||This article or section may contain misleading parts. (August 2012)|
Trusted timestamping is the process of securely keeping track of the creation and modification time of a document. Security here means that no one – not even the owner of the document – should be able to change it once it has been recorded provided that the timestamper's integrity is never compromised.
The administrative aspect involves setting up a publicly available, trusted timestamp management infrastructure to collect, process and renew timestamps.
The idea of timestamping information is actually centuries old. For example, when Robert Hooke discovered Hooke's law in 1660, he did not want to publish it yet, but wanted to be able to claim priority. So he published the anagram ceiiinosssttuv and later published the translation ut tensio sic vis (Latin for "as is the extension, so is the force"). Similarly, Galileo first published his discovery of the phases of Venus in the anagram form.
- The foundations of these operations is evident enough, in fact; but because I cannot proceed with the explanation of it now, I have preferred to conceal it thus: 6accdae13eff7i3l9n4o4qrr4s8t12ux. On this foundation I have also tried to simplify the theories which concern the squaring of curves, and I have arrived at certain general Theorems.
There are many timestamping schemes with different security goals:
- PKI-based – timestamp token is protected using PKI digital signature.
- Linking-based schemes – timestamp is generated such a way that it is related to other timestamps.
- Distributed schemes – timestamp is generated in cooperation of multiple parties.
- Transient key scheme – variant of PKI with short-living signing keys.
- MAC – simple secret key based scheme, found in ANSI ASC X9.95 Standard.
- Database – document hashes are stored in trusted archive; there is online lookup service for verification.
- Hybrid schemes – the linked and signed method is prevailing, see X9.95.
Coverage in standards:
|Scheme||RFC 3161||X9.95||ISO/IEC 18014|
|Linked and signed||Yes|
For systematic classification and evaluation of timestamping schemes see works by Masashi Une.
Trusted (digital) timestamping
According to the RFC 3161 standard, a trusted timestamp is a timestamp issued by a trusted third party (TTP) acting as a Time Stamping Authority (TSA). It is used to prove the existence of certain data before a certain point (e.g. contracts, research data, medical records, …) without the possibility that the owner can backdate the timestamps. Multiple TSAs can be used to increase reliability and reduce vulnerability.
The newer ANSI ASC X9.95 Standard for trusted timestamps augments the RFC 3161 standard with data-level security requirements to ensure data integrity against a reliable time source that is provable to any third party. This standard has been applied to authenticating digitally signed data for regulatory compliance, financial transactions, and legal evidence.
Creating a timestamp
The technique is based on digital signatures and hash functions. First a hash is calculated from the data. A hash is a sort of digital fingerprint of the original data: a string of bits that is practically impossible to duplicate with any other set of data. If the original data is changed then this will result in a completely different hash. This hash is sent to the TSA. The TSA concatenates a timestamp to the hash and calculates the hash of this concatenation. This hash is in turn digitally signed with the private key of the TSA. This signed hash + the timestamp is sent back to the requester of the timestamp who stores these with the original data (see diagram).
Since the original data cannot be calculated from the hash (because the hash function is a one way function), the TSA never gets to see the original data, which allows the use of this method for confidential data.
Checking the timestamp
Anyone trusting the timestamper can then verify that the document was not created after the date that the timestamper vouches. It can also no longer be repudiated that the requester of the timestamp was in possession of the original data at the time given by the timestamp. To prove this (see diagram) the hash of the original data is calculated, the timestamp given by the TSA is appended to it and the hash of the result of this concatenation is calculated, call this hash A.
Then the digital signature of the TSA needs to be validated. This can be done by checking that the signed hash provided by the TSA was indeed signed with their private key by digital signature verification. The hash A is compared with the hash B inside the signed TSA message to confirm they are equal, proving that the timestamp and message is unaltered and was issued by the TSA. If not, then either the timestamp was altered or the timestamp was not issued by the TSA.
Decentralized timestamping on the Blockchain
With the advent of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, it has become possible to securely timestamp information in a decentralized and tamper-proof manner. Digital data can be hashed and the hash can be incorporated into a transaction stored in the blockchain, which serves as a secure proof of the exact time at which that data existed. The proof is due to a tremendous amount of computational effort performed after the hash was submitted to the blockchain. Tampering with the timestamp would also lead to breaking the entire integrity of the digital currency.
Unfortunately, the proof-of-work method using 'mining' requires a huge amount of computational power, making it unfeasible for large scale applications. The energy requirements to run Blockchain are estimated to be around 1GW and may be comparable to the energy usage of Ireland. 
Luckily there are alternative methods that do no require a large amount of computational effort. For example, MetroGnomo is an innovative open-source timestamping service based on a mutual distributed ledger or blockchain. Sponsored by the States of Alderney, this globally-available experimental service facilitates commerce through the provision of impartial timing information.
Z/Yen's ChainZy Technology allows Metrognomo to leverage proof-of-validity rather than proof-of-work. Thus Metrognomo is able to take the benefits of mutual distributed ledgers while avoiding the transaction costs, in time and computing resource, associated with convential blockchain proof-of-work validation mechanisms such as 'mining'. Proof-of-validity is possible via a network of independently operated receivers, assuring users that the MetroGnomo mechanism has not been corrupted. MetroGnomo has so far been used for dating financial contracts, proving authorship of books and patents and authenticating information exchange between organizations.
- Timestamping (computing)
- Computer security
- Digital signature
- Digital postmark
- Smart contract
- CAdES – CMS Advanced Electronic Signature
- PAdES – PDF Advanced Electronic Signature
- XAdES – XML Advanced Electronic Signature
- Une, Masashi (2001). "The Security Evaluation of Time Stamping Schemes: The Present Situation and Studies". IMES Discussion Papers Series 2001-E-18.
- Gipp, B., Meuschke, N. and Gernandt, A., 2015 "Decentralized Trusted Timestamping using the Crypto Currency Bitcoin." In: Proceedings of the iConference 2015. March 2015, Newport Beach, California.
- "Distributed Ledger Technology: beyond block chain" (PDF). GOV.UK. Government Office for Science. Retrieved 2016-07-28.
- "MetroGnomo". www.metrognomo.com. Retrieved 2016-07-28.
- RFC 3161 Internet X.509 Public Key Infrastructure Time-Stamp Protocol (TSP)
- RFC 3628 Policy Requirements for Time-Stamping Authorities (TSAs)
- TrueTimeStamp.org Open and free time-stamping authority utilizing linked time-stamps, trusted certificates, and an online database of timestamps
- OriginStamp.org Anonymous and free trusted time-stamping service utilizing the Bitcoin blockchain for timestamp storage and verification
- Decentralized Trusted Timestamping (DTT) using the Crypto Currency Bitcoin
- ANSI ASC X9.95 Standard for Trusted Time Stamps
- ETSI TS 101 861 V1.4.1 Electronic Signatures and Infrastructures (ESI); Time stamping profile
- ETSI TS 102 023 V1.2.2 Electronic Signatures and Infrastructures (ESI); Policy requirements for time-stamping authorities
- Analysis of a Secure Time Stamp Device (2001) SANS Institute
- Implementation of TSP Protocol CMSC 681 Project Report, Youyong Zou
- FreeTSA Free Time-Stamping Authority using the RFC 3161 Protocol
- TSPservice.cgi Free Time-Stamping Authority Service (RFC 3161)