecdotal reports catalogued by frustrated anonymity users. We present a study to methodically enumerate and characterize, in the context of Tor, the treatment of anonymous users as second-class Web citizens.

We focus on first-line blocking: at the transport layer, through reset or dropped connections; and at the application layer, through explicit blocks served from website home pages. Our study draws upon several data sources: comparisons of Internet-wide port scans from Tor exit nodes versus from control hosts; scans of the home pages of top-1,000 Alexa websites through every Tor exit; and analysis of nearly a year of historic HTTP crawls from Tor network and control hosts. We develop a methodology to distinguish censorship events from incidental failures such as those caused by packet loss or network outages, and incorporate consideration of the endemic churn in web-accessible services over both time and geographic diversity. We find clear evidence of Tor blocking on the Web, including 3.67% of the top-1,000 Alexa sites. Some blocks specifically target Tor, while others result from fate-sharing when abuse-based automated blockers trigger due to misbehaving Web sessions sharing the same exit node.

ICSI Research Group

Networking and Security