I like the ideas, John. The idea, and the protocol you sketched out, are a little reminiscent of ZRTP ¹ and of tcpcrypt ². I think you can go one step further, however, and make it *really* strong, which is to offer the "higher" or "outer" layer a way to hook into the crypto from your inner layer.
This could be by the inner layer exporting a crypto value which the outer layer enforces an authorization or authenticity requirement on, as is done in ZRTP if the "a=zrtp-hash" is delivered through an integrity-protected outer layer, or in tcpcrypt if the "Session ID" is verified by the outer layer. I think this is a case where a separation of concerns between layers with a simple interface between them can have great payoff. The "lower"/"inner" layer enforces confidentiality (encryption), integrity, hopefully forward-secrecy, etc., and the outer layer decides on policy: authorization, naming (which is often but not necessarily used for authorization), etc. The interface between them can be a simple cryptographic interface, for example the way it is done in the two examples above. I think the way that SSL combined transport layer security, authorization, and identification was a terrible idea. I (and others) have been saying all along that it was a bad idea, and I hope that the related security disasters during the last two years have started persuading more people to rethink it, too. I guess the designers of SSL were simply following the lead of the original inventors of public key cryptography, who delegated certain critical unsolved problems to an underspecified "Trusted Third Party". What a colossal, historic mistake. The "foolscap" project ³ by Brian Warner demonstrates that it is possible to retrofit a nice abstraction layer onto SSL. The way that it does this is that each server automatically creates a self-signed certificate, the secure hash of that certificate is embedded into the identifier pointing at that server, and the client requires the server's public key match the certificate matching that hash. The fact that this is a useful thing to do, and inconvenient and rare thing to do with SSL, should give security architects food for thought. So I have a few suggestions for you: 1. Go, go, go! The path your thoughts are taking seems fruitful. Just design a really good "inner layer" of crypto, without worrying (for now) about the vexing and subtle problems of authorization, authentication, naming, Man-In-The-Middle-Attack and so on. For now. 2. Okay, but leave yourself an out, by defining a nice simple cryptographic hook by which someone else who *has* solved those vexing problems could extend the protection that they've gained to users of your protocol. 3. Maybe study ZRTP and tcpcrypt for comparison. Don't try to study foolscap, even though it is a very interesting practical approach, because there doesn't exist documentation of the protocol at the right level for you to learn from. Regards, Zooko https://LeastAuthority.com ← verifiably end-to-end-encrypted storage P.S. Another example that you and I should probably study is cjdns ⁴. Despite its name, it is *not* a DNS-like thing. It is a transport-layer thing. I know less about cjdns so I didn't cite it as a good example above. ¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZRTP ² http://tcpcrypt.org/ ³ http://foolscap.lothar.com/docs/using-foolscap.html ⁴ http://cjdns.info/ _______________________________________________ The cryptography mailing list email@example.com http://www.metzdowd.com/mailman/listinfo/cryptography