In cryptography, forward secrecy (also known as perfect forward secrecy or PFS) is a property of key-agreement protocols ensuring that a session key derived from a set of long-term keys cannot be compromised if one of the long-term keys is compromised in the future. The key used to protect transmission of data must not be used to derive any additional keys, and if the key used to protect transmission of data is derived from some other keying material, then that material must not be used to derive any more keys. In this way, compromise of a single key permits access only to data protected by that single key.
Forward secrecy was originally introduced by Whitfield Diffie, Paul van Oorschot, and Michael James Wiener. It used to describe a property of the Station-to-Station protocol (STS), where the long-term secrets are private keys.
Annex D.5.1 of IEEE 1363-2000 discusses the related one-party and two-party forward secrecy properties of various standard key agreement schemes.
Perfect forward secrecy
A public-key system demonstrates a property referred to as perfect forward secrecy when it:
- generates random public keys per session for the purposes of key agreement, and
- does not use any sort of deterministic algorithm in doing so.
This means that the compromise of one message cannot lead to the compromise of others, and also that there is not a single secret value which can lead to the compromise of multiple messages.
This is not to be confused with the concept of perfect secrecy demonstrated by one-time pads, where the ciphertext reveals no information whatsoever and appears completely random.
Forward secrecy is designed to prevent the compromise of a long-term secret key from affecting the confidentiality of past conversations. However, forward secrecy (including perfect forward secrecy) cannot defend against a successful cryptanalysis of the underlying ciphers being used, since a cryptanalysis consists of finding a way to decrypt an encrypted message without the key, and forward secrecy only protects keys, not the ciphers themselves. A patient attacker can capture a conversation whose confidentiality is protected through the use of public-key cryptography and wait until the underlying cipher is broken (e.g. large quantum computers could be created which allow the discrete logarithm problem to be computed quickly). This would allow the recovery of old plaintexts even in a system employing forward secrecy. It should be noted that such attacks are purely theoretical.
- Forward secrecy is an optional feature in IPsec (RFC 2412).
- Off-the-Record Messaging, a cryptography protocol and library for many instant messaging clients, provides forward secrecy as well as deniable encryption.
- In theory, Transport Layer Security (TLS) can choose appropriate ciphers since SSLv3, but in everyday practice many implementations have refused to offer forward secrecy or only provide it with very low encryption grade. OpenSSL supports forward secrecy using elliptic curve Diffie–Hellman since version 1.0, with a computational overhead of approximately 15%.
Forward secrecy is seen as an important security feature by several large Internet information providers. Since late 2011, Google has provided forward secrecy with TLS by default to users of its Gmail service, along with Google Docs and encrypted search among other services. Since November of 2013, Twitter has provided forward secrecy with TLS to users of its service. As of April 2014[update], 6.3% of TLS-enabled websites are configured to use cipher suites that provide forward secrecy to web browsers.
- IEEE 1363-2000: IEEE Standard Specifications For Public Key Cryptography. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2000. http://grouper.ieee.org/groups/1363/
- Diffie, Whitfield; van Oorschot, Paul C.; Wiener, Michael J. (June 1992). "Authentication and Authenticated Key Exchanges". Designs, Codes and Cryptography. 2 pages=107–125 (2): 107. doi:10.1007/BF00124891. Retrieved 2013-09-07.
- Jablon, David P. (October 1996). "Strong Password-Only Authenticated Key Exchange". ACM Computer Communication Review 26 (5): 5–26. doi:10.1145/242896.242897. Retrieved 2013-09-07.
- Discussion on the TLS mailing list in October 2007
- "Protecting data for the long term with forward secrecy". Retrieved 2012-11-05.
- Vincent Bernat. "SSL/TLS & Perfect Forward Secrecy". Retrieved 2012-11-05.
- Hoffman-Andrews, Jacob. "Forward Secrecy at Twitter". Twitter. Twitter. Retrieved 25 November 2013.
- As of April 6, 2014. "SSL Pulse: Survey of the SSL Implementation of the Most Popular Web Sites". Retrieved 2014-04-08.
- RFC 2412 IETF, H. Orman. The OAKLEY Key Determination Protocol
- Forward-secure-survey An overview
- Forward Secrecy can block the NSA from secure web pages, but no one uses it Computerworld June 21, 2013
- SSL: Intercepted today, decrypted tomorrow Netcraft June 25, 2013
- Deploying Forward Secrecy SSL Labs June 25, 2013