Tor, the world’s largest and most well-known “onion router” network, offers a degree of anonymity that has made it a popular tool of journalists, dissidents, and everyday Internet users who are trying to avoid government or corporate censorship (as well as Internet drug lords and child pornographers). But one thing that it doesn’t offer is speed—its complex encrypted “circuits” bring Web browsing and other tasks to a crawl. That means that users seeking to move larger amounts of data have had to rely on virtual private networks—which while they are anonymous, are much less protected than Tor (since VPN providers—and anyone who has access to their logs—can see who users are).
A group of researchers—Chen Chen, Daniele Enrico Asoni, David Barrera, and Adrian Perrig of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zürich and George Danezis of University College London—may have found a new balance between privacy and performance. In a paper published this week, the group described an anonymizing network called HORNET (High-speed Onion Routing at the NETwork layer), an onion-routing network that could become the next generation of Tor. According to the researchers, HORNET moves anonymized Internet traffic at speeds of up to 93 gigabits per second. And because it sheds parts of Tor’s network routing management, it can be scaled to support large numbers of users with minimal overhead, they claim.