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Untraceable Communication Guaranteed

By MIT News

December 7, 2015

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An untraceable text-messaging system designed to foil even the most powerful adversaries was unveiled by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers at ACM's Symposium on Operating Systems Principles (SOSP) in October.

The researchers say the system delivers a strong mathematical guarantee of user anonymity, while enabling the exchange of text messages about once a minute.

The system buries telltale traffic patterns in spurious data or "noise." A user leaves a message for another user at a predefined location and the other user retrieves it, but the system adds multiple layers of obfuscation to cover the users' trails. The system employs three servers, with each message sent through the system enveloped in three layers of encryption, which are successfully peeled off by each server. The first two servers also randomly permute the order of the messages, and only the final server sees which messages are bound for which memory addresses. However, even if that has been compromised, adversaries cannot tell whose message ended up where.

When the initial server passes on the messages, it also generates bogus messages with their own encrypted destinations, as does the second server; this makes it nearly impossible for the adversary to ascertain even whether any of the messages arriving within the same time window arrived at the same destination.

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