Forward secrecy

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In cryptography, forward secrecy (FS; also known as perfect forward secrecy, or PFS[1]) 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.[2]

Forward secrecy has also been used to describe the analogous property of password-authenticated key agreement protocols where the long-term secret is a (shared) password.[3]

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 (for two-party forward secrecy properties compare below 2WIPFS: "2-Way-Instant-Forward-Perfect-Secrecy").

Perfect forward secrecy (PFS)[edit]

A public-key system demonstrates a property referred to as perfect forward secrecy (PFS) 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 perfect forward secrecy.


Cryptographer Daniel J. Bernstein criticized the use of the phrase "perfect forward secrecy", arguing that it gives people the wrong impression of the security benefits that forward secrecy offers, and suggesting that the phrase "key erasure" better describes the concept.[4]



Forward secrecy is seen as an important security feature by several large Internet information providers. Since late 2011, Google provided forward secrecy with TLS by default to users of its Gmail service, Google Docs service, and encrypted search services.[6] Since November 2013, Twitter provided forward secrecy with TLS to its users.[8] Wikis hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation have all provided forward secrecy to users since July 2014.[9]

Facebook reported as part of an investigation into email encryption that, as of May 2014, 74% of hosts that support STARTTLS also provide Perfect Forward Secrecy.[10] As of September 2015, 37.8% of TLS-enabled websites are configured to use cipher suites that provide forward secrecy to modern web browsers.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ IEEE 1363-2000: IEEE Standard Specifications For Public Key Cryptography. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2000.
  2. ^ Diffie, Whitfield; van Oorschot, Paul C.; Wiener, Michael J. (June 1992). "Authentication and Authenticated Key Exchanges" (PDF). Designs, Codes and Cryptography 2 (2): 107–125. doi:10.1007/BF00124891. Retrieved 2013-09-07. 
  3. ^ Jablon, David P. (October 1996). "Strong Password-Only Authenticated Key Exchange". ACM Computer Communication Review 26 (5): 5–26. doi:10.1145/242896.242897. CiteSeerX: 
  4. ^ MinimaLT: Minimal-latency Networking Through Better Security
  5. ^ Discussion on the TLS mailing list in October 2007
  6. ^ a b "Protecting data for the long term with forward secrecy". Retrieved 2012-11-05. 
  7. ^ Vincent Bernat. "SSL/TLS & Perfect Forward Secrecy". Retrieved 2012-11-05. 
  8. ^ Hoffman-Andrews, Jacob. "Forward Secrecy at Twitter". Twitter. Twitter. Retrieved 25 November 2013. 
  9. ^ "Tech/News/2014/27 - Meta". Wikimedia Foundation. 2014-06-30. Retrieved 30 June 2014. 
  10. ^ "The Current State of SMTP STARTTLS Deployment". Retrieved 7 June 2014. 
  11. ^ As of September 3, 2015. "SSL Pulse: Survey of the SSL Implementation of the Most Popular Web Sites". Retrieved 2015-09-12. 

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