Posts Tagged ‘ End-to-end encryption ’

A simple method of key verification for multi-device key exchange

There are tons of devices around with practically no user faced interface at all, which need to communicate securely with other devices. This includes devices such as a wireless thermometer communicating with a HVAC unit or a wireless lock on your door communicating with your phone when you tell it what keys to accept. The risks include violation of privacy, physical damage and economic loss.

With the current Internet of Things trend there will only be more of this type of devices in the future. To be able to use these devices securely you need to ensure there are no room for anybody to attempt to MITM these connections (to intercept it so that they are in the middle and can see and manipulate all data), but practically ensuring that can be incredibly hard if the devices don’t even have a screen.

My idea for how to achieve it securely, with minimal interaction required from the user that links the devices together, is to show a visual pattern derived from a shared key.

But since most devices don’t have any interface beyond a single LED light, that could typically be hard to achieve. But that’s fortunately not a dead end, because the simple solution is to let the two devices you’re linking together both show the exact same on/off blinking pattern, perfectly synchronized, while you hold them edge to edge. If the patterns are identical, they have the same key (details below on how this can be guaranteed). If you see that they don’t blink in perfect synchronization, then you know the devices you are trying to link do NOT have a secure direct connection to each other.

So how do you link them together in the first place? There’s lots of methods, including using NFC and holding them together, temporarily using a wired connection (this likely won’t be common for consumer grade devices), using radio based method similar to WiFi WPS (press a button on both devices), and more. The two options likely to become the most common of those are the simultaneous button press method for wireless devices and NFC. While NFC has reasonable MITM resistance as a result of its design (simultaneously interfering with both parties of a connection is nearly impossible), that doesn’t guarantee that the user will notice an attack (attacking by connecting to the devices one at a time would still work).

So by confirming that two devices have a secure communication link by comparing blink patterns, it becomes easy to ensure configuration can be done securely for a wide range of devices. But how can we be sure of this? What can two devices communicate to allow security through comparing a blink pattern? Thanks to cryptographic key exchange this is easy, since all the devices have to do is to generate a large secret number each and perform an algorithm together like Diffie-Hellman. When two devices perform DH together, they generate a shared large secret number that no other device can know. This allows the devices to communicate securely by using this large number as an encryption key. And it also allows us to verify that it is these two devices that are talking to each other by running that number through a one-way transformation like a cryptographic hash function, and using that to generate the pattern to show – and only the two devices that were part of the same DH key exchange will show the same pattern.

If anybody tries to attack the connection and perform DH key exchange with the devices separately, they will end up having DIFFERENT secret numbers and will therefore NOT show the same blink pattern.

Note that due to human visual bias, there’s a certain risk with showing a pattern with very few components (to barely have more bits than what an attacker can bruteforce) you can’t just display the binary version of the hashed key this way, since the risk is too large that many different combinations of blink patterns would be confused with each other. This can however be solved easily, you can use a form of key expansion with a hash function to give you more unique bits to compare. One way to do this is by doing an iterated HMAC. With HMAC-SHA256 you get 256 bits to compare per HMAC key. So computing HMAC(Diffie-Hellman shared secret key, iteration number) for 10 iterations you get 2560 bits to compare. There’s actually a better way to expand the shared key into enough bits, that’s reliable and fairly independent of what key exchange algorithm you deploy: SHA3’s SHAKE256 algorithm. It’s something kind of in between a hash and a stream cipher, called an extendable-output function (XOF). You get to select how many bits of output you want, and it will process the input data and give you precisely that many bits out. You want 2500 bits exactly? That’s what it will give you. This means that if the user looks at the pattern for long enough, he WILL be able to identify mismatches. 

To achieve strong security, you only need for approximately 100+ pairs of bits to be identical to ensure bruteforce is unachievable – and in this setup, it means the user only needs to be able to verify that 4% of the full pattern is identical. So if you have a blink pattern where the blink rate is at 5 bits per second, continously comparing the pattern for any 20 seconds out of the 512 seconds it would take for the pattern to start repeating would correspond to verifying that 100 bits is identical. Of course the blinking would need to be kept synchronized, which would require the devices to synchronize their clocks before starting and could also require them to keep doing so while the blink pattern is showing to prevent “drift”.

There are of course other possible methods than just on/off blink. You could have an RGB LED to represent multiple bits for every blink. You could also have geometric patterns shown on a screen when holding the screens of two devices up against each other. You could even do the same thing for mechanical/haptic outputs like Braille screens so that blind people can do it too.

What if you can’t hold the two devices physically close to each other? You could use another device as a “courier”. As one example, by letting your smartphone perform key exchange through this method with both devices one by one, it could also then tell the two devices how to connect to each other and what encryption key to use. This way your smartphone would act as a trusted proxy for key exhange. It would also be possible to have a dedicated device for this, such as a small NFC tag with an RGB LED and a smartcard like chip to perform the key exchange with both devices. Using a tag like that would make configuration of new devices as simple as to hold it against the devices and comparing the pattern, and then the connection is secure, with minimal user interaction.

Then there’s the question of how to tell the devices that the key exchange was a success or not. Typically most devices will have at least ONE button somewhere. It could be as easy as one press = success, two presses = start over. If there’s no button, and they are the type of devices that just run one task as soon as they get power, then you could use multiple NFC taps in place of button presses. The device could respond with a long solid flash to confirm a successfull key exchange or repeated on/off blinking to show it did reset itself.

Originally posted here:

Relevant prior art (found via Google, there may be more):;jsessionid=7E99A2B9922A0AE79CF6CAC65634FD8C?doi=;jsessionid=7E99A2B9922A0AE79CF6CAC65634FD8C?doi=

Web-of-Trust DNS

Originally published here, copied below (edits and references coming later):

Previously mentioned on my blog here:

WoT-DNS – Description


TL;DR: A system for deciding where domain names should go based on who you trust.

WoT-DNS is my proposal for a new P2P based DNS system.

This system decides where a domain name like reddit.wot should go based on your trust, as an invidividual; it does not care about the opinion of random strangers. You are the one who choose who’s trusted and who’s not, since it’s using WoT (web of trust). Also, domain names are intentionally NOT globally unique, since the only way to achieve that is with a centralized service or a first-come, first-serve system like Namecoin, and I dislike both those solutions. This means that if you would ask for a sitename like reddit.wot, you could get many results instead of going straight to one site. But whenever one site is trusted (for you) much more than the rest (like reddit’s official site would be), that’s where you’ll go.

Basic idea: Gather site registrations for a domain name from the network and from friends -> calculate your WoT metrics for each of the results -> pick the top site if one stands out at the top as most trusted -> let the application go to that site.


Every participant runs a WoT-DNS client. There are several ways to enable browsers and IM clients, etc, to use this system. One is to run a local proxy where only .wot domains are intercepted, and normal traffic are untouched. When connecting, it would start by asking the WoT-DNS network about who has registered their site with that domain name.

Every client has a unique asymmetric keypair, both regular users and servers have them. Servers additionally generate one unique keypair per registered domain. Registered .wot domains are identified by their key. Each registered domain has at least two addresses: The readable one, such as example-domain.wot, and one that contains it’s public key hash (like I2P, [the 52 base32 characters of the SHA256 hashed public key].key.wot, so “key.wot” are one of those domains you can’t register). That means you can always go directly to a particular site by entering it’s key hash.

A domain registration has to contain at least this: The domain name, the server’s public key, addresses (yes, more than one if you like, useful for load balancing and to additionally specify I2P/Tor addresses along with regular-internet IP addresses). Additionally, you can add all the data that ordinary DNS servers can hold for a domain. Also, it can hold a site name and a description of the site, which is useful for telling sites with the same domain name apart. All registrations are also timestamped. I would also like to see a trusted timestamping system built in, to ensure that nobody claims that their domain registrations are older than they are, and the point is to prevent phishing by faking a site’s age.

Domain registrations are stored in a distributed database. This means that every node keeps local copies of plenty of registrations. Updates will be continously added to the distributed database (such as when IP addresses change), and the old registrations are then replaced (but only if the keys and signature match). I suggest that we use some DHT system (“distributed hash table”) like Kademelia for the database, or something similiar that provides the features we need.

The Web of Trust part:

The keypairs make this possible. Since everybody has a unique key pair that consists of a public key and a secret one (using asymmetric cryptography, public key encryption), PGP makes it possible to create signatures of data that likely can’t be forged in our lifetimes. 2048 & 4096 bit keys using RSA are highly secure (while I prefer larger and safer 4096 bit keys, they’re unfortunately also about 5-6 times slower). Keypairs are both used by the site owners for signing their domain registrations, as well as by users that additionally sign them as a means to show that they trust that that site. You can also sign a site as untrusted.

WoT details: You have a list of trusted people and organizations, including their public keys. Organizations like Verisign (SSL certificate authority) could be predefined for the sake of newcomers, this will make it like SSL out of the box. If a site has been signed by a friend or by a trusted organization your client will detect that and calculate what level of trust (trust metric) that site gets based on it. Since there can be several sites for a domain name, the site with the highest trust metric are the site your client chooses to go to. If both Microsoft and a spammer registered microsoft.wot and only MS has a signature from Verisign, then Microsoft’s site will be more trusted so your client will prefer to go to Microsoft’s site if your client is set to trust Verisign.

If the site in the top don’t have a trust metric that’s high enough (not enough trusted signatures or less than around 30% higher trust than the runner-up) it triggers some an alert (some spam/scam detection should also be built in), then you won’t be sent to the top site right away – instead you get a list of the matching sites, ranked by the trust metrics.

So, how are trust metrics calculated? There are PLENTY of ways. One is to assign various levels of trust to your friends, and then simply take a look at how trusted a site is by the people in your web of trust, such as your friends friend. If it’s fully trusted by somebody you fully trust, then you fully trust the site. If it’s a bit trusted by somebody you trust a bit, it’s just a little bit trusted by you. And that’s just the short version!

Note that a signature of a domain from a user or organization as Verisign aren’t intended as a method to indicate how trustable the site owner is, it’s primarily a means of voting in this case (choosing who gets what domain name). The trust part is secondary, but necessary to make sure that scammers and spammers won’t be able to take over popular domain names to trick people.

So how do you get started? If you want to clear out Verisign and those from the predefined list because you don’t trust them, how do you add people you trust? Well, one way is to “bootstrap” using social networks. Let your client announce on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ that you now are using WoT-DNS with a message that contains the key. When your friends start using WoT-DNS, their clients will automatically find your key and connect to you (if they choose to connect to the same social network). Then you’ll have a list of your friends in your client, and can set the trust levels there. And we don’t need to limit it to social networks.

For site admins: While sites will have one keypair, it’s not the only one. Your client also have your personal (or corporate) keypair that your site’s key will be signed with. This “master keypair” for that site can be kept away from your servers, so you can keep it encrypted on a drive in a safe (obviously you can have multiple separate keypairs, so you don’t need that level of security for the rest). If the server is hacked and somebody get your site key, you can issue a revokation signature with your master key pair, which will tell everybody that the site’s old keys now are revoked.

Then you can restore the servers and generate a new site key, and all the old trust signatures can be “moved over”. This won’t be automatic, but everybody who has signed the site key will get notified about the replacement key pair so that they can sign it.


  • Vulnerable to targeted social engineering. A scammer could try to trick several close friends of some CEO to sign his site, in order to convince the CEO that his site is legitimate.
  • Trust metrics. How do we calculate them? How do we make them hard to “game”/mess with?
  • Evaluating trust. How do you know if your friend can judge if a site is legitimate? How do you yourself know if a site is legitimate?


  • Botnets/spammers that mass-sign phishing sites’ keys. This is only a problem if a significant part of YOUR Web of Trust (your friends) sign the site’s public key and it hasn’t been flagged yet by somebody like Microsoft or Google (they keep their own blacklists already for spam domains for use in Chrome and IE).
  • A bunch of strangers or Group X or Group Y signing the key for a site that’s in conflict with the one you want to go to from Group Z. This will NOT prevent you from getting to the site you want. Just don’t set your client to trust X or Y. But yes, this means that followers of different groups can end up on different sites for the same domain name. This is by design, as I can’t come up with any other solution that isn’t first come, first serve, and that would make domain names globally unique. So I’m allowing domain name conflicts and letting different people get to different sites for them. I do not see this as an issue.
  • Non-static URL:s. We can have those too, but you need to use the key hash domain names. A static URL could look like this: abcdef0123456789abcdef0123456789abcdef0123456789abcd.key.wot/news/global/reddit-is-awesome.php
  • Single point of failures/hacked Certificate Authorities. Remember that we are computing a site’s trust based on what ALL of the nodes that WE trust think of it. A single flag from somebody you trust could alert you about a malicious site. If Verisign were to be hacked, it could be a flag from StartSSL. Or from somebody else. Doesn’t matter. All it needs is one warning. But the scammer has to trick almost everybody you trust into trusting him.

Feedback and questions, please! Please contribute by giving me feature suggestions, or by pointing out possible problems, or by just telling me about any useful idea you might have. All feedback is welcome! If you don’t like my idea, tell me why!

[This is not finished yet, it’s a work in progress…]

Basic blueprint for a link encryption protocol with modular authentication

The last few years we have seen more and more criticism build up against one of the most commonly used link encryption protocols on the internet, called SSL (Secure Socket Layer, or more precisely it’s current successor TLS, Transport Layer Security) for various reasons. A big part of it is the Certificate Authority issued certificates model of authenticating websites where national security agencies easily can get fake certificates issued, and another big part is the complexity who have lead to numerous implementation bugs such as OpenSSL’s Heartbleed and Apple’s Goto Fail and many more, due to the sheer mass of code where you end up not being able to ensure all of it is secure simply because the effort required would be far too great. Another (although relatively minor) problem is that SSL is quite focused on the server-client model, despite that there’s a whole lot of peer-to-peer software using it where that model don’t make sense, and more.

There’s been requests for something simpler which can be verified as secure, something with opportunistic encryption enabled by default (to thwart passive mass surveillance and increase the cost of spying on connections), something with a better authentication model, and with more modern authenticated encryption algorithms. I’m going to make a high-level description here of a link encryption protocol blueprint with modular authentication, that has been inspired by the low-level opportunistic encryption protocol TCPcrypt and the PGP Web of Trust based connection authentication software Monkeysphere (which currently only hooks into SSH). In essence it is about the separation and simplification of the encryption and the authentication. The basic idea is quite simple, but what it enables is a huge amount of flexibility and features.

The link encryption layer is quite simple. While the protocol don’t really have separate defined server / client roles, I’m going to describe how the connections work with that terminology for simplicity. This will be a very high-level description. Applying it to P2P models won’t be difficult. So here it goes (and to the professional cryptographers in case any would read this, please don’t hit me if something is wrong or flawed, please tell me how and why it is bad and suggest corrections so I can try to fix it);

The short summary: A key exchange is made, an encrypted link is established and a unique session authentication token is derived from the session key.

A little longer summary: The client initiates the connection by sending a connection request to the server where it initates a key exchange (assuming a 3-step key exchange will be used). The server responds by continuing the key exchange and replying with it’s list of supported ciphers and cipher modes (prioritization supported). Then the client finishes the key exchange and generates a session key and selects a cipher from the list (if there is an acceptable option on the list), and tells the server what it chose (this choice can be hidden from the network since the client can send the HMAC or an encrypted message or similar of it’s choice to the server). The server then confirms the encryption choice, and the rest of the encryption is then encrypted using that session key using the chosen cipher. A session authentication token is derived from the session key, such as through hashing the session key with a predefined constant, and is the same for both the client and the server, and the token is exposed to the authentication system to be used to authenticate the connection (for this reason it is important that it is globally unique, untamperable and unpredictable). Note that to prevent cipher downgrade attacks the cipher lists must also be authenticated, which could be done by verifying the hashes of the lists together with the session auth token – if the hashes is incorrect, somebody has tampered with the cipher lists and the connection is shut down.

And for the modular authentication mechanism:

The short summary: Authentication is made through both cryptographically verifying that the other end is who he claims to be and verifying that both ends have the same session auth token (it must not be possible to manipulate the key exchange to control the value of the session key and thus the session auth token). It is important that the proof of knowing the session auth token and the authentication is combined and inseparable and can’t be replayed in other sessions, so the token should be used as a verifiable input in the authentication mechanism.

A little longer summary: What type of authentication is required varies among types of applications. Since the authentication is modular, both ends has to tell the other what type of authentication it supports. A public server would often only care about authenticating itself to visitors and not care about authenticating the visitors themselves. A browser would usually only care about identifying the servers it connects to. Not all supported methods must be declared (for privacy/anonymity and because listing them all rarely is needed), some can be secondary and manually activated. The particular list of authentication methods used can also be selected by the application based on several rules, including based on what server the user is connecting to.

There could be authentication modules hooking into DNSSEC + DANE, Namecoin, Monkeysphere, good old SSL certificates, custom corporate authentication modules, Kerberos, PAKE/SRP and other password based auth, or purely unauthenticated opportunistic encryption, and much more. The browser could use only the custom corporate authentication module (remotely managed by the corporate IT department) against intranet servers while using certificate based authentication against servers on the internet, or a maybe a Google specific authentication module against Google servers, and so on. The potential is endless, and the applications is free to choose what modules to use and how. It would also be possible to use multiple authentication modules in both directions, which sometimes could be useful for multifactor authentication systems like using a TOTP token & smartcards & PAKE towards the server with DNSSEC + DANE & custom certificates towards the client. It could also be possible for the authentication modules on both ends to request the continous presence of a smartcard or HSM on both ends to keep the connection active, which could be useful for high-security applications where simply pulling the smartcard out of the reader would instantly kill the connection. When multiple authentication modules is used, one should be the “primary” module which in turn invokes the others (such as a dedicated multifactor auth module, in turn invoking the smartcard and TOTP token modules) to simplify the base protocol.

Practically, the authentication could be done like in these examples: For SRP/PAKE and HMAC and other algorithms based on a pre-shared key (PSK) both sides generate a hash of the shared password/key, the session auth token, the cipher lists and potentially of additional nonces (one from each party) as a form of additional challenge and reply-resistance. If both sides have the same data, then the mutual authentication will work. For OpenPGP based authentication like with Monkeysphere, a signature would be generated for the session auth token, both parties’ public keys and nonces from both parties, and then that signature would be sent stand-alone to the other party (because the other party already have the input data if he is the intended recipient), potentially encrypted with the public key of the other party. For unauthenticated opportunistic encryption, you would just compare the cipher lists together with the session auth token (maybe using simple HMAC together with challenge nonces) to make a downgrade attack expensive (it might be cheaper to manipulate the initial data packet with the cipher list for many connections so that the ciphertext later can be decrypted if one of the algorithms is weak, than to outright pull off a full active MITM on all connections).

I have also thought about how to try to authenticate semi-anonymously, i.e. such that neither party reveals who they are unless both parties know each other. The only way I think this is possuble is through the usage of Secure Multiparty Computation (MPC) and similar algorithms (SRP/PAKE is capable of something similar, but would need on average a total of x*y/2 comparisons of shared passwords if party A has x passwords and B has y passwords). Algorithms like MPC can be said to cryptographically mimic a trusted third party server. It could be used in this way: Both parties have a list of public keys of entities it would be willing to identify itself to, and a list of corresponding keypairs it would use to identify itself with. Using MPC, both parties would compare those lists without revealing their contents to the other party – and if they both are found to have a matching set of keypairs the other recognize and is willing to authenticate towards, the MPC algorithm tells both parties which keypairs matches. If there’s no match, it just tells them that instead. If you use this over an anonymizing network like Tor or I2P, you can then suddenly connect to arbitary services and be able to prove who you are to those you already know, while remaining anonymous towards everybody else.

It would even be possible for an application to recognize a server it is connecting to as a front-end for several services, and tell the authentication manager to authenticate towards those services separately over encrypted connections (possibly relayed by the front-end server) – in particular this allows for secure authentication towards a site that uses both outsourced cache services (like Akamai) and encryption accelerator hardware (which you no longer have to trust with sensitive private keys), making it cheaper to securely implement services like private video hosting. In this case the device performing the server-side authentication could even be a separate HSM, performing authentication towards clients on the behalf of the server.

The protocol is also aware of who initiated the connection, but otherwise have no defined server / client roles. Although the authentication modules are free to introduce their own roles if they want to, for example based on the knowledge of who initated the connection and/or who the two parties of the connection is. It is also aware of the choice of cipher, and can therefore choose to provide limited access to clients who connects using ciphers that are considered having low security, but still secure enough to be granted access to certain services (this would mainly be important for reasons such as backwards compatibility and/or performance on embedded devices).

The authentication module could also request rekeying on the link encryption layer, which both could be done using a new key exchange or through ratcheting like in the Axolotl protocol, or simply through hashing the current session key to generate a new one and deleting the old one from RAM (to limit the room for cryptanalysis, and to limit how much of the encrypted session data can be recovered if the server is breached and the current session keys is extracted).

But what if you already have a link encryption layer with opportunistic encryption or other mechanism that allow you to generate a secure session auth token? You shouldn’t have to stack another layer of encryption on top of it just to be compatible if the one you already are using is secure enough. There’s a reason the link encryption and authentication is separate here – rather than hardcoding them together, they would be combined using a standardized API. Basically, if you didn’t use the “default” link encryption protocol, you would be using custom “wrapper software” that would make the link encryption you are using look like the default one to the authentication manager and provide the same set of basic features. The authentication manager is meant to only rely on the session auth token being globally unique and secure (unpredictable) to be able to authenticate the connection, so if you can achieve that for the link encryption then you’re good to go.

(More updates coming later)


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