Seitan Tokens V2: Say No to TOFU

When Alice wants to invite Bob into her team, and Alice only knows Bob's phone number, she can do so via Seitan Tokens. Typically, sharing of this form is TOFU, or "Trust On First Use". For example, Alice can ask a server to send an email, SMS or push-notification to Bob, and once Bob presents that token back to the server, Alice will let him into the team. Bob has proven ownership of whatever address the server sent the token to. However, in this example, Alice is trusting that the server doesn't send that token to Charlie instead. So Alice must trust the server does what it professes, and she doesn't have mechanism to detect malfeasance. Once Bob (or Charlie) is allowed in, then Alice can at least ensure that Bob (or Charlie) isn't switched out on her at a later date.

Seitan Tokens are better. Assuming Alice has a pre-authenticated channel open with Bob (via iMessage or Signal, let's say), then she can ensure that Bob is getting in, and the Keybase servers cannot coerce her to let Charlie in surreptitiously.

Seitan Tokens V2 enhances the security of the initial seitan (V1) by preventing another admin from stealing an invite Alice generated for Bob. We do this by not storing the secret (iKey) Alice generates for Bob in the sigchain and instead generating an EdDSA keypair, writing only the public key (pubKey) into the sigchain.

High-Level Description

In a Seitan Token exchange, Alice comes up with a random token. She signs a statement of the form: "anyone who proves knowledge of this token can be admitted into the team." Alice need not be the one who allows the invitee into the team; Arnie can do it too if he is a team administrator.

Say that Alice and Arnie are admins of the team acme, and Alice wants to invite Bob into the team. The protocol at a high level is simply:

  1. Alice picks a random 83-bit token (called an iKey), and computes some derived data
  2. The iKey is stretched and interpreted as the private key for an EdDSA keypair
  3. Alice signs the encryption of the public key (pubKey) from the keypair into acme's team signature chain
  4. Alice sends the iKey to Bob over iMessage (or Signal, etc.)
  5. Bob computes the keypair as Alice did and sends signature(msg, bob) to the Keybase servers, where the msg identifies Bob within keybase and an inviteID which is derived from the iKey (see below)
  6. Alice or Arnie decrypts the encrypted pubKey in acme's signature chain, and makes sure the signature that Bob sent verifies with the pubKey.

Detailed Specification

Here is a more detailed specification of the above steps:

Step 1: iKey Generation and Token Derivation

Step 1a: iKey Generation

Alice generates a 17-character random string from the alphbabet abcdefghjkmnpqrsuvwxyz23456789, meaning all letters and numbers, save i, l, o, t, 0, and 1. Insert a + character at position 6 (0-indexed). This is called the iKey or "invitation-key". Examples look like: zmh6ff+2jv975gh56p or bxsnrd+dj882d9mmq9.

We include a + sign so these tokens can be distinguished from team names and email-based TOFU tokens. Any token with a + sign, at index >1, and with more than 6 characters is considered a seitan token by the Keybase client, so that mis-spelled or mangled tokens aren't accidentally sent to the server as team names or email tokens.

Step 1b: Stretch IKey to Discourage Server Brute-Force

The iKey generated in the previous step only has ~83 bits of entropy. It will eventually be transferred over iMessage or even SMS, so we're slightly space constrained here. Thus, Alice further stretches this key via scrypt to discourage brute-force exhaustion of the token space:

Alice computes siKey, meaning "Stretched Invitation Key": siKey = scrypt(ikey, C = 210, R=8, P=1, Len=32)

Step 1c: Computed Derived "Invitation ID"

Whenever Alice wants to invite someone like Bob into a team, and Bob hasn't joined Keybase yet, Alice must generate an "invitation ID" to key her invitation. Usually this is done randomly, but in this case, it's derived from the siKey: inviteID = HMAC-SHA512(siKey, msgpack({ "stage" : "invite_id", "version": 2})[0:15].

That is, the JSON blob {"stage" : "invite_id", "version": 2} is Msgpack-encoded, and is the payload to an HMAC-SHA512 with the siKey as the MAC key. Then the first 15 bytes are used for the "invitation ID".

Step 1d: Generate EdDSA keypair

Using the siKey, we generate an EdDSA keypair as follows privKey = HMAC(sikey, {"stage" : "eddsa", "version" : 2})[0:32] and pubKey = NewEdDSAPublic(privkey) which we use later to produce a signature to verify our invitation id.

Step 2: Encryption and Signing of the pubKey

Step 2a: Encrypt the pubKey

Alice encrypts the pubKey so that she (and other admins) can access it later, potentially on other devices. Alice also attaches a "label" to the iKey, which might correspond to Bob's iMessage handle or phone number. This way, if she wants to cancel the invitation later, she'll have a human-readable label to identify it by.

The data keyAndLabel is computed by packing the two fields into a SeitanKeyAndLabel structure. To encrypt the keyAndLabel, Alice uses the team's secret key, with the symmetric key derivation string: "Keybase-Derived-Team-NaCl-SeitanInviteToken-1". The nonce is a 24-byte random, and the payload is keyAndLabel; these parameters are run though NaCl's crypto_secretbox. Call this key ekey, for "encrypted key". We encrypt this data so we don't leak the human-readable label in the sigchain, i.e. Bob's phone number (the pubKey is included in this encrypted blob, although it is not necessary for any security properties).

Step 2b: Pack the ekey

Alice then versions and packs this ciphertext: pkey = pack([2, g, nonce, ekey]), which g is the "generation" of the team key used to encrypt the pubKey, since it is constantly rotating. This "packed key" (pkey) is then what Alice publishes to herself and the other admins, for future reference.

Step 2c: Sign the pkey into the Team's Chain

Finally, Alice signs the pkey generated in the previous step into her team's chain:

"invites": {
    "writer": [
            "id": inviteID, // See Step 1c
            "name": pkey, // See Step 2b
            "type": "seitan_invite_token"

Step 3: Sending the iKey

Alice then sends the iKey generated in step 1a to Bob over any means at her disposal. Our iPhone app automatically uses iMessage.

Step 4: Bob Accepts the Invitation

When Bob receives the iKey from Alice, he stretches it to make an siKey, and then he can computes the inviteID and EdDSA keypair as Alice has done. With the keypair, Bob can create a signature (sig), and post it to the server, to claim ownership of his spot in the team.

sig = Sign(privKey, pack({"stage" : "accept", "uid" : uid, "eldest_seqno" : q, "ctime" : t, "invite_id": inviteID, "version": 2})).

Bob substitutes the appropriate values for his uid, his eldest_seqno (so Alice can identify Bob modulo any account resets), the inviteID which he computed and a UTC timestamp. He then posts this sig and the inviteID to the server.

Step 5: Alice Completes the Protocol

Once Bob has claimed the spot in the team, the team admins get a message from the Keybase server that they should complete the Seitan protocol. They receive a message with (inviteID, sig) and can read the corresponding pkey out of their team's chain, indexing on iniviteID. The admins verify all important parts of the various keys:

  • That the invite hasn't already been used
  • That the invite hasn't expired
  • That the invite hasn't been revoked
  • That the pkey decrypts properly
  • That the signature matches for the given inviteID, uid, and eldest_seqno using the decrypted pubKey

Assuming all of these cryptographic checks pass, then Alice (or Arnie or any other admin) adds Bob to the group.

Security Analysis

This protocol achieves three goals: (1) it shares a secret between the inviter (Alice) and the invitee (Bob); (2) it shares the ability to verify the secret among all other admins of the group; (3) admins cannot steal the secret generated by a different admin to invite Charlie and (4) it allows Bob to prove knowledge of the secret to the admins who key him into the team. The security in Step (1) depends upon assumptions outside the scope of this system. For instance, if Alice shares the secret with Bob over iMessage, she is trusting that system's TOFU-based key exchange.