Once is Never Enough: Foundations for Sound Statistical Inference in Tor Network Experimentation
Rob Jansen, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory; Justin Tracey and Ian Goldberg, University of Waterloo
Tor is a popular low-latency anonymous communication system that focuses on usability and performance: a faster network will attract more users, which in turn will improve the anonymity of everyone using the system. The standard practice for previous research attempting to enhance Tor performance is to draw conclusions from the observed results of a single simulation for standard Tor and for each research variant. But because the simulations are run in sampled Tor networks, it is possible that sampling error alone could cause the observed effects. Therefore, we call into question the practical meaning of any conclusions that are drawn without considering the statistical significance of the reported results.
In this paper, we build foundations upon which we improve the Tor experimental method. First, we present a new Tor network modeling methodology that produces more representative Tor networks as well as new and improved experimentation tools that run Tor simulations faster and at a larger scale than was previously possible. We showcase these contributions by running simulations with 6,489 relays and 792k simultaneously active users, the largest known Tor network simulations and the first at a network scale of 100%. Second, we present new statistical methodologies through which we: (i) show that running multiple simulations in independently sampled networks is necessary in order to produce informative results; and (ii) show how to use the results from multiple simulations to conduct sound statistical inference. We present a case study using 420 simulations to demonstrate how to apply our methodologies to a concrete set of Tor experiments and how to analyze the results.
View the full USENIX Security '21 Program at https://www.usenix.org/conference/usenixsecurity21/technical-sessions