New OpenPGP certificate for dkg, 2019


I've scrapped my first try at a new OpenPGP certificate for 2019 (the one I published yesterday). See the history discussion at the bottom of this post for details. This blogpost has been updated to reflect my revised attempt.

2019 OpenPGP transition (try 2)

My old OpenPGP certificate will be 12 years old later this year. I'm transitioning to a new OpenPGP certificate.

You might know my old OpenPGP certificate as:

pub   rsa4096 2007-06-02 [SC] [expires: 2019-06-29]
uid          Daniel Kahn Gillmor <>
uid          Daniel Kahn Gillmor <>

My new OpenPGP certificate is:

pub   ed25519 2019-01-19 [C] [expires: 2021-01-18]
uid          Daniel Kahn Gillmor <>
uid          Daniel Kahn Gillmor <>

If you've certified my old certificate, I'd appreciate your certifying my new one. Please do confirm by contacting me via whatever channels you think are most appropriate (including in-person if you want to share food or drink with me!) before you re-certify, of course.

I've published the new certificate to the SKS keyserver network, as well as to my personal website -- you can fetch it like this:

wget -O- | gpg --import

A copy of this transition statement signed by both the old and new certificates is available on my website, and you can also find further explanation about technical details, choices, and rationale on my blog.

Technical details

I've made a few decisions differently about this certificate:

Ed25519 and Curve25519 for Public Key Material

I've moved from 4096-bit RSA public keys to the Bernstein elliptic curve 25519 for all my public key material (EdDSA for signing, certification, and authentication, and Curve25519 for encryption). 25519 appears to be significantly stronger than any cryptanalytic attack known to the public. (4096-bit RSA may be marginally stronger cryptographically than curve 25519, but both of them are well beyond the threshhold of what we know how to break with today's machinery)

Additionally, elliptic curve keys and the signatures associated with them are tiny compared to 4096-bit RSA. I certified my new cert with my old one, and well over half of the new certificate is just certifications from the old key because they are so large.

This size advantage makes it easier for me ship the public key material (and signatures from it) in places that would be more awkward otherwise. See the discussion about Autocrypt below.

Split out ACLU identity

Note that my old certificate included some additional identities, including job-specific e-mail addresses. I've split out my job-specific cryptographic credentials to a different OpenPGP certificate entirely. If you want to mail me at, you can use the certificate with fingerprint 888E6BEAC41959269EAA177F138F5AB68615C560 (which is also published on my work bio page).

This is in part because the folks who communicate with me at my ACLU address are more likely to have old or poorly-maintained e-mail systems than other people I communicate with, and they might not be able to handle curve 25519. So the ACLU keys use 3072-bit RSA, which is universally supported by any plausible OpenPGP implementation.

This way I can experiment with being more forward-looking in my free software and engineering community work, and shake out any bugs that I might find there, before cutting over the e-mails that come in from more legal- and policy-focused colleagues.

Isolated Subkey Capabilities

In my new certificate, the primary key is designated certification-only. There are three subkeys, one each for authentication, encryption, and signing. The primary key also has a longer expiration time (2 years as of this writing), while the subkeys have 1 year expiration dates.

Isolating this functionality helps a little bit with security (I can take the certification key entirely offline while still being able to sign non-identity data), and it also offers a pathway toward having a more robust subkey rotation schedule. As I build out my tooling for subkey rotation, i'll probably make a few more blog posts about that.


Finally, several of these changes are related to the Autocrypt project, a really great collaboration of a group of mail user agent developers, designers, UX experts, trainers, and users, who are providing guidance to make encrypted e-mail something that normal humans can use without having to think too much about it.

Autocrypt treats the OpenPGP certificate User IDs as merely decorative, but its recommended form of the User ID for an OpenPGP certificate is just the e-mail address wrapped in angle brackets. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to get that particular form of User ID into this certificate at this time (see discussion of split User IDs below).

Autocrypt is also moving toward 25519 elliptic curve keys, so this gives me a chance to exercise that choice.

I'm proud to be associated with the Autocrypt project, and have been helping to shepherd some of the Autocrypt functionality into different clients (my work on my own MUA of choice, notmuch is currently stalled, but I hope to pick it back up again soon). Having an OpenPGP certificate that works well with Autocrypt, and that I can stuff into messages even from clients that aren't fully-Autocrypt compliant yet is useful to me for getting things tested.

Documenting workflow vs. tooling

Some people may want to know "how did you make your OpenPGP cert like this?" For those folks, i'm sorry but this is not a step-by-step technical howto. I've read far too many "One True Way To Set Up Your OpenPGP Certificate" blog posts that haven't aged well, and i'm not confident enough to tell people to run the weird arbitrary commands that I ran to get things working this way.

Furthermore, I don't want people to have to run those commands.

If I think there are sensible ways to set up OpenPGP certificates, I want those patterns built into standard tooling for normal people to use, without a lot of command-line hackery.

So if i'm going to publish a "how to", it would be in the form of software that I think can be sensibly maintained and provides a sane user interface for normal humans. I haven't written that tooling yet, but I need to change certs first, so for now you just get this blog post in English. But feel free to tell me what you think I could do better!


This is my second attempt at an OpenPGP certificate transition in 2019. My earlier attempt uncovered a bunch of tooling issues with split-out User IDs. The original rationale for trying the split, and the problems I found are detailed below.

What were Separated User IDs?

My earlier attempt at a new OpenPGP certificate for 2019 tried to do an unusual thing with the certificate User IDs. Rather than two User IDs:

the (now revoked) earlier certificate had the name separate from the e-mail addresses, making three User IDs:

There are a couple reasons I tried this.

One reason is to simplify the certification process. Traditional OpenPGP User ID certification is an all-or-nothing process: the certifier is asserting that both the name and e-mail address belong to the identified party. But this can be tough to reason about. Maybe you know my name, but not my e-mail address. Or maybe you know my over e-mail, but aren't really sure what my "real" name is (i'll leave questions about what counts as a real name to a more philosophical blog post). You ought to be able to certify them independently. Now you can, since it's possible to certify one User ID independently of another.

Another reason is because I planned to use this certificate for e-mail, among other purposes. In e-mail systems, the human name is a confusing distraction, as the real underlying correspondent is the e-mail address. E-mail programs should definitely allow their users to couple a memorable name with an e-mail address, but it should be more like a petname. The bundling of a human "real" name with the e-mail address by the User ID itself just provides more points of confusion for the mail client.

If the user communicates with a certain person by e-mail address, the certificate should be bound to the e-mail protocol address on its own. Then the user themselves can decide what other monikers they want to use for the person; the User ID shouldn't force them to look at a "real" name just because it's been bundled together.

Alas, putting this attempt into public practice uncovered several gaps in the OpenPGP ecosystem.

User IDs without an e-mail address are often ignored, mishandled, or induce crashes:

And User IDs that are a raw e-mail address (without enclosing angle-brackets) tickle additional problems.

Finally, Monkeysphere's ssh user authentication mechanism typically works on a single User ID at a time. There's no way in Monkeysphere to say "authorize access to account foo by any OpenPGP certificate that has a valid User ID Alice Jones and a valid User ID <>. I'd like to keep the ~/.monkeysphere/authorized_user_ids that I already have in place working OK. I have enough technical debt to deal with for Monkeysphere (including that it only handles RSA currently) that I don't need the additional headache of reasoning about split/joint User IDs too.

Because of all of these issues, in particular the schleuder bugs, i'm not ready to use a split User ID OpenPGP certificate on today's Internet, alas. I have revoked the OpenPGP certificate that had split User IDs and started over with a new certificate with a more standard User ID layout, as described above. Better to rip off the band-aid quickly!