How Do Tor Users Interact With Onion Services?


Philipp Winter, Anne Edmundson, and Laura M. Roberts, Princeton University; Agnieszka Dutkowska-Żuk, Independent; Marshini Chetty and Nick Feamster, Princeton University


Onion services are anonymous network services that are exposed over the Tor network. In contrast to conventional Internet services, onion services are private, generally not indexed by search engines, and use self-certifying domain names that are long and difficult for humans to read. In this paper, we study how people perceive, understand, and use onion services based on data from 17 semi-structured interviews and an online survey of 517 users. We find that users have an incomplete mental model of onion services, use these services for anonymity, and have vary- ing trust in onion services in general. Users also have difficulty discovering and tracking onion sites and authenticating them. Finally, users want technical improvements to onion services and better information on how to use them. Our findings suggest various improvements for the security and usability of Tor onion services, including ways to automatically detect phishing of onion services, clearer security indicators, and better ways to manage onion domain names that are difficult to remember.

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@inproceedings {217466,
author = {Philipp Winter and Anne Edmundson and Laura M. Roberts and Agnieszka Dutkowska-{\.Z}uk and Marshini Chetty and Nick Feamster},
title = {How Do Tor Users Interact With Onion Services?},
booktitle = {27th {USENIX} Security Symposium ({USENIX} Security 18)},
year = {2018},
isbn = {978-1-931971-46-1},
address = {Baltimore, MD},
pages = {411--428},
url = {},
publisher = {{USENIX} Association},