Walkie-Talkie: An Efficient Defense Against Passive Website Fingerprinting Attacks


Tao Wang, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; Ian Goldberg, University of Waterloo


Website fingerprinting (WF) is a traffic analysis attack that allows an eavesdropper to determine the web activity of a client, even if the client is using privacy technologies such as proxies, VPNs, or Tor. Recent work has highlighted the threat of website fingerprinting to privacy-sensitive web users. Many previously designed defenses against website fingerprinting have been broken by newer attacks that use better classifiers. The remaining effective defenses are inefficient: they hamper user experience and burden the server with large overheads.

In this work we propose Walkie-Talkie, an effective and efficient WF defense. Walkie-Talkie modifies the browser to communicate in half-duplex mode rather than the usual full-duplex mode; half-duplex mode produces easily moldable burst sequences to leak less information to the adversary, at little additional overhead. Designed for the open-world scenario, Walkie-Talkie molds burst sequences so that sensitive and non-sensitive pages look the same. Experimentally, we show that Walkie-Talkie can defeat all known WF attacks with a bandwidth overhead of 31% and a time overhead of 34%, which is far more efficient than all effective WF defenses (often exceeding 100% for both types of overhead). In fact, we show that Walkie-Talkie cannot be defeated by any website fingerprinting attack, even hypothetical advanced attacks that use site link information, page visit rates, and intercell timing.

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@inproceedings {203876,
author = {Tao Wang and Ian Goldberg},
title = {Walkie-Talkie: An Efficient Defense Against Passive Website Fingerprinting Attacks},
booktitle = {26th {USENIX} Security Symposium ({USENIX} Security 17)},
year = {2017},
isbn = {978-1-931971-40-9},
address = {Vancouver, BC},
pages = {1375--1390},
url = {https://www.usenix.org/conference/usenixsecurity17/technical-sessions/presentation/wang-tao},
publisher = {{USENIX} Association},