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[liberationtech] Fwd: Haystack

Sky (Jim Schuyler) sky at
Tue Aug 17 19:30:10 PDT 2010

I know Austin "casually" because of common connections and concerns, am trying to meet with him soon here in San Francisco, and will see what insight I can get into their method.  Yes, they have not talked about the method.  I do not currently know how they're obfuscating the traffic.  And I also doubt they'll tell anyone very much about it.

I would also suspect their tech is being vetted - just because of the calibre of people who are interested in it.

I have some ideas about what they might be doing, and it's speculation based on what I know is going on in the field, and not on specific knowledge of how Haystack works.  I wouldn't do it exactly the way they describe it, and I'm guessing that they're not doing it exactly the way they're describing it either.  They only said it would -appear to be- a proxy to the user - not that they are actually using proxies in the same way they've been used in the past.  That would be too obvious and too easy to suppress.

Let me also just comment on the nature and size of online problems and attacks that I have seen recently being addressed in the NGO, free speech and human rights areas.  The attacks are huge.  The resources arrayed -against- NGOs and other entities are huge.  And so the response (or circumvention) has to be industrial strength as well.  We are going to see these larger, concerted, responses surfacing increasingly this year and next.


On Aug 17, 2010, at 12:18 PM, Jim Youll wrote:

> Concerns aired in this discussion from another list has relevance to the
> "safe communications for journalists/activists" conversation that aired
> here recently...
> the message here seems to be wary of Haystack and other technologies that
> have not been analyzed for security exposures by people who know 
> what they're talking about.
> Begin forwarded message:
>> From: Steve Weis <steveweis at>
>> Date: August 17, 2010 11:46:54 AM PDT
>> To: Jerry Leichter <leichter at>
>> Cc: "cryptography at List" <cryptography at>
>> Subject: Re: Haystack
>> I sent an email asking for technical information several months ago
>> and did not receive a response. The FAQ says "the Haystack client
>> connects to our servers which in turn talk to websites on behalf of
>> our users" and "from a user's point of view, Haystack appears to be a
>> normal HTTP proxy". There is no binary or source available for
>> download and the FAQ says "revealing the source code at this time
>> would only aide the authorities in blocking Haystack".
>> Based on those statements, I'm going to speculate that the client
>> connects to a static list of innocuous-looking proxies and that they
>> are relying on keeping those proxies secret. If those servers were
>> known to an authority, it would be trivial to block. I think that is
>> why they're making the unrealistic assumption that an authority will
>> not be able to reverse engineer or even monitor traffic from a client.
>> On Tue, Aug 17, 2010 at 12:57 AM, Jerry Leichter <leichter at> wrote:
>>> The mainstream press is full of discussion for a new program, Haystack,
>>> developed by a guy name Austin Heap and sponsored by the Censorship Research
>>> Center as a new kind of secure proxy.  See
>>> for some information.
>>> As described, the program relies on some kind of steganography to hide
>>> encrypted connections inside of connections to "approved" sites.  It was
>>> specifically designed to help Iranian dissidents maintain connections in the
>>> face of active government efforts to locate and block proxies and Tor entry
>>> and exit nodes.
>>> A Google search reveals absolutely no technical information about exactly
>>> what Haystack does or now it does it.  The program is available on multiple
>>> platforms but is closed source - the FAQ linked to above discusses this,
>>> citing fears that making the source available would help censors.
>>> Anyone know anything more about what Haystack is actually doing?
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