A mix network (also known as a mixnet) is a type of anonymous communication network that protects the communication between individuals on the network with protocols that resist traffic analysis . What is a Mix Network?
What is a Mix Network?
While most current internet traffic is encrypted to protect its contents, analyzing traffic patterns can leak a staggering amount of metadata that allows attackers to infer identity and relationships between users as well as the potential nature of the content of their messages. Encryption provides message confidentiality and integrity but does nothing to hide who is sending and receiving said messages. The identities of the communicating parties using the Internet Protocol (IPv4/IPv6) are typically leaked to many intermediary Internet infrastructure operators in the network.
Other examples of metadata leaked by common network protocols include:
- Geographic location
- Message sender
- Message receiver
- Message sent time
- Message received time
- Message size
- Sequence of messages
- Frequency of sent messages
- Frequency of received messages
An encrypted messaging system that leaks the identity of message senders and recipients also leaks entire social graphs of its users. Often these so-called “secure messaging” systems are a group of centralized servers owned by one company, such as Amazon web hosting. These systems act as focal points for metadata collection by a variety of parties, including retailers and government actors.
Since David Chaum published his seminal paper on anonymous communication, “Untraceable electronic mail, return addresses, and digital pseudonyms” in 1979, over 40 years of academic research have taken place to explore potential anonymous communication options. However, mix networks remain the most practical in terms of computational overhead, latency, and bandwidth overhead.
Other options currently available for anonymous network design tend to have downsides that limit their performance. Tor is the most widely used anonymous communications network; however, it does not offer strong anonymity properties. Tor can be trivially broken with short-term timing correlation attacks. With clear benefits and protection against such attacks, mix networks remain the best option for strong anonymity on a massive scale.
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