TOR, The Onion Router, browser was developed in early-2000’s to provide anonymity and privacy, first to the military and intelligence users and later on available to everyone for use. NSA itself has crowned this browsing software as the king of privacy and security.
But recently it has been under attack from NSA itself and many more other organizations to de-anonymize the users (Carnegie Mellon researchers recently tried to break the browser and de-anonymize the users. Oh God Why?). NSA is allegedly able to break the anonymity of users who use the older version of FireFox. TOR browsers uses FireFox browser to make use of The Onion Routing technique as FireFox has open code, it is easier for them to tweak it and use it as the browser for anonymity.
Reports suggest that TOP should move on to Google Chrome rather than FireFox to improve their security, but the Lead Developer of TOR project Mike Perry was quoted saying..
Unfortunately, our budget for the browser project is still very constrained compared to the amount of work that is required to provide the privacy properties we feel are important, and Firefox remains a far more cost-effective platform for us for several reasons. In particular, Firefox’s flexible extension system, fully scriptable UI, solid proxy support, and its long Extended Support Release cycle all allow us to accomplish far more with fewer resources than we could with any other web browser.
The Open Technology Fund, which funds all Tor Browser development, commissioned iSEC Partners to look at hardening options for the Tor Browser and provide recommendations for an upcoming feature called the Security Slider. iSEC also suggested Tor Browser test Microsoft’s Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET) for Windows systems.
Tom Ritter and Andy Grant, principal security engineers with iSEC Partners, reported that ASLR(Address Space Layout Randomization) are disabled in Windows and Mac OS X version of TOR. Windows has the fix in development but Mac OS X requires 64-bit versions of the TOR in order to support ASLR.
The report also called for closely following the Chrome developments and replacing memory allocators of Firefox memory allocator with ctmalloc/PartitionAlloc, a mitigation tool native to Chrome that fends off heap-based vulnerabilities and deploys other memory-based defenses currently missing in the Firefox allocator.
Furthermore, the report recommends making use of advanced PartitionAlloc features that reduce the risk of use-after-free vulnerabilities. The report’s findings also were built upon a historical dissection of vulnerabilities in Firefox that determined most were use-after-free memory bugs, in addition to heap-based overflows.
Perry added that it will be looking at adding hardening features to the Tor Browser until Firefox is ready with its multiprocess sandbox architecture, similar to what Chrome currently provides. Mozilla assigned a 10-engineer team to this task in the spring.
It is no secret that in many ways, both we and Mozilla are playing catch-up to reach the level of code execution security provided by Google Chrome, and in fact closely following the Google Chrome security team was one of the recommendations of the iSEC report
Unless either our funding situation or Google’s attitude towards the features we require changes, Mozilla Firefox will remain the best platform for us to demonstrate that it is in fact possible to provide true privacy by design for the web for those who want it. It is very distressing that this means playing catch-up and forcing our users to make usability tradeoffs in exchange for improved browser security, but we will continue to do what we can to improve that situation, both with Mozilla and with our own independent efforts.