Orchid FAQ

Security and Privacy

What protections does the Orchid app provide?

Basic Internet connections function by transmitting packets of data between two hosts (computers). In order to find their way, packets contain both a source and destination IP address. As packets move from the destination to the source, different routers and physical infrastructure require both of these addresses for the two-way connection to be established and maintained. This means that instantly and over time, the owners of the physical infrastructure are in a position to build a profile of Internet usage on their paying user (you!) and also to block content as the owner sees fit.

Typically these infrastructure owners are ISPs — mobile carriers providing phone data connections, home cable Internet providers, WiFi hotspot operators, and any Internet backbone operators that have peering agreements with user-facing ISPs. In all these cases, the ISP is in an advantaged position to monitor and/or restrict Internet usage. It is common in many countries for ISPs to restrict content so that users cannot load certain websites.

If you are not happy with or do not trust your existing ISP(s), by using Orchid you can currently limit their knowledge to knowing only that you are sending and receiving bytes through Orchid, and completely block their ability to mess with the details of your traffic, unblocking the previously blocked content. They either block all of Orchid or nothing, so if things continue to work after turning on Orchid, then your ISP has allowed "Orchid in general" and cannot manipulate the individual bytes between you and the rest of the Internet, granting you access to the entire Internet.

How can the Orchid app help me with privacy today?

The goal with the Orchid app is to give users insight and control over the network connection of their device. To gain privacy, users configure a circuit in Orchid by setting up an Orchid account and funding it with OXT. Then the Orchid app connects to the Orchid network and selects a node using Orchid’s linear stake-weighted algorithm to serve as a VPN and pays for bandwidth via a continuous stream of tiny OXT nanopayments.

In a single-hop circuit configuration, Orchid provides:

  • Protection from websites seeing your real IP address and physical location

  • Protection from your ISP seeing what websites you are visiting and when

  • Access to the open Internet--once a user can connect to Orchid, they are not restricted by ISP level firewalls and can browse the entire Internet freely

A potential problem with using only a single VPN provider is that the provider running the single node circuit knows both your IP address and the content you are accessing. If the provider maintains logs, those logs could be sold to advertisers or otherwise used against you. In the current VPN marketplace, it is hard to know who is maintaining logs and who is not. For Orchid nodes, we have developed a flexible curation system that gives users a way to pick whom to trust.

Another solution is to trust no single provider with enough information to know both who you are and what information you are accessing. To that end, Orchid supports an advanced feature that allows users to configure multi-hop routes by stringing together multiple nodes into a flexible multi-hop circuit. Orchid currently supports several underlying protocols including the native Orchid VPN protocol and OpenVPN, allowing users to mix and match Orchid nodes with traditional VPN nodes. While the potential is there to protect the user from any one provider knowing enough information to reveal their circuit, this is an advanced feature that is currently "use at your own risk".

How is Orchid private given that it has public payments on Ethereum?

The Orchid app pays for the circuit by sending a continuous stream of tiny nanopayments to providers for the duration of the connection. While the nanopayment architecture locks user funds into a smart contract and only issues on-chain payments to providers very rarely, occasional winning tickets do result in OXT macro-payments posted on the public Ethereum blockchain. When that happens, the user’s Ethereum address, the provider’s Ethereum address, and a timestamp are stored publically on the Ethereum blockchain. Note that the payment address of the provider is not a mapping to any single server; instead it is an arbitrary (and potentially temporary) payment address that the provider created specifically to receive funds. Also, the frequency of how often on-chain payments occur is configurable.

All information gained by a potential network attacker is an advantage. However, consider exactly what information is revealed. For an Orchid user running a single hop circuit: the provider sees the user’s payment address when it accepts service, along with the user’s real IP address and the destination addresses that the user is connecting to (if it maintains logs). Once a rare on-chain payment is made, the user’s payment address and provider’s payment address are stored on Ethereum with a timestamp available to the public.

When considering anonymity, it is important to understand if the user is linked to the OXT used in their circuit. Worst case, if the user purchased OXT on an exchange with their real identity, or the VPN provider used in the circuit maintained logs, then either of those two entities could be compelled to give information that could deanonymize the user. Similarly, a user who paid for a VPN service that maintained logs with a credit card could be deanonymized with just one entity being compelled.

A multi-hop circuit affords greater network protections, but to setup a multi-hop Orchid circuit, it would be naive to pay for each hop from the same Ethereum wallet. In that configuration, each provider would be able to see that wallet’s address and potentially use that address to get information about the user. To mitigate that, a better way to setup multi-hop circuits would be to use different wallet addresses for each Orchid hop. If every wallet address is independently dissociated from the user, the full circuit might be quite difficult to link back to the user. Again, multi-hop circuits in Orchid are an advanced feature; use at your own risk.

Orchid is working on additional features to mitigate payment leakage, such as onion payment routing. The idea of this technique is to help obfuscate payments by routing them through several layers of indirection (paying Alice to pay Bob to pay Charlie). The payments then take a different random route than the traffic, preventing the rare occasional public payment records from indirectly revealing route information.

Can Orchid nodes monitor network traffic?

Yes, providers on Orchid could monitor the bytes that come in and out of the Orchid node. However, all traffic carried over Orchid between hops from the user to the exit is encrypted at the Orchid protocol level, which is an additional layer of encryption. The final exit traffic is then decrypted by the exit node and sent to the destination. In many cases the underlying traffic will also be encrypted with protocols such as TLS, providing at least two layers of encryption.

However, not all traffic on the Internet is encrypted and Orchid doesn’t fix that problem. The last hop configured in the active circuit will need to send the user requests out onto the Internet. So if the user sends an HTTP request, which has no SSL/TLS encryption, Orchid will honor that request and cleartext information would be revealed to the Orchid node. For this reason, you should always use SSL/TLS for sensitive Internet connections, even on Orchid. And even SSL/TLS encryption leaves metadata that the Orchid node could monitor, including the destination address, hostname, packet sizes and the timing of packets.

Using Orchid’s multi-hop feature with a three hop circuit would compartmentalize the information any one provider could monitor. With a properly configured multi-hop circuit the origin and destination of the traffic would be anonymized from any one provider, however, that is an advanced feature which is currently "use at your own risk". The way the different Orchid hops are funded has an impact on information leakage that could potentially de-anonymize.

Lastly, the Orchid client randomly selects from a "curated list" of providers. This adds an additional layer of protection as users could pick or make their own curated list of providers that they trust or someone that they trust, trusts. Orchid has a default list of trusted providers that ships with the Orchid app.

So I'm totally private and anonymous when I use a VPN like Orchid?

No.

Orchid is a tool that keeps private certain types of information from ISPs, websites, and providers. Orchid adds layers that separate you from the content you are trying to access. If you login to Amazon, the website will know that it is you and can build out information about what you are doing on their website, even with Orchid enabled. However, your local ISP or network provider will not know you are visiting Amazon. Amazon will not know where you are in the world, and will not get your real IP address. If using at least three hops, no single provider will know your IP address and know that you are accessing Amazon.

Also consider that Orchid is a VPN and that all VPNs have vulnerabilities at the software level. Typical modern browsers that are not "hardened" run all sorts of “active content” such as Java, Javascript, Adobe Flash, Adobe Shockwave, QuickTime, RealAudio, ActiveX controls, and VBScript and other binary applications. This code runs at the operating system level with user account access, meaning they can access anything your user account can access. These technologies could store cookies, bypass proxy settings, store other types of data and share information directly to other sites on the Internet. Therefore, these technologies must be disabled in the browser you are using to improve your security in conjunction with using Orchid.

Other metadata such as the size of the browser window, type of pointing device used and other unique information could be used to "fingerprint" the user and potentially de-anonymize. These browser fingerprinting attacks could affect any VPN users, Orchid included. Hardened browsers can help reduce or eliminate the user’s visible browser fingerprint.

Also certain apps or code running on your device could send de-anonymizing data out to the Internet or third parties. No VPN can prevent attacks from arbitrary software running on your device, such as malware or a virus.

Furthermore, there is active network security research into "traffic fingerprinting" attacks that attempt to reveal private information by monitoring encrypted connections. By watching the timing and size of packets, an adversary monitoring an encrypted connection could get a good idea if a particular user is watching a video, browsing the Internet or downloading a large file, just based on the timing and size of packets. Further analysis could reveal what websites are visited by seeing the sequence of things that are loaded— again, the timing and size of packets along with when requests are made.

Orchid is researching "bandwidth burning" and related techniques to help obfuscate a user’s traffic against these advanced packet timing and size analysis attacks.

Technology

How does the Orchid token (OXT) work?

OXT is a "pre-mined" cryptocurrency based on the ERC-20 standard that will be used to decentralize trust between buyers and sellers in the Orchid marketplace. It also functions as a tool to promote security and healthy market dynamics, as providers can adjust their OXT stake to remain competitive. Read more about OXT here.

How do curated lists work on Orchid?

The Orchid client calls an on-chain ‘curated list’ smart contract which filters the viable nodes on Orchid (that is, nodes that have properly staked) into a custom subset. Initial releases of the official Orchid client will use this feature to prevent certain kinds of attacks from malicious exit nodes (e.g. SSL downgrade attacks) by using a default list consisting of trusted VPN partners.

Overall, the curated lists are a federated reputation solution for determining what VPN providers on Orchid you can trust. The system is fully programmable, exists on-chain and is Turing complete. The list function can take information as an argument, and then use that information to determine, for any given Orchid node, whether you want to connect to that node or not.

The official Orchid client has a default list and can select from different lists. Eventually we expect well known third parties to emerge as curators. Given that this system is on-chain, an entity such as a DAO could manage a list too.

The curated list mechanism is a means for the importation of external reputational trust to supplement the economic incentive based trust provided by node staking.

What is the Orchid Protocol?

The Orchid software is designed to use a custom VPN protocol, similar in scope to OpenVPN or WireGuard. The Orchid protocol is designed for high-performance networking and runs on top of WebRTC, a common web standard, widely used to transmit video and audio from inside browsers. Our protocol is intended to allow users to request access to remote network resources and pay for these resources using OXT via a nanopayments system.

Staking

What is Staking in Orchid?

Staking is a process where one deposits and locks up an asset into an illiquid contract or mechanism in exchange for revenue or rewards. Orchid providers stake OXT tokens in an Ethereum smart contract (the directory) to advertize their services to clients. Orchid clients then select providers randomly, weighted by proportional stake, so that the probability of picking a particular provider is equal to their fraction of the total stake.

Anyone else can also stake on a provider’s address, allowing a form of "delegated staking". Any OXT holder can stake their OXT tokens on providers of their choosing. There are no automatic benefits of staking on someone else’s behalf, but the staking mechanism could be combined with a revenue sharing contract between the staker and the stakee.

Is Orchid Staking like Proof of Stake?

Staking in Orchid is similar to proof of stake systems only in the sense of using stake as a linear weighting mechanism. In most proof-of-stake systems stakeholders can automatically earn revenue just by running nodes with stake. Orchid has no such automatic mechanism, and has no inflation to fund staking. The only source of income on Orchid is customers paying for bandwidth.

How can I earn passive revenue on my OXT?

You can find an Orchid bandwidth provider who is seeking staking partners in exchange for a share of revenue or recurring payments - using any on-chain or off-chain mechanism.

An Ethereum smart contract can be used to help automatically split revenue between a staker and a provider. The staker would stake on the smart contract, and the provider would direct client payments to the smart contract, which would then allow each party to withdraw some parameterized fraction of the funds.

Note that any such delegated staking arrangement (even using on-chain mechanisms) can not guarantee that the provider will actually honor the contract: the provider could easily direct clients to a different payment address. And even if the provider is perfectly honest, there is still ultimately uncertainty in revenue and consequent return on stake.

As an alternative to revenue sharing, providers could send recurring payments to the staker - essentially a stake rental or leasing arrangement. In this case the return is more predictable, but there is still no guarantee that the provider will make the scheduled payments. Again a smart contract could be used to help automate the payments, but can not guarantee the provider will have the necessary funds. There is always risk.

When a staker decides to repoint their stake to a different provider, there is a lengthy withdrawal delay (currently about 3 months). So it is important for stakers to choose providers carefully. Stakers should start with small allocations and slowly increase them based on measured profitability.

Eventually third party websites could provide an interface to help simplify and automate the process of finding, evaluating and staking on Orchid bandwidth providers.