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alt.anonymous.messages considered harmful

alt.anonymous.messages considered harmful.

The advantage of using an anonymous message pool over using a chained
reply block is, of course, the huge number of potential recipients.
However, there are a number of problems, including a serious attack.
Some of them could be avoided with a slightly different approach.

1. When reading news on a server not under her direct control, Alice
lets leak information (article selection, time used per article),
so that she loses the additional security of using a message pool.
She can avoid this by processing alt.anonymous.messages off line.

2. By sending messages of a certain size and number to a pseudonymous
address, an attacker can find out that the pseudonymous user
participates in the pool: The encrypted messages are public;
encryption does not affect size and number of messages.

This information is also available at the alias server. That is not a
problem as such. Anonymity is protected by the size of the pool.

In combination with 1., this attack can lead to disclosure of a

3. Denial of service attack. If the attacker can delay or suppress
delivery of messages to a subset of the recipients, the pseudonym's
reaction to the message or lack thereof reveals which subset the user
belongs to. He can track down the pseudonym to Alice with O(log(n))

This is a practical attack, not restricted to a single point of failure
such as the local news server: Persons at well-connected Usenet sites
can send cancel (or superseding) messages with restricted distribution
by use of the Distribution: and Path: lines.

Those who do get the message, can not notice a cancel attack; those
who don't, would have to carefully search for suspicious Supersedes:
lines and monitor the control newsgroup. A denial of service attack by
manipulated Path: header cannot be detected by the victim.

Denial of service attacks could be made somewhat less feasible by
making the pool accessible as a mailing list and via http.
Some problems not related to security (such as restricted availability
and bogus cross-posted traffic in the newsgroup) could also be solved
by reproducing the encrypted posts to alt.anonymous.messages in a
mailing list.

Identification of encrypted messages as needed for 2. and helpful for
3. can be prevented by using a fixed-size message format and inserting
cover messages.

If these messages are numbered and signed by the alias server, users
can detect denial of service attacks (but not distinguish them from
network errors) and try to get the messages through another channel.

For perfect security, however, feedback from all participants would be
required during transmission of the message. This is hardly possible.
So, for highest security return addresses, an "everyone a remailer"
mix net might be the better solution.