Categories: routinganonymous-communicationhidemix

Onion Routing


This pattern provides unlinkability between senders and receivers by encapsulating the data in different layers of encryption, limiting the knowledge of each node along the delivery path.


A system in which data is routed between different nodes.


When delivering data, the receiver has to be known. If the system provides the functionality that the receiver of data should be able to answer, than the receiver should also know the address of the sender. When forwarding information over multiple stations then, in a naive implementation, each station on the delivery path knows the sender and the final destination.


The solution is to encrypt the data in layers such that every station on the way can remove one layer of encryption and thus get to know the immediate next station. This way, every party on the path from the sender to the receiver only gets to know the immediate successor and predecessor on the delivery path.

The goal of this pattern is to achieve unlinkability between senders and receivers.


If there are too few hops, the anonymity set is not big enough and the unlinkability between sender and receiver is at risk. The same problem occurs when there is too few communication going on in the network. The multiple layers of encryption will bloat up the data and consume bandwidth. If all nodes on the delivery path collaborate in deducing the sender and the receiver, the pattern becomes useless.


Alice is a whistle-blower and tries to forward data to Bob who works at the press. She sends the corresponding documents as an e-mail-attachment. Eve monitors the traffic and can see who sent this mail to whom. The next day, police raids Alice's apartment and sends her to jail. Bobs mail account gets seized.

[Known Uses]

The TOR-browser, a web-browser specifically designed to ensure anonymity makes heavy use of onion routing.