Zero-Knowledge Middleboxes


Paul Grubbs, Arasu Arun, Ye Zhang, Joseph Bonneau, and Michael Walfish, NYU


This paper initiates research on zero-knowledge middleboxes (ZKMBs). A ZKMB is a network middlebox that enforces network usage policies on encrypted traffic. Clients send the middlebox zero-knowledge proofs that their traffic is policy-compliant; these proofs reveal nothing about the client's communication except that it complies with the policy. We show how to make ZKMBs work with unmodified encrypted-communication protocols (specifically TLS 1.3), making ZKMBs invisible to servers. As a contribution of independent interest, we design optimized zero-knowledge proofs for TLS 1.3 session keys.

We apply the ZKMB paradigm to several case studies. Experimental results suggest that in certain settings, performance is in striking distance of practicality; an example is a middlebox that filters domain queries (each query requiring a separate proof) when the client has a long-lived TLS connection with a DNS resolver. In such configurations, the middlebox's overhead is 2–5 ms of running time per proof, and client latency to create a proof is several seconds. On the other hand, clients may have to store hundreds of MBs depending on the underlying zero-knowledge proof machinery, and for some applications, latency is tens of seconds.

Open Access Media

USENIX is committed to Open Access to the research presented at our events. Papers and proceedings are freely available to everyone once the event begins. Any video, audio, and/or slides that are posted after the event are also free and open to everyone. Support USENIX and our commitment to Open Access.

@inproceedings {280026,
title = {{Zero-Knowledge} Middleboxes},
booktitle = {31st USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 22)},
year = {2022},
address = {Boston, MA},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug,