[openpgp] Keyholder-configurable fingerprint schemes?

Bryan Ford <brynosaurus@gmail.com> Sat, 07 November 2015 05:07 UTC

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From: Bryan Ford <brynosaurus@gmail.com>
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Date: Sat, 7 Nov 2015 12:31:43 +0900
To: Christian Huitema <huitema@microsoft.com>, openpgp@ietf.org
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Subject: [openpgp] Keyholder-configurable fingerprint schemes?
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In the OpenPGP meeting, Christian brought up an idea that I thought was interesting and perhaps deserved further consideration.

Background summary:  In the meeting a hum-poll was taken on the “single vs multiple fingerprints” question, my interpretation of whose result was that we should *not* create a system that subjects users to juggling multiple, inconsistent fingerprints for the same key (e.g., both a SHA-1 and a newer-hash-function-based fingerprint for the same user’s public key).  A “strong interpretation” of that position is we should pick a single new hash function for “new fingerprints”, and mandate that all keys created with “new signature schemes” (e.g., Ed448) have fingerprints computed using that new scheme, while leaving the fingerprints of old schemes (e.g., RSA/DSA keypairs) fingerprinted using the old approach to preserve consistency.  A “weaker interpretation” of that position would be that for each new signature scheme defined for use with OpenPGP, that scheme should also define a suitable fingerprinting scheme to go along with it, but the fingerprinting scheme may (in principle) vary from one “new” keypair-type to another provided it remains consistent for any given  keypair.  I see that the precise results of this hum-poll weren’t precisely captured in Rich’s meeting minutes - understandable since the precise results (or their proper interpretation) was a bit fuzzy to me as well and I don’t feel confident either to suggest exactly how that part of the minutes should be filled in.

However, later in the meeting Christian brought up an interesting possible approach to strengthening key-fingerprints against prefix-attacks.  For example, Eve wants to impersonate Alice, sees that Alice’s fingerprint is 0x0413ecf2fd5e…, assumes (likely correctly) that most users are never going to eyeball-check more than the first 8-10 digits or so, and simply invests some CPU time into hunting for a public key whose fingerprint starts with (say) 0x0413ecf2fd.  This is of course the essential weakness that the availability of “vanity fingerprints” leads to: if you can feasibly obtain a key with that vanity prefix, then likely so can someone else who wants to impersonate you.

My understanding of Christian’s idea (please correct me if anything is inaccurate) is that we include some form of adjustable proof-of-work (PoW) in the fingerprint creation process.  For example, the first digit of any fingerprint might indicate the general scheme (as suggested elsewhere already), and the second digit of the fingerprint might indicate the “hardness parameter” for the scheme’s proof-of-work.  If I’m generating a new key-pair for myself, my OpenPGP implementation might either allow me to choose the hardness parameter, or simply make some “reasonable” choice on my behalf, such as the strongest PoW that completes in whatever amount of time the user is willing to wait for key generation on his/her device.  I envision a “nice” UI embodiment of this might be  for the key-generator to display, “Strengthening key fingerprint - currently at strength level # - click OK at any time to stop and accept this strength level” - where # gradually increases as the key-generator solves progressively tougher PoWs.

Once this fingerprint-generation process completes, the OpenPGP key-generator then includes the PoW-protected fingerprint in the keypair’s self-signed public key record.  Anyone can quickly and easily verify such a PoW-protected fingerprint against both the public-key it is associated with and the hardness-factor it is configured with (the second digit of the fingerprint).  But now if Eve wants to prefix-attack Alice’s public key by finding another key whose PoW-protected fingerprint matches in the first (say) 10 digits, she must compute on the order of B^8 proof-of-works of the same strength as Alice’s (so the 2nd digit agrees) and using the same scheme (so the 1st digit agrees), where B is whatever base the fingerprint scheme uses (e.g., 16, 32, 64).

This approach to fingerprint generation has the slightly-odd (certainly unconventional) property that a single public/private keypair does not have only one possible, deterministically-computed fingerprint (i.e., a hash of the public key), but rather may in principle have many different possible fingerprints (parameterized by the PoW and the salt that will inevitably be required in that PoW).  This might seem to violate the “fingerprint consistency” property that was discussed at the meeting.  However, as summarized above, my perception is that the main fingerprint consistency concern is that we do not want to subject users to multiple different fingerprints *for a single key*.  In Christian’s scheme, while any key could “in principle” have many different fingerprints, as long as the user generating the key (or the user’s OpenPGP implementation) picks one particular fingerprint and binds that fingerprint to the key in a fully verifiable fashion as part of the self-signed public-key record, the fact that fingerprint-generation is parameterized creates no user-perceivable fingerprint-consistency issue that I can discern.

So because of this, I have to say that I like the idea quite a lot in general, and don’t see too many downsides other than a bit of (significant but I think manageable) implementation complexity in key-generation and key-verification for keypairs produced with new signing schemes.

There is of course the second-order question of “what type of PoW exactly”?  Here are some (slightly random and divergent) thoughts on this design space:

1. Just use a simple Bitcoin-like, hash-based PoW: i.e., if hardness is K, you must hash the public key with different salts until you find one whose hash starts with K zero-bits; then you use the remaining bits of the hash to form the “actual” key fingerprint.  I think this is more-or-less the PoW that Christian was suggesting, and seems like a reasonable baseline design point (and may well be the only one we should consider initially).

2. A “memory-hard” salted-hash scheme, such as the Argon2 scheme to be used for passphrase hashing.  Memory-hardness would be nice to achieve, but schemes like Argon2 may not be directly realistic in this context, because password-hashing schemes such as this by design take a lot of work both at creation *and* verification time, and we probably don’t want to impose seconds-long delays on (say) importing someone’s key into my keyring and verifying its consistency.  It might not be completely a non-starter provided those delays *only* occur during key-import and not overtime I touch or use the key for any purpose, but it would still be a downer.  Are there “memory-hard-to-create, but quick-to-verify” PoW schemes that might be worth considering?

3. Improving on Bitcoin-like PoWs in another direction, the recent “Random Zoo” paper by Arjen Lenstra’s group at EPFL suggested a hard-to-generate, easy-to-check PoW scheme that also tries to be *hard to parallelize*.  In principle it would be very nice if we could achieve such a hard-to-parallelize property in protection against fingerprint-prefix attacks.  However, it’s unfortunately not as simple as just, say, adopting the modular-root-computation primitive that the Random Zoo scheme uses for choosing bias-resistant random numbers, because in the PoW-protected fingerprint application Eve would still have available to her the “embarrassingly parallel” opportunity of running in parallel all her (say) B^8 attempts to create a key whose PoW-protected fingerprint looks like Alice’s.  This suggests the question: is it possible to limit an attacker’s (Eve’s) number of concurrent, parallel “attack threads” using different keys?  I don’t know, and it’s probably not easy, but perhaps worth thinking about.

4. Leading in perhaps an even more far-fetched but interesting direction, is it possible to ensure that Eve must incur some large *financial* cost in order to prefix-attack Alice’s key successfully?  As a straw-man approach, suppose the work-factor encoded in the 2nd digit of such a fingerprint scheme encodes the log2 of a number of Bitcoins, which the key-creator must “verifiably discard” in order to validate the fingerprint.  (It’s easy to create a Bitcoin transaction that verifiably discards money: just sign the coins over to a public key whose value is the output of a hash, to which w.h.p. no one is ever going to be able to find a corresponding private key with which to spend the coins.)  Thus, Alice must obtain and verifiably discard a small amount of Bitcoin - the amount of her choosing - when generating the key; then if Eve wants to prefix-attack Alice’s key she must spend around B^8 times the amount of Bitcoin that Alice spent in order to match the first 10 digits.  The obvious practical issue here is that both the key-generator and anyone importing and checking Alice’s key needs to talk to the Bitcoin network to verify the presence of the relevant coin-discarding transaction in the blockchain.  Again not necessarily a complete show-stopper in principle as long as this typically only has to be done during key-generation and key-import, but still I’m not sure how many OpenPGP implementors necessarily want to incorporate a Bitcoin client into their OpenPGP implementations. :)

At any rate, independent of these varying possible approaches to fingerprint PoWs, I feel like at least the first approach above that Christian suggested (simple PoW) seems practical, offers a nice parametrizable strengthening against prefix attacks, and doesn’t violate the essential consistency issue that users should need to deal with only one fingerprint *per keypair*.  And if we were careful in specifying how the fingerprint-generation and fingerprint-validation mechanism works, we could easily leave the door open to different, further strengthened (and perhaps user-selectable) fingerprint protection mechanisms later.  Thoughts?