New OpenPGP certificate for dkg, 2021

dkg's 2021 OpenPGP transition

As 2021 begins, I'm changing to a new OpenPGP certificate.

I did a similar transition two years ago, and a fair amount has changed since then.

You might know my old OpenPGP certificate as:

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

My new OpenPGP certificate is:

pub   ed25519 2020-12-27 [C] [expires: 2023-12-24]
uid           [ unknown] Daniel Kahn Gillmor
uid           [ unknown] <>
uid           [ unknown] <>

You can find a signed transition statement if you're into that sort of thing.

If you're interested in the rationale for why I'm making this transition, read on.

Dangers of Offline Primary Secret Keys

There are several reasons for transitioning, but one i simply couldn't argue with was my own technical failure. I put the primary secret key into offline storage some time ago for "safety", and used ext4's filesystem-level encryption layered on top of dm-crypt for additional security.

But either the tools changed out from under me, or there were failures on the storage medium, or I've failed to remember my passphrase correctly, because I am unable to regain access to the cleartext of the secret key. In particular, I find myself unable to use e4crypt add_key with the passphrase I know to get a usable working directory.

I confess I still find e4crypt pretty difficult to use and I don't use it often, so the problem may entirely be user error (either now, or two years ago when I did the initial setup).

Anyway, lesson learned: don't use cryptosystems that you're not comfortable with to encrypt data that you care about recovering. This is a lesson I'm pretty sure I've learned before, sigh, but it's a good reminder.

Split User IDs

I'm trying to split out my User IDs again -- this way if you know me by e-mail address, you don't have to think/worry about certifying my name, and if you know me by name, you don't have to think/worry about certifying my e-mail address. I think that's simpler and more sensible.

It's also nice because e-mail address-only User IDs can be used effectively in contexts like Autocrypt, which I think are increasingly important if we want to have usable encrypted e-mail.

Last time around I initially tried split User IDs but rolled them back and I think most of the bugs I discovered then have been fixed.

Certificate Flooding

Another reason for making a transition to a new certificate is that my older certificate is one of the ones that was "flooded" on the SKS keyserver network last year, which was one of the final straws for that teetering project. Transitioning to a new certificate lets that old flooded cert expire and people can just simply move on from it, ideally deleting it from their local keyrings.

Hopefully as a community we can move on from SKS to key distribution mechanisms like WKD, Autocrypt, DANE, and, all of which address some of the known problems with keyserver abuse.

Trying New Tools

Finally, I'm also interested in thinking about how key and certificate management might be handled in different ways. While I'm reasonably competent in handling GnuPG, the larger OpenPGP community (which I'm a part of) has done a lot of thinking and a lot of work about how people can use OpenPGP.

I'm particularly happy with the collaborative work that has gone into the Stateless OpenPGP CLI (aka sop), which helps to generate a powerful interoperability test suite. While sop doesn't offer the level of certificate management I'd need to use it to manage this new certificate in full, I wish something like it would! Starting from a fresh certificate and actually using it helps me to think through what I might actually need from a tool that is roughly as straightforward and opinionated as sop is.

If you're a software developer who might use or implement OpenPGP, or a protocol designer, and you haven't played around with any of the various implementations of sop yet, I recommend taking a look. And feedback on the specification is always welcome, too, including ideas for new functionality (maybe even like certificate management).

Next Steps

If you're the kind of person who's into making OpenPGP certifications, feel free to check in with me via whatever channels you're used to using to verify that this transition is legit. If you think it is, and you're comfortable, please send me (e-mail is probably best) your certifications over the new certficate.

I'll keep on working to make OpenPGP more usable and acceptable. Hopefully, 2021 will be a better year ahead for all of us.