Decentralized Identities with PGP Annotations and Keyoxide
3 minute reading time
Under asymmetric encryption, for you to send me a message that only I can read you would need to encrypt the message with my public key. I then would have a corresponding private key that can decrypt the message. Public keys are then usually stored onto keyservers for others to query. When querying for a key, how do you know that the public key actually belongs to me? It turns out, you can’t since anyone can upload a key pretending to be me.
What’s the solution? When PGP first came around, it was built around the Web of Trust concept. The idea is that people would go to key-signing parties and verify in person that they are who they say they are. From a graph would be built out showing who verified who. Sadly this idea didn’t take off. A very small segment of the population attends key signing parties.
In 2014, Keybase was created to help solve this issue. The concept behind it is that we have other identities in the web, and by associating a keybase profiles to these identities others can have a strong confidence on who they are speaking to.
For example, I own the website brandonrozek.com and am known as @firstname.lastname@example.org on Mastodon. On those platforms, I would create a post using the private key on keybase which claims that I own the user profile on keybase. Similarly on keybase I would link to my website and mastodon profile to say that I claim those.
For a while, this was working great. Then in 2019 the following article comes out of their blog:
Keybase + Stellar is live for everyone!
The promotion of cryptocurrency makes you wonder how they are doing financially. Then in 2020, we see:
Keybase joins Zoom
Upon further reflection, several questions arise:
- Why am I depending on Keybase to show which users I’m connected to? Ideally, this should be decentralized.
- Keybase holds access to the private key. While this makes the user experience easier since I don’t need to worry about those details. We should be encouraging people to hold their private keys instead.
What’s a great alternative to Keybase then? This is where Keyoxide comes in.
Keyoxide & PGP Notations
Yarmo Mackenbach wanted to create a project that’s decentralized in nature. This means that Keyoxide doesn’t hold the keys. Instead it depends on either:
- Web Key Directory (WKD) protocol where the keys are stored on your own server belonging to the domain.
- HTTP Keyserver Protocol (HKP) where Keyoxide queries keys.openpgp.org
Within the key you upload, you can add a PGP notation. This allows us to provide additional text on what accounts we own.
For example the notation of:
claims that I own the domain
To provide the necessary backlink, the Keyoxide documentation says to create a TXT record with my PGP fingerprint.
Notice how nowhere in the process do we reference Keyoxide or their servers. This only depends upon the keys that I upload onto the Internet and the appropriate backlinks. Keyoxide in this case, only serves as a validator, making sure that the links exist.
My Keyoxide profile: https://keyoxide.org/wkd/brozek%40brandonrozek.com
In fact, Keyoxide is open source meaning that anyone can host their own instance to perform the validation checks.