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Ph.D. Dissertation Proposal Defense New Perspectives About the Tor Ecosystem: Integrating Structure with Information By Mahdieh Zabihimayvan

Tuesday, December 3, 2019, 1 pm to 3 pm
405 Russ Engineering - Tait Conference Room
Current Students

Ph.D. Committee:  Drs. Derek Doran (advisor), Michael Raymer, Krishnaprasad Thirunarayan, and Amir Zadeh (Department of Information Systems & Supply Chain Management)


Tor is the most popular dark network in the world. Its noble uses, including as a platform for free speech and information dissemination under the guise of true anonymity, make it an important socio-technical system in society. Although activities in socio-technical systems are driven by both structure and information, past studies on evaluating Tor investigate its structure or information exclusively and narrowly, which inherently limits our understanding of Tor. This dissertation bridges this gap by contributing insights into the logical structure of Tor, the types of information the service hosts, and the interplay between structure and content. These insights arise from three studies:

First, we perform a comprehensive crawl of the Tor dark Web and, through topic and network analysis, characterize the types of information and services hosted across a broad swath of Tor domains and their hyperlink relational structure. We recover nine domain types defined by the information they host and, among other findings, unveil how marketplaces of illegal drugs and services do emerge as the dominant type of Tor domain. We also present measurements that indicate how some types of domains intentionally silo themselves from the rest of Tor. Second, we study the potential for thought-to-be isolated information on the dark Web to be leaked into the public surface Web by providing a broad evaluation on the network of referencing from Tor to surface Web. Results recover the dark-to-surface network as a single massive connected component where over 90% of Tor hidden services have at least one link to the surface world despite their interest in being isolated from surface Web tracking. To further investigate the interplay between the structure and information of Tor, we propose to study the structural identity of Tor domains as a potential future extension of this study.

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