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What is Shadowsocks ?
Shadowsocks is a free and open-source encryption protocol project, widely used in mainland China to circumvent Internet censorship. It was created in 2012 by a Chinese programmer named "clowwindy", and multiple implementations of the protocol have been made available since. Shadowsocks is not a proxy on its own, but typically, the client software will connect to a third party socks5 proxy, speaking the shadowsocks language on the machine it is running on, which internet traffic can then be directed towards, similarly to an SSH tunnel. Unlike an SSH tunnel, shadowsocks can also proxy UDP traffic.
What is Shadowsocks Cloak
Cloak is a universal pluggable transport that cryptographically obfuscates proxy traffic as legitimate HTTPS traffic, disguises the proxy server as a normal web server, multiplexes traffic through multiple TCP connections and provides multi-user usage control. Cloak eliminates any "fingerprints" exposed by traditional proxy protocol designs which can be identified by adversaries through deep packet inspection. If a non-Cloak program or an unauthorized Cloak user (such as an adversary's prober) attempts to connect to Cloak server, it will serve as a transparent proxy between said machine and an ordinary website, so that to any unauthorized third party, a host running Cloak server is indistinguishable from an innocent web server. This is achieved through the use a series of cryptographic steganography techniques.
Since Cloak is transparent, it can be used in conjunction with any proxy software that tunnels traffic through TCP, such as Shadowsocks, OpenVPN and Tor. Multiple proxy servers can be running on the same server host machine and Cloak server will act as a reverse proxy, bridging clients with their desired proxy end. Cloak multiplexes traffic through multiple underlying TCP connections which reduces head-of-line blocking and eliminates TCP handshake overhead. This also makes the traffic pattern more similar to real websites.
Cloak provides multi-user support, allowing multiple clients to connect to the proxy server on the same port (443 by default). It also provides traffic management features such as usage credit and bandwidth control. This allows a proxy server to serve multiple users even if the underlying proxy software wasn't designed for multiple users.
Cloak has two modes of Transport: direct and CDN. Clients can either connect to the host running Cloak server directly, or it can instead connect to a CDN edge server, which may be used by many legitimate websites as well, thus further increases the collateral damage to censorship.