Monthly News Update (April 2019)


The Panoramix grant project funded by the European Commission has officially ended but the Katzenpost free software project lives on. Masala and I continue to work on Katzenpost for grant money given to us by Samsung.

We recently learned a few things about mixnet design in a series of design meetings. The conclusions from our learnings is too much information and detail for this here post. However I will summarize some of our conclusions below. Our discussions usually revolved around mixnet CRDT applications, client reliability, message spool server design, client decoy traffic and, preventing attacks: statistical disclosure and active confirmation attacks.

Although far from complete, we added some design considerations to the following draft specification documents:

The new Katzenpost mixnet design will work as follows:

  • Clients will NOT send each other messages directly to each other’s Provider. A client’s Provider and spool ID is kept secret while clients share remote spool identities and remote spool Providers with each other instead. This allows a threat model of mutual distrust between clients. This design can help prevent clients from leaking more metadata such as geographical location.

  • Messages are encrypted as follows: Firstly, the higher layer communications channel mechanism will use a modern cryptographic ratchet for forward secrecy and post compromise security properties. However, this ciphertext will be encapsulated by the Noise X oneway handshake. The nonce used by Noise X ensures that even if the client transmits the ratchet ciphertext, the Noise X ciphertext will always look different. This accomplishes our goal of not leaking retransmissions to spool Providers.

  • Spool servers are now kept outside of the Katzenpost mix server source repository. That is to say, we make use of a plugin system for our mix server so that Providers can add arbitrary services to the mix network. We intend to use an iterative approach to designing and implementing remote message spools. The basic messaging use case as described above can be improved in the future by implementing the message spools as CRDT’s. This will allow spools to be replicated and this eliminates single points of failure in the network. In contrast the original Loopix design, each client has a single message spool on their Provider. If this Provider has an outage then that client will be unable to access their message spool.

  • Clients and mixnet plugin services will together optionally make use of a publish subscribe protocol.

  • Clients will send normal and decoy traffic in accordance with the timing provided by the original Loopix tuning parameters: λP, λL, λD, λM.

Our mission is to enable other communications software projects to use mix networks to reduce their metadata leakage. To that end we have been working on mixnet client libraries that can be used by anyone. Although in the future we are planning to write a generic client daemon which you can interact with using a Unix domain socket. We hope that this will be an effective combination for enabling other projects to use a Katzenpost mix network.

Although we are still in an unstable and rapid development phase we made some recent improvements to the Katzenpost mix server:

  • Made it support running in networked environments with NAT devices.

  • Added a new plugin system which is hopefully less annoying to use than our existing gRPC based plugin system. The new plugin system uses CBOR over HTTP over Unix domain sockets. Katzenpost mix server plugins allow you to add arbitrary query/response services to your mix network. That is, you send a SURB and a query payload to a service and it can send one reponse using that SURB.

I’ve provided some “echo” service plugins as examples of how to write plugins for Katzenpost in our server_plugins repo:

HOWEVER, we have for over a year supported BTC and Zcash cryptocurrency submitions via the “currency” plugin, here:

Other areas of improvement include fixing some bugs in the Voting Authority server and changing our PKI document to include all the Loopix tuning parameters: λP, λL, λD, λM. Thanks to Masala and Moritz we made recent progress in implementing a continuous integration system that runs kimchi based integration tests.

Yes, Katzenpost is a general purpose transport for message oriented applications. All client applications using the mix network look the same. My “elite dark mixnet wallet” for Zcash will have a traffic profile of λP, λL, λD just like mixnet chat client. Just as soon as we stabilize our client library we will actively seek collaborations with application developers.

I’ve made a few screencasts to explain about mix networks and Katzenpost:


David Stainton