REVOCATION — Ego key revocation

The REVOCATION subsystem is responsible for key revocation of Egos. If a user learns that their private key has been compromised or has lost it, they can use the REVOCATION system to inform all of the other users that their private key is no longer valid. The subsystem thus includes ways to query for the validity of keys and to propagate revocation messages.


When a revocation is performed, the revocation is first of all disseminated by flooding the overlay network. The goal is to reach every peer, so that when a peer needs to check if a key has been revoked, this will be purely a local operation where the peer looks at its local revocation list. Flooding the network is also the most robust form of key revocation — an adversary would have to control a separator of the overlay graph to restrict the propagation of the revocation message. Flooding is also very easy to implement — peers that receive a revocation message for a key that they have never seen before simply pass the message to all of their neighbours.

Flooding can only distribute the revocation message to peers that are online. In order to notify peers that join the network later, the revocation service performs efficient set reconciliation over the sets of known revocation messages whenever two peers (that both support REVOCATION dissemination) connect. The SET service is used to perform this operation efficiently.

Revocation Message Design Requirements

However, flooding is also quite costly, creating O(|E|) messages on a network with |E| edges. Thus, revocation messages are required to contain a proof-of-work, the result of an expensive computation (which, however, is cheap to verify). Only peers that have expended the CPU time necessary to provide this proof will be able to flood the network with the revocation message. This ensures that an attacker cannot simply flood the network with millions of revocation messages. The proof-of-work required by GNUnet is set to take days on a typical PC to compute; if the ability to quickly revoke a key is needed, users have the option to pre-compute revocation messages to store off-line and use instantly after their key has expired.

Revocation messages must also be signed by the private key that is being revoked. Thus, they can only be created while the private key is in the possession of the respective user. This is another reason to create a revocation message ahead of time and store it in a secure location.

libgnunetrevocation libgnunetrevocation ——————-

The REVOCATION API consists of two parts, to query and to issue revocations.

Querying for revoked keys

GNUNET_REVOCATION_query is used to check if a given ECDSA public key has been revoked. The given callback will be invoked with the result of the check. The query can be canceled using GNUNET_REVOCATION_query_cancel on the return value.

Preparing revocations

It is often desirable to create a revocation record ahead-of-time and store it in an off-line location to be used later in an emergency. This is particularly true for GNUnet revocations, where performing the revocation operation itself is computationally expensive and thus is likely to take some time. Thus, if users want the ability to perform revocations quickly in an emergency, they must pre-compute the revocation message. The revocation API enables this with two functions that are used to compute the revocation message, but not trigger the actual revocation operation.

GNUNET_REVOCATION_check_pow should be used to calculate the proof-of-work required in the revocation message. This function takes the public key, the required number of bits for the proof of work (which in GNUnet is a network-wide constant) and finally a proof-of-work number as arguments. The function then checks if the given proof-of-work number is a valid proof of work for the given public key. Clients preparing a revocation are expected to call this function repeatedly (typically with a monotonically increasing sequence of numbers of the proof-of-work number) until a given number satisfies the check. That number should then be saved for later use in the revocation operation.

GNUNET_REVOCATION_sign_revocation is used to generate the signature that is required in a revocation message. It takes the private key that (possibly in the future) is to be revoked and returns the signature. The signature can again be saved to disk for later use, which will then allow performing a revocation even without access to the private key.

Issuing revocations

Given a ECDSA public key, the signature from GNUNET_REVOCATION_sign and the proof-of-work, GNUNET_REVOCATION_revoke can be used to perform the actual revocation. The given callback is called upon completion of the operation. GNUNET_REVOCATION_revoke_cancel can be used to stop the library from calling the continuation; however, in that case it is undefined whether or not the revocation operation will be executed.

The REVOCATION Client-Service Protocol

The REVOCATION protocol consists of four simple messages.

A QueryMessage containing a public ECDSA key is used to check if a particular key has been revoked. The service responds with a QueryResponseMessage which simply contains a bit that says if the given public key is still valid, or if it has been revoked.

The second possible interaction is for a client to revoke a key by passing a RevokeMessage to the service. The RevokeMessage contains the ECDSA public key to be revoked, a signature by the corresponding private key and the proof-of-work. The service responds with a RevocationResponseMessage which can be used to indicate that the RevokeMessage was invalid (e.g. the proof of work is incorrect), or otherwise to indicate that the revocation has been processed successfully.

The REVOCATION Peer-to-Peer Protocol

Revocation uses two disjoint ways to spread revocation information among peers. First of all, P2P gossip exchanged via CORE-level neighbours is used to quickly spread revocations to all connected peers. Second, whenever two peers (that both support revocations) connect, the SET service is used to compute the union of the respective revocation sets.

In both cases, the exchanged messages are RevokeMessages which contain the public key that is being revoked, a matching ECDSA signature, and a proof-of-work. Whenever a peer learns about a new revocation this way, it first validates the signature and the proof-of-work, then stores it to disk (typically to a file $GNUNET_DATA_HOME/revocation.dat) and finally spreads the information to all directly connected neighbours.

For computing the union using the SET service, the peer with the smaller hashed peer identity will connect (as a "client" in the two-party set protocol) to the other peer after one second (to reduce traffic spikes on connect) and initiate the computation of the set union. All revocation services use a common hash to identify the SET operation over revocation sets.

The current implementation accepts revocation set union operations from all peers at any time; however, well-behaved peers should only initiate this operation once after establishing a connection to a peer with a larger hashed peer identity.