GLEP 79: Gentoo OpenPGP Authority Keys

Author Michał Górny <>
Type Standards Track
Status Final
Version 1
Created 2019-02-24
Last modified 2019-05-13
Posting history 2019-02-24
Requires 63
GLEP source glep-0079.rst


This GLEP proposes using Authority Keys to provide developer key validity proofs that are compatible with web of trust. The signatures on UIDs are automatically maintained, and user can follow the current set of valid keys by importing and trusting a single Authority Key. The system operates within standard features of GnuPG and requires only minimal setup from the user.


All the recent efforts on improving OpenPGP usage in Gentoo were focused on internal usage and distribution. The existing policies and tooling are sufficient to account for verify specific usage, including commit signing (with both internal and user-oriented verification via custom tools) or release media verification. However, they do not provide for rapid OpenPGP deployment for secure communications usage.

The Gentoo webservers distribute both convenient key bundles and individual keys via Web Key Directory. While in both cases the transfer is secured via HTTPS, providing authenticity verification via PKI/DNSSEC, those channels are meant to distribute the keys and not provide implicit guarantees on their validity. For example, they provide no guarantees that the user identifiers on the keys are legitimate. [1]

Internally, Gentoo's LDAP directory serves as the canonical source of information on key validity. It stores a list of key fingerprints for each Gentoo developers, and therefore allows the system to establish which keys are acceptable in context of a specific developer. However, the LDAP directory is not available to the public and therefore is only suitable for internal infrastructure use. [2]

The Gentoo website is focused on service keys and not individual developer keys. While it could easily be amended with full fingerprints of all developer keys, the necessity of manually verifying such a large number of keys would be inconvenient to the end user. [3]

The key package provided in the Gentoo repository is also focused on service keys, and has limited value in verifying key validity (currently, it assumes all UIDs on all keys in the keyring are valid). Providing a package with developer keys would both require frequent semi-manual updates, and establishing a more precise validity model. [4]

Gentoo-keys project provides so-called seed files that carry enough information to establish key validity, and are authenticated via HTTPS. However, they rely on installing custom software that does not integrate well with regular use of GnuPG e.g. in mail clients, and that is not easily usable in other systems. [5]

The Authority Key proposal aims to provide a more standard way of establishing validity of Gentoo developer keys. It builds upon the web of trust model, requiring no special software and minimal setup from end users.


Purpose and usage

The purpose of the Authority Keys is to provide an automatically issued signatures on Gentoo developer OpenPGP keys, based on the information provided internally in the Gentoo LDAP directory. The service is provided for all active Gentoo developers, from the moment of their recruitment.

Whenever a developer account is created, reactivated, renamed or has a new key fingerprint added, a signature is automatically created on the appropriate UIDs and pushed to the keyservers. Whenever an old signature is about to expire, a new one is automatically created. Whenever a developer account is disabled, renamed or has a fingerprint removed, the signatures from obsolete UIDs are automatically revoked.

The signatures are issued only on the UIDs matching the Gentoo developer's mailbox address, on keys whose primary key fingerprints are listed in Gentoo LDAP gpgfingerprint records. Keys missing such an UID are ignored. Names on the relevant user identifiers are not being verified. The signatures are issued with an expiration date of 1 year from being issued.

L1 and L2 keys

The Authority Keys are issued in two layers, appropriately called L1 and L2.

The single L1 Authority Key is used only to (manually) certify the L2 Keys, and is kept securely offline following the Infrastructure policies on protecting primary keys. The fingerprint of this key is published on the Gentoo website and users are requested to sign this key to enable key validity via Authority Keys.

The L2 Authority Keys are used directly to sign developer keys. Since they are used in an automated service, they are exposed to attacks. They are trust-signed by the L1 key and can be revoked and rotated more frequently than the L1 key.

This dual-layer model aims to combine improved security with user convenience. While the individual Gentoo keys are signed by the L2 key, the users sign only the L1 key and the validity is established via chain L1 → L2 → developer key. This makes it possible to replace the L2 key if it ever becomes compromised without requiring the users to reestablish trust. Since the replacement key will be also signed by the L1 key (provided that it was not compromised), the validity of developer keys will remain established.

Validating the L1 key

Establishing the authenticity of the L1 Authority Key is essential to the system. Initially, the users will be able to determine the authenticity via comparing the key fingerprint with the one published on the website. This will shift the authenticity verification to HTTPS (PKI/DNSSEC).

However, at the same time users are encouraged to sign the key upon verifying it. This will effectively make it possible to establish key's validity via OpenPGP web of trust.


Authority Key model vs web of trust

The regular web of trust model relies on individuals verifying the Gentoo developer identity and access to the particular e-mail address. The particular UID is considered valid if a sufficient number of people trusted by the user in question have confirmed the developer's identity. This specifically relies on being able to establish a chain of trust between the developer and user.

At the moment, many of the existing Gentoo developers did not even establish a chain of trust between one another, not to mention web of trust coverage that would make it feasible for users to reach any specific developer. Efforts towards improving that were rejected by the developers, mostly based on argumentation that many developers find it impossible to meet any other community member for the purpose of identity verification.

The Authority Key model, on the other hand, assumes that there is a single trusted authority that verifies Gentoo developers' keys. The user verifies the key representing this authority and trusts it. The validity of keys used by all developers is established via a single point of trust.

The procedure of establishing the validity of a specific key does not involve the necessity of meeting anyone or verifying identity. While the validity is exposed in a manner compatible with web of trust, it is verified against LDAP which implicitly proves authenticity of the keys.

Therefore, the Authority Key model is much easier to set up. The user merely needs to verify a single key and trust it, while pure WoT would probably require trusting multiple third party identities. It is also more secure as it limits the attack vector to a single key rather than one of potentially large number of keys that need to be trusted by the user. If the user decides to stop trusting UIDs, the validity can easily be reverted by disabling the single Authority Key.

Authority Key vs gentoo-keys

The gentoo-keys project provides seed data that is sufficient to verify the authenticity of the keys. However, this data uses entirely custom format and therefore requires special tooling to process. This tooling has not been packaged for any other Linux distribution or operating system, and is non-trivial to install as unprivileged user.

The Authority Key model is based entirely on built-in GnuPG features. It does not require any special tooling to run. The necessary bootstrap can be done manually via GnuPG command-line facilities. Eventually, even that may become unnecessary if the Authority Key is covered via web of trust.

Furthermore, gentoo-keys seed data currently requires manual updates. The Authority Key system is automated, and therefore subject to smaller delays in operation.

Developer coverage

In the original proposal, it was debated whether new developers should be subject to grace period during which their keys would not be signed. However, no arguments were brought to support such a period, and therefore the GLEP assumes all developers are covered as long as they are considered active Gentoo developers.

Since only e-mail addresses are under Gentoo control and developer identities outside the distribution are outside the scope of this project, only UIDs matching the respective developer addresses are signed. This is meant to prevent the developers from forging somebody else's identity.

The developers' real names are not verified. Firstly, the purpose of this project is to establish association between keys and specific Gentoo developers, whose primary identification is the nickname used in Gentoo. The exact real name is irrelevant to the validity in this context. Secondly, comparing real names between LDAP and user identifiers would be non-trivial and most likely cause a number of developers being silently rejected due to e.g. modified name spelling.

caff verification model

During the initial debate, using a model similar to Debian's caff tool was suggested. In this model, new signatures are sent encrypted to the developers rather than uploaded straight to keyservers. Developers need to decrypt and add them to their keys themselves. [6]

The main purpose of the caff model is to assist users in verifying e-mail addresses of the UIDs they are about to sign. By sending an encrypted e-mail, this model verifies that the recipient is both able to receive mail at a specific address and decrypt messages encrypted using the specified key. Since the message contains complete signature ready to be imported, the key signing process can be completed entirely by the recipient and the sender does not need to be concerned past sending it.

However, there seems to be no clear reason to employ this model here. A reasonable assumption can be made that if one is able to access the LDAP directory as a particular Gentoo developer, one is also able to access the developer's mailbox. This considered, verifying the e-mail address in caff fashion is redundant.

Furthermore, implementing this model increases complexity both server- and client-side. The server would need to be entirely stateful to avoid sending duplicate mails, and at the same time it would need to permit re-requesting signature e-mails. The developers would need to manually import the signature and send it to keyservers.

It is quite probable that some of the less active developers would be permanently excluded by being unaware or uninterested in participating in the new system. Furthermore, signature expirations would cause potentially extensive periods of key invalidity to occur (between signature expiration and import of the new one). During those periods, users' ability to mail developers securely would be hindered.

Dual-layer model

The dual-layer Authority Key model is established in order to combine security with needed automation. The L1 Key provides higher level of security, at the cost of requiring manual operation. The L2 Keys are suitable for automated use but that implies they're exposed to attacks.

If the model was based on a single key and that key was compromised, the key would have to be revoked and replaced with a new one. All users would have to fetch the new key and validate it independently to restore the developer key validity.

Using two keys introduces a middle link in the trust chain that can be replaced easily. Users trust the L1 Key which is unlikely to be compromised. The trust on L2 Key is implicitly provided by the L1 Key, and users do not need to be specifically concerned about it. If L2 Key is compromised, the Infrastructure developers can replace it and restore the trust via (non-compromised) L1 Key. Users only have to fetch the new key and validity is restored.

Security considerations

The user needs to be able to verify the authenticity of the L1 Key. This can be done in one of two ways:

  1. via comparing the fingerprint against the record on Gentoo website. This relies on the security of Gentoo web servers, and the website content repository. From user side, authenticity relies on PKI and/or DNSSEC, and possibly any other future HTTPS protection mechanisms.
  2. via web of trust, provided the user trusts someone who verified the key first. In this case, the authenticity relies entirely on the web of trust model, and is subject to attacks specific to it (e.g. to wrongly trusting a malicious person).

The L1 Key itself is protected from being compromised via current Infrastructure best practices. At this moment, this involves password protection and offline storage. If the key ever becomes compromised, the procedures involve revoking it and announcing the problem.

The L2 Keys lack this kind of protection by design. If they become compromised, the procedure involves revoking the key quickly and replacing it with a new one.

In both cases, the revocation procedure relies on the user periodically refreshing keys against reliable sources. Typically this involves using SKS keyservers over HKPS which in turn relies on PKI to prevent a third party from intercepting propagation of revocations.

The validity of developer key UIDs is established via signatures made by the L2 Key. If UIDs become no longer valid, the signatures are revoked in order to invalidate them. This also relies on users periodically pulling keyservers for developer key updates.

Additionally, signatures are made with one year expiration time. In the extremely unlikely case of scripts failing to revoke the particular signature, it will expire automatically.

Backwards Compatibility

This proposal is established independently of existing solutions, and does not affect them.

Reference Implementation

The reference tooling for maintaining Authority Key signatures is published as gentoo-authority-key project. [7]


[1]Directory listing including .gpg key bundles (
[2]Project:Infrastructure/LDAP Guide - Gentoo Wiki (
[3]Release media signatures - Gentoo Linux (
[4]app-crypt/openpgp-keys-gentoo-release – Gentoo Packages (
[5]Project:Gentoo-keys - Gentoo Wiki (
[6]caff - Debian Wiki (
[7]mgorny/gentoo-authority-key: Script to automatically sign developer keys using OpenPGP authority key (