Network Working Group                                           E. Omara
Internet-Draft                                                    Google
Intended status: Informational                             B. Beurdouche
Expires: 9 September 2021                                Inria & Mozilla
                                                             E. Rescorla
                                                               S. Inguva
                                                                 A. Kwon
                                                                A. Duric
                                                            8 March 2021

            The Messaging Layer Security (MLS) Architecture


   The Messaging Layer Security (MLS) protocol [MLSPROTO] document has
   the role of defining a Group Key Agreement, all the necessary
   cryptographic operations, and serialization/deserialization functions
   necessary to create a scalable and secure group messaging protocol.
   The MLS protocol is meant to protect against eavesdropping,
   tampering, message forgery, and provide good properties such as
   forward-secrecy (FS) and post-compromise security (PCS) in the case
   of past or future device compromises.

   This document, on the other hand is intended to describe a general
   secure group messaging infrastructure and its security goals.  It
   provides guidance on building a group messaging system and discusses
   security and privacy tradeoffs offered by multiple security mechanism
   that are part of the MLS protocol (ie. frequency of public encryption
   key rotation).

   The document also extends the guidance to parts of the infrastructure
   that are not standardized by the MLS Protocol document and left to
   the application or the infrastructure architects to design.

   While the recommendations of this document are not mandatory to
   follow in order to interoperate at the protocol level, most will
   vastly influence the overall security guarantees that are achieved by
   the overall messaging system.  This is especially true in case of
   active adversaries that are able to compromise clients, the delivery
   service or the authentication service.

Discussion Venues

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021                [Page 1]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

   This note is to be removed before publishing as an RFC.

   Discussion of this document takes place on the MLS Working Group
   mailing list (, which is archived at

   Source for this draft and an issue tracker can be found at

Status of This Memo

   This Internet-Draft is submitted in full conformance with the
   provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

   Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering
   Task Force (IETF).  Note that other groups may also distribute
   working documents as Internet-Drafts.  The list of current Internet-
   Drafts is at

   Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six months
   and may be updated, replaced, or obsoleted by other documents at any
   time.  It is inappropriate to use Internet-Drafts as reference
   material or to cite them other than as "work in progress."

   This Internet-Draft will expire on 9 September 2021.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (c) 2021 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
   document authors.  All rights reserved.

   This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal
   Provisions Relating to IETF Documents (
   license-info) in effect on the date of publication of this document.
   Please review these documents carefully, as they describe your rights
   and restrictions with respect to this document.  Code Components
   extracted from this document must include Simplified BSD License text
   as described in Section 4.e of the Trust Legal Provisions and are
   provided without warranty as described in the Simplified BSD License.

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
   2.  General Setting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
     2.1.  Group, Members and Clients  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
     2.2.  Authentication Service  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
     2.3.  Delivery Service  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
       2.3.1.  Key Storage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021                [Page 2]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

       2.3.2.  Key Retrieval . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
       2.3.3.  Delivery of messages and attachments  . . . . . . . .  10
       2.3.4.  Membership knowledge  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
       2.3.5.  Membership and offline members  . . . . . . . . . . .  12
     2.4.  Functional Requirements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12
       2.4.1.  Message Secrecy and Authentication  . . . . . . . . .  12
       2.4.2.  Forward and Post-Compromise Security  . . . . . . . .  13
       2.4.3.  Membership Changes  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  13
       2.4.4.  Parallel Groups . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  14
       2.4.5.  Security of Attachments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  14
       2.4.6.  Non-Repudiation vs Deniability  . . . . . . . . . . .  14
       2.4.7.  Asynchronous Usage  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  15
       2.4.8.  Access Control  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  15
       2.4.9.  Recovery After State Loss . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  16
       2.4.10. Support for Multiple Devices  . . . . . . . . . . . .  16
       2.4.11. Extensibility / Pluggability  . . . . . . . . . . . .  16
       2.4.12. Federation  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  16
       2.4.13. Compatibility with future versions of MLS . . . . . .  17
   3.  Security and Privacy Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . .  17
     3.1.  Considerations for attacks outside of the threat model  .  18
     3.2.  Transport Security Links  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  18
       3.2.1.  Metadata protection for unencrypted group
               operations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  18
       3.2.2.  DoS protection  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  19
       3.2.3.  Message suppression and error correction  . . . . . .  20
     3.3.  Delivery Service Compromise . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  20
       3.3.1.  Privacy of delivery and push notifications  . . . . .  21
     3.4.  Authentication Service Compromise . . . . . . . . . . . .  22
       3.4.1.  Authentication compromise: Ghost users and
               impersonations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  23
       3.4.2.  Privacy of the Group Membership . . . . . . . . . . .  24
     3.5.  Shared considerations regarding adversarial AS or DS
           services  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  24
       3.5.1.  Privacy of the network connections  . . . . . . . . .  25
     3.6.  Client Compromise . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  25
       3.6.1.  Compromise of AEAD key material . . . . . . . . . . .  26
       3.6.2.  Compromise of the Group Secrets of a single group for
               one or more group epochs  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  27
       3.6.3.  Compromise by an active adversary with the ability to
               sign messages . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  28
       3.6.4.  Compromise of the authentication with access to a
               signature key . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  28
       3.6.5.  Security consideration in the context of a full state
               compromise  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  29
       3.6.6.  More attack scenarios . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  31
   4.  IANA Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  31
   5.  Contributors  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  31
   6.  Informative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  31

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021                [Page 3]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

   Authors' Addresses  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  32

1.  Introduction


   The source for this draft is maintained in GitHub.  Suggested changes
   should be submitted as pull requests at
   architecture.  Instructions are on that page as well.  Editorial
   changes can be managed in GitHub, but any substantive change should
   be discussed on the MLS mailing list.

   DISCLAIMER: A lot of work is still ongoing on the current version of
   this draft.  Especially, this preliminary writing of the security
   considerations has not been reviewed by the working group yet and
   might contain errors.  Please file an issue on the document's GitHub
   if you find errors.

   [[TODO: Remove disclaimer.]]

   End-to-end security is a requirement for instant messaging systems
   and is commonly deployed in many such systems.  In this context,
   "end-to-end" captures the notion that users of the system enjoy some
   level of security -- with the precise level depending on the system
   design -- even when the service provider they are using performs

   Messaging Layer Security (MLS) specifies an architecture (this
   document) and an abstract protocol [MLSPROTO] for providing end-to-
   end security in this setting.  MLS is not intended as a full instant
   messaging protocol but rather is intended to be embedded in concrete
   protocols, such as XMPP [RFC6120].  In addition, it does not specify
   a complete wire encoding, but rather a set of abstract data
   structures which can then be mapped onto a variety of concrete
   encodings, such as TLS [RFC8446], CBOR [RFC7049], and JSON [RFC7159].
   Implementations which adopt compatible encodings will have some
   degree of interoperability at the message level, though they may have
   incompatible identity/authentication infrastructures.  The MLS
   protocol has been designed to provide the same security guarantees to
   all users, for all group sizes, even when it reduces to only two

2.  General Setting

   Informally, a group is a set of users who possibly use multiple
   endpoint devices to interact with the Service Provider (SP).  A group
   may be as small as two members (the simple case of person to person
   messaging) or as large as thousands.

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021                [Page 4]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

   In order to communicate securely, users initially interact with
   services at their disposal to establish the necessary values and
   credentials required for encryption and authentication.

   The Service Provider presents two abstract functionalities that allow
   clients to prepare for sending and receiving messages securely:

   *  An Authentication Service (AS) functionality which is responsible
      for maintaining a binding between a unique identifier (identity)
      and the public key material (credential) used for authentication
      in the MLS protocol.  This functionality must also be able to
      generate these credentials or validate them if they are provided
      by MLS clients.

   *  A Delivery Service (DS) functionality which can receive and
      redistributing messages between group members.  In the case of
      group messaging, the delivery service may also be responsible for
      acting as a "broadcaster" where the sender sends a single message
      which is then forwarded to each recipient in the group by the DS.
      The DS is also responsible for storing and delivering initial
      public key material required by MLS clients in order to proceed
      with the group secret key establishment that is part of the MLS

   For convenience, this document adopts the representation of these
   services being standalone servers, however the MLS protocol design is
   made so that it is not necessarily the case.

   It is important to note that the Authentication Service functionality
   can be completely abstract in the case of a Service Provider which
   allows MLS clients to generate, redistribute and validate their
   credentials themselves.

   Similarly to the AS, the Delivery Service can be completely abstract
   if users are able to distribute credentials and messages without
   relying on a central Delivery Service.  Note, though, that the MLS
   protocol requires group operation messages to be processed in-order
   by all MLS clients.

   In some sense, a set of MLS clients which can achieve the AS and DS
   functionalities without relying on an external party do not need a
   Service Provider.

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021                [Page 5]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

         ----------------      --------------
        | Authentication |    | Delivery     |
        | Service (AS)   |    | Service (DS) |
         ----------------      --------------
                            /        |         \            Group
                           / ************************************
                          /  *       |           \              *
               ----------    *   ----------        ----------   *
              | Client 0 |   *  | Member 1 |      | Member N |  *
               ----------    *   ----------        ----------   *
              ............   *  ............      ............  *
              User 0         *  User 0            User 1        *
                             *                                  *

   In many systems, the AS and the DS are actually operated by the same
   entity and may even be the same server.  However, they are logically
   distinct and, in other systems, may be operated by different
   entities.  Other partitions are also possible, such as having a
   separate directory functionality or service.

   According to this architecture design, a typical group messaging
   scenario might look like this:

   1.  Alice, Bob and Charlie create accounts with a service provider
       and obtain credentials from the AS.

   2.  Alice, Bob and Charlie authenticate to the DS and store some
       initial keying material which can be used to send encrypted
       messages to them for the first time.  This keying material is
       authenticated with their long term credentials.

   3.  When Alice wants to send a message to Bob and Charlie, she
       contacts the DS and looks up their initial keying material.  She
       uses these keys to establish a new set of keys which she can use
       to send encrypted messages to Bob and Charlie.  She then sends
       the encrypted message(s) to the DS, which forwards them to the

   4.  Bob and/or Charlie respond to Alice's message.  In addition, they
       might choose to update their key material which provides post-
       compromise security Section 2.4.2.  As a consequence of that
       change, the group secrets are updated

   Clients may wish to do the following:

   *  create a group by inviting a set of other clients;

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021                [Page 6]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

   *  add one or more clients to an existing group;

   *  remove one or more members from an existing group;

   *  update their own key material

   *  join an existing group;

   *  leave a group;

   *  send a message to everyone in the group;

   *  receive a message from someone in the group.

   At the cryptographic level, clients (and by extension members in
   groups) have equal permissions.  For instance, any member can add or
   remove another client in a group.  This is in contrast to some
   designs in which there is a single group controller who can modify
   the group.  MLS is compatible with having group administration
   restricted to certain users, but we assume that those restrictions
   are enforced by authentication and access control at the application

   Thus, for instance, while the MLS protocol allows for any existing
   member of a group to add a new client, applications which use MLS
   might enforce additional restrictions for which only a subset of
   members can qualify, and thus will handle enforcing group policies
   (such as determining if a user is allowed to add new users to the
   group) at the application level.

2.1.  Group, Members and Clients

   While informally, a group can be considered to be a set of users
   possibly using multiple endpoint devices to interact with the Service
   Provider, this definition is too simplistic.

   Formally, a Client is a set of cryptographic objects composed by
   public values such as a name (an identity), a public encryption key
   and a public signature key.  Ownership of a Client by a user is
   determined by the fact that the user has knowledge of the associated
   secret values.  When a Client is part of a Group, it is called a
   Member and its signature key pair uniquely defines its identity to
   other clients or members in the Group.  In some messaging systems,
   clients belonging to the same user must all share the same identity
   key pair, but MLS does not assume this.

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021                [Page 7]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

   Users will typically own multiple Clients, potentially one or more
   per end-user devices (phones, web clients or other devices...) and
   may choose to authenticate using the same signature key across
   devices, using one signature key per device or even one signature key
   per group.

   The formal definition of a Group in MLS is the set of clients that
   have knowledge of the shared group secret established in the group
   key establishment phase of the protocol and have contributed to it.
   Until a Member has contributed to the group secret, other members
   cannot assume they are a member of the group.

2.2.  Authentication Service

   The basic function of the Authentication Service (AS) is to provide a
   trusted mapping from user identities (usernames, phone numbers,
   etc.), to long-term identity keys, which may either be one per Client
   or may be shared amongst the clients attached to a user.

   The Authentication Service (AS) is expected to play multiple roles in
   the architecture:

   *  A certification authority or similar service which signs some sort
      of portable credential binding an identity to a signature key.

   *  A directory server which provides the key for a given identity
      (presumably this connection is secured via some form of transport
      security such as TLS).

   The MLS protocol assumes a signature keypair for authentication of
   messages.  It is important to note that this signature keypair might
   be the identity keypair itself, or a different signature keypair for
   which the public key has been, for example, signed by the identity
   private key.  This flexibility allows for multiple infrastructure
   considerations and has the benefit of providing ways to use different
   signature keys across different groups by using hierarchical
   authentication keys.  This flexibility also comes at the price of a
   security tradeoff, described in the security considerations, between
   potential unlinkability of the signature keys across groups and the
   amount of time required to reinstate authentication and secrecy of
   messages after the compromise of a device.

   Ultimately, the only requirement is for the applications to be able
   to check the credential containing the protocol signing key and the
   identity against the Authentication Service at any time.

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021                [Page 8]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

   By definition, the Authentication Service is invested with a large
   amount of trust.  A malicious AS can impersonate -- or allow an
   attacker to impersonate -- any user of the system.  As a corollary,
   by impersonating identities authorized to be members of a group, an
   AS can break confidentiality.

   This risk can be mitigated by publishing the binding between
   identities and keys in a public log such as Key Transparency (KT)
   [KeyTransparency].  It is possible to build a functional MLS system
   without any kind of public key logging, but such a system will
   necessarily be somewhat vulnerable to attack by a malicious or
   untrusted AS.

2.3.  Delivery Service

   The Delivery Service (DS) is expected to play multiple roles in the
   Service Provider architecture:

   *  To act as a directory service providing the initial keying
      material for clients to use.  This allows a client to establish a
      shared key and send encrypted messages to other clients even if
      the other client is offline.

   *  To route messages between clients and to act as a message
      broadcaster, taking in one message and forwarding it to multiple
      clients (also known as "server side fanout").

   Because the MLS protocol provides a way for Clients to send and
   receive application messages asynchronously, it only provides causal
   ordering of application messages from senders while it has to enforce
   global ordering of group operations to provide Group Agreement.

   Depending on the level of trust given by the group to the Delivery
   Service, the functional and privacy guarantees provided by MLS may
   differ but the Authentication and Confidentiality guarantees remain
   the same.

   Unlike the Authentication Service which is trusted for authentication
   and secrecy, the Delivery Service is completely untrusted regarding
   this property.  While privacy of group membership might be a problem
   in the case of a DS server fanout, the Delivery Service can be
   considered as an active adaptative network attacker from the point of
   view of the security analysis.

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021                [Page 9]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

2.3.1.  Key Storage

   Upon joining the system, each client stores its initial cryptographic
   key material with the Delivery Service.  This key material, called
   KeyPackage, advertises the functional abilities of the Client such as
   supported protocol versions and extensions and the following
   cryptographic information:

   *  A credential from the Authentication Service attesting to the
      binding between the identity and the client's signature key.

   *  The client's asymmetric encryption public key material signed with
      the signature public key associated with the credential.

   As noted above, users may own multiple clients, each with their own
   keying material, and thus there may be multiple entries stored by
   each user.

   The Delivery Service is also responsible for allowing users to add,
   remove or update their initial keying material and to ensure that the
   identifier for these keys are unique across all keys stored on the

2.3.2.  Key Retrieval

   When a client wishes to establish a group, it first contacts the DS
   to request a KeyPackage for each other client, authenticate it using
   the signature keys, and then can use those to form the group.

2.3.3.  Delivery of messages and attachments

   The main responsibility of the Delivery Service is to ensure delivery
   of messages.  Specifically, we assume that DSs provide:

   *  Reliable delivery: when a message is provided to the DS, it is
      eventually delivered to all clients.

   *  In-order delivery: messages are delivered to the group in the
      order they are received by the Delivery Service and in
      approximately the order in which they are sent by clients.  The
      latter is an approximate guarantee because multiple clients may
      send messages at the same time and so the DS needs some latitude
      in enforcing ordering across clients.

   *  Consistent ordering: the DS must ensure that all clients have the
      same view of message ordering for cryptographically relevant
      operations.  This means that the DS MUST enforce global
      consistency of the ordering of group operation messages.

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 10]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

   Note that the protocol provides three important information within an
   MLSCiphertext message in order to provide ordering:

   *  The Group Identifier (GID) to allow to distinguish the group for
      which the message has been sent;

   *  The Epoch number, which represent the number of changes (version)
      of the group associated with a specific GID, and allows for
      lexicographical ordering of two messages from the same group;

   *  The Content Type of the message, which allows the DS to determine
      the ordering requirement on the message.

   The MLS protocol itself can verify these properties.  For instance,
   if the DS reorders messages from a Client or provides different
   Clients with inconsistent orderings, then Clients can detect this
   misconduct.  However, the protocol relies on the ordering, and on the
   fact that only one honest group operation message is fanned-out to
   clients per Epoch, to provide Clients with a consistent view of the
   evolving Group State.

   Note that some forms of DS misbehavior are still possible and
   difficult to detect.  For instance, a DS can simply refuse to relay
   messages to and from a given client.  Without some sort of side
   information, other clients cannot generally distinguish this form of
   Denial of Service (DoS) attack.

2.3.4.  Membership knowledge

   Group membership is itself sensitive information and MLS is designed
   to drastically limit the amount of persisted metadata.  However,
   large groups often require an infrastructure which provides server
   fanout.  In the case of client fanout, the destinations of a message
   is known by all clients, hence the server usually does not need this
   information.  However, they may learn this information through
   traffic analysis.  Unfortunately, in a server side fanout model, the
   DS can learn that a given client is sending the same message to a set
   of other clients.  In addition, there may be applications of MLS in
   which the group membership list is stored on some server associated
   with the DS.

   While this knowledge is not a break of authentication or
   confidentiality, it is a serious issue for privacy.  In the case
   where metadata has to be persisted for functionality, it SHOULD be
   stored encrypted at rest.

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 11]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

2.3.5.  Membership and offline members

   Because Forward Secrecy (FS) and Post-Compromise Security (PCS) rely
   on the active deletion and replacement of keying material, any client
   which is persistently offline may still be holding old keying
   material and thus be a threat to both FS and PCS if it is later

   MLS cannot inherently defend against this problem, especially in the
   case where the Client hasn't processed messages but MLS-using systems
   can enforce some mechanism to try retaining these properties.
   Typically this will consist of evicting clients which are idle for
   too long, thus containing the threat of compromise.  The precise
   details of such mechanisms are a matter of local policy and beyond
   the scope of this document.

2.4.  Functional Requirements

   MLS is designed as a large scale group messaging protocol and hence
   aims to provide performance and safety to its users.  Messaging
   systems that implement MLS provide support for conversations
   involving two or more members, and aim to scale to groups as large as
   50,000 members, typically including many users using multiple

2.4.1.  Message Secrecy and Authentication

   The trust establishment step of the MLS protocol is followed by a
   conversation protection step where encryption is used by clients to
   transmit authenticated messages to other clients through the DS.
   This ensures that the DS does not have access to the group's private

   MLS aims to provide secrecy, integrity and authentication for all

   Message Secrecy in the context of MLS means that only intended
   recipients (current group members), can read any message sent to the
   group, even in the context of an active attacker as described in the
   threat model.

   Message Integrity and Authentication mean that an honest Client can
   only accept a message if it was sent by a group member and that no
   Client can send a message which other Clients accept as being from
   another Client.

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 12]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

   A corollary to this statement is that the AS and the DS cannot read
   the content of messages sent between Members as they are not Members
   of the Group.  MLS optionally provides additional protections
   regarding traffic analysis so as to reduce the ability of attackers,
   or a compromised member of the messaging system, to deduce the
   content of the messages depending on (for example) their size.  One
   of these protections includes padding messages in order to produce
   ciphertexts of standard length.  While this protection is highly
   recommended it is not mandatory as it can be costly in terms of
   performance for clients and the SP.

   Message content can be deniable if the signature keys are exchanged
   over a deniable channel prior to signing messages.

2.4.2.  Forward and Post-Compromise Security

   MLS provides additional protection regarding secrecy of past messages
   and future messages.  These cryptographic security properties are
   Forward Secrecy (FS) and Post-Compromise Security (PCS).

   FS means that access to all encrypted traffic history combined with
   an access to all current keying material on clients will not defeat
   the secrecy properties of messages older than the oldest key of the
   compromised client.  Note that this means that clients have the
   extremely important role of deleting appropriate keys as soon as they
   have been used with the expected message, otherwise the secrecy of
   the messages and the security for MLS is considerably weakened.

   PCS means that if a group member's state is compromised at some time
   t but the group member subsequently performs an update at some time
   t', then all MLS guarantees apply to messages sent by the member
   after time t', and by other members after they have processed the
   update.  For example, if an attacker learns all secrets known to
   Alice at time t, including both Alice's long-term secret keys and all
   shared group keys, but Alice performs a key update at time t', then
   the attacker is unable to violate any of the MLS security properties
   after the updates have been processed.

   Both of these properties are satisfied even against compromised DSs
   and ASs.

2.4.3.  Membership Changes

   MLS aims to provide agreement on group membership, meaning that all
   group members have agreed on the list of current group members.

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 13]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

   Some applications may wish to enforce ACLs to limit addition or
   removal of group members, to privileged clients or users.  Others may
   wish to require authorization from the current group members or a
   subset thereof.  Regardless, MLS does not allow addition or removal
   of group members without informing all other members.

   Once a client is part of a group, the set of devices controlled by
   the user can only be altered by an authorized member of the group.
   This authorization could depend on the application: some applications
   might want to allow certain other members of the group to add or
   remove devices on behalf of another member, while other applications
   might want a more strict policy and allow only the owner of the
   devices to add or remove them at the potential cost of weaker PCS

   Members who are removed from a group do not enjoy special privileges:
   compromise of a removed group member does not affect the security of
   messages sent after their removal but might affect previous messages
   if the group secrets have not been deleted properly.

2.4.4.  Parallel Groups

   Any user may have membership in several Groups simultaneously.  The
   set of members of any group may or may not form a subset of the
   members of another group.  MLS guarantees that the FS and PCS goals
   are maintained and not weakened by user membership in multiple

2.4.5.  Security of Attachments

   The security properties expected for attachments in the MLS protocol
   are very similar to the ones expected from messages.  The distinction
   between messages and attachments stems from the fact that the typical
   average time between the download of a message and the one from the
   attachments may be different.  For many reasons (a typical reason
   being the lack of high bandwidth network connectivity), the lifetime
   of the cryptographic keys for attachments is usually higher than for
   messages, hence slightly weakening the PCS guarantees for

2.4.6.  Non-Repudiation vs Deniability

   As described in Section 3.6, MLS provides strong authentication
   within a group, such that a group member cannot send a message that
   appears to be from another group member.  Additionally, some services
   require that a recipient be able to prove to the service provider
   that a message was sent by a given client, in order to report abuse.
   MLS supports both of these use cases.  In some deployments, these

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 14]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

   services are provided by mechanisms which allow the receiver to prove
   a message's origin to a third party (this if often called "non-
   repudiation"), but it should also be possible to operate MLS in a
   "deniable" mode where such proof is not possible.

2.4.7.  Asynchronous Usage

   No operation in MLS requires two distinct clients or members to be
   online simultaneously.  In particular, members participating in
   conversations protected using MLS can update shared keys, add or
   remove new members, and send messages and attachments without waiting
   for another user's reply.

   Messaging systems that implement MLS have to provide a transport
   layer for delivering messages asynchronously and reliably.

2.4.8.  Access Control

   The MLS protocol allows each member of the messaging group to perform
   operations equally.  This is because all clients within a group
   (members) have access to the shared cryptographic material.  However
   every service/infrastructure have control over policies applied to
   their own clients.  Applications managing MLS clients can be
   configured to allow for specific Group operations.  An application
   can, for example, decide to provide specific permissions to a group
   administrator that will be the one to perform add and remove
   operations, but the flexibility is immense here.  On the other hand,
   in many settings such as open discussion forums, joining can be
   allowed for anyone.

   The MLS protocol can in certain modes can exchange unencrypted group
   operation messages.  This flexibility is to allow services to perform
   access control tasks on behalf of the group.

   While the Application messages will always be encrypted, having the
   handshake messages in plaintext has inconveniences in terms of
   privacy as someone could collect the signatures on the handshake
   messages and use it for tracking.

      *RECOMMENDATION:* Prefer using encrypted group operation messages
      to avoid privacy issues related to non-encrypted signatures.

   Note that in the default case of encrypted handshake messages, the
   application level must make sure that the access control policies are
   consistent across all clients to make sure that they remain in sync.
   If two different policies were applied, the clients might not accept
   or reject a group operation and end-up in different cryptographic
   states, breaking their ability to communicate.

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 15]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

      *RECOMMENDATION:* Avoid using inconsistent access control policies
      in the case of encrypted group operations.

2.4.9.  Recovery After State Loss

   Conversation participants whose local MLS state is lost or corrupted
   can reinitialize their state and continue participating in the

   [[OPEN ISSUE: The previous statement seems too strong, establish what
   exact functional requirement we have regarding state recovery.
   Previously: "This may entail some level of message loss, but does not
   result in permanent exclusion from the group."]]

2.4.10.  Support for Multiple Devices

   It is typically expected for users within a Group to own different

   A new device can be added to a group and be considered as a new
   client by the protocol.  This client will not gain access to the
   history even if it is owned by someone who owns another member of the
   Group.  Restoring history is typically not allowed at the protocol
   level but applications can elect to provide such a mechanism outside
   of MLS.  Such mechanisms, if used, may undermine the FS and PCS
   guarantees provided by MLS.

2.4.11.  Extensibility / Pluggability

   Messages that do not affect the group state can carry an arbitrary
   payload with the purpose of sharing that payload between group
   members.  No assumptions are made about the format of the payload.

2.4.12.  Federation

   The protocol aims to be compatible with federated environments.
   While this document does not specify all necessary mechanisms
   required for federation, multiple MLS implementations can
   interoperate to form federated systems if they use compatible
   authentication mechanisms and infrastructure functionalities.

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 16]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

2.4.13.  Compatibility with future versions of MLS

   It is important that multiple versions of MLS be able to coexist in
   the future.  Thus, MLS offers a version negotiation mechanism; this
   mechanism prevents version downgrade attacks where an attacker would
   actively rewrite messages with a lower protocol version than the ones
   originally offered by the endpoints.  When multiple versions of MLS
   are available, the negotiation protocol guarantees that the version
   agreed upon will be the highest version supported in common by the

   In MLS 1.0, the creator of the group is responsible for selecting the
   best ciphersuite proposed across clients.  Each client is able to
   verify availability of protocol version, ciphersuites and extensions
   at all times once he has at least received the first group operation

3.  Security and Privacy Considerations

   MLS adopts the Internet threat model [RFC3552] and therefore assumes
   that the attacker has complete control of the network.  It is
   intended to provide the security services described in the face of
   such attackers.

   -- The attacker can monitor the entire network

   -- The attacker can read unprotected messages

   -- The attacker can generate and inject any message in the
   unprotected transport layer.

   In addition, these guarantees are intended to degrade gracefully in
   the presence of compromise of the transport security links as well as
   of both Clients and elements of the messaging system, as described in
   the remainder of this section.

   Generally, MLS is designed under the assumption that the transport
   layer is present to protect metadata and privacy in general, while
   the MLS protocol is providing stronger guarantees such as
   confidentiality, integrity and authentication guarantees.  Stronger
   properties such as deniability can also be achieved in specific
   architecture designs.

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 17]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

3.1.  Considerations for attacks outside of the threat model

   Physical attacks on devices storing and executing MLS principals are
   not considered in depth in the threat model of the MLS protocol.
   While non-permanent, non-invasive attacks can sometime be equivalent
   to software attacks, physical attacks are considered outside of the
   MLS threat model.

   Compromise scenarios, typically consist in a software adversary,
   which can maintain active adaptative compromise and arbitrarily
   change the behavior of the client or service.

   On the other hand, security goals consider that honest clients will
   always run the protocol according to its specification.  This relies
   on implementations of the protocol to securely implement the
   specification, which remains non-trivial.

      *RECOMMENDATION:* Additional steps should be taken to protect the
      device and the MLS clients from physical compromise.  In such
      setting, HSMs and secure enclaves can be used to protect signature

      More information will be available in the Server-Assist draft.

   [[TODO: Reference to server assist when the draft is available.]]

3.2.  Transport Security Links

   Any secure channel can be used as a transport layer to protect MLS
   messages such as QUIC, TLS, WireGuard or TOR.  Though the MLS
   protocol is designed to consider the following threat-model:

   -- The attacker can read and write arbitrary messages inside the
   secure transport channel.

   This departs from most threat models where we consider that the
   secure channel used for transport always provides secrecy.  The
   reason for this consideration is that in the group setting active
   malicious insiders or adversarial services are be considered.

3.2.1.  Metadata protection for unencrypted group operations

   The main use of the secure transport layer for MLS is to protect the
   already limited amount of metadata.  Very little information is
   contained in the unencrypted header of the MLS Protocol message
   format for group operation messages, and application messages are
   always encrypted in MLS.

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 18]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

   Contrary to popular messaging services, the full list of recipients
   cannot be sent to the server for dispatching messages because that
   list is potentially extremely large in MLS.  So, the metadata
   typically consists of a pseudo-random Group Identifier (GID), an
   numerical index referring to the key needed to decrypt the ciphertext
   content and another numerical value to determine the epoch of the
   group (the number of group operations that have been performed).

   MLS protocol provides an authenticated "Authenticated Additional
   Data" field for application to make data available outside the

      *RECOMMENDATION:* Use the "Authenticated Additional Data" field of
      the MLSCiphertext message instead of using other unauthenticated
      means of sending metadata throughout the infrastructure.  If the
      data is private, the infrastructure should use encrypted
      Application messages instead.

   Even though, some of these metadata information are not secret
   payloads, in correlation with other data, a network observer might be
   able to reconstruct sensitive information.  Using a secure channel to
   transfer this information will prevent a network attacker to access
   this MLS protocol metadata if it cannot compromise the secure

   More importantly, there is one specific case where having no secure
   channel to exchange the MLS messages can have a serious impact on
   privacy.  In the case of unencrypted group operation messages,
   observing the signatures of the Group Operation messages may lead an
   adversary to extract information about the group memberships.

      *RECOMMENDATION:* Never use the unencrypted mode for group
      operations without using a secure channel for the transport layer.

3.2.2.  DoS protection

   In general we do not consider Denial of Service (DoS) resistance to
   be the responsibility of the protocol.  However, it should not be
   possible for anyone aside from the DS to perform a trivial DoS attack
   from which it is hard to recover.  This can be achieved through the
   secure transport layer.

   In the centralized setting DoS protection can typically be performed
   by using tickets or cookies which identify users to a service for a
   certain number of connections.  Such a system helps preventing
   anonymous clients to send arbitrary numbers of Group Operation
   messages to the Delivery Service or the MLS clients.

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 19]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

      *RECOMMENDATION:* Anonymous credentials can be used in order to
      help DoS attacks prevention, in a privacy preserving manner.  Note
      that the privacy of these mechanisms has to be adjusted in
      accordance with the privacy expected from the secure transport
      links.  (See more discussion further down.)

3.2.3.  Message suppression and error correction

   The MLS protocol is particularly sensitive about Group Operation
   message loss and reordering.  This is because in the default setting,
   MLS clients have to process those specific messages in order to have
   a synchronized group state, after what the MLS protocol efficiently
   generates keys for application messages.

   The Delivery Service can have the role of helping with reliability,
   but is mainly useful for reliability in the asynchronous aspect of
   the communication between MLS clients.

   While it is difficult or impossible to prevent a network adversary to
   suppress payloads in transit, in certain infrastructures such as
   banks or governments settings, unidirectional transports can be used
   and be enforced via electronic or physical devices such as diodes.
   This can lead to payload corruption which does not affect the
   security or privacy properties of the MLS Protocol but does affect
   the reliability of the service.  In that case specific measures can
   be taken to ensure the appropriate level of redundancy and quality of
   service for MLS.

      *RECOMMENDATION:* If unidirectional transport is used for the
      secure transport channel, prefer using a protocol which provides
      Forward Error Correction.

3.3.  Delivery Service Compromise

   MLS is intended to provide strong guarantees in the face of
   compromise of the DS.  Even a totally compromised DS should not be
   able to read messages or inject messages that will be acceptable to
   legitimate clients.  It should also not be able to undetectably
   remove, reorder or replay messages.

   However, a DS can mount a variety of DoS attacks on the system,
   including total DoS attacks (where it simply refuses to forward any
   messages) and partial DoS attacks (where it refuses to forward
   messages to and from specific clients).  As noted in Section 2.3.3,
   these attacks are only partially detectable by clients without an
   out-of-band channel.  Ultimately, failure of the DS to provide
   reasonable service must be dealt with as a customer service matter,
   not via technology.

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 20]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

   Because the DS is responsible for providing the initial keying
   material to clients, it can provide stale keys.  This does not
   inherently lead to compromise of the message stream, but does allow
   it to attack forward security to a limited extent.  This threat can
   be mitigated by having initial keys expire.

3.3.1.  Privacy of delivery and push notifications

   An important mechanism that is often ignored from the privacy
   considerations are the push-tokens.  In many modern messaging
   architectures, applications are using push notification mechanisms
   typically provided by OS vendors.  This is to make sure that when
   messages are available at the Delivery Service (or by other
   mechanisms if the DS is not a central server), the recipient
   application on a device knows about it.  Sometimes the push
   notification can contain the application message itself which saves a
   round trip with the DS.

   To "push" this information to the device, the service provider and
   the OS infrastructures use unique per-device, per-application
   identifiers called push-tokens.  This means that the push
   notification provider and the service provider have information on
   which devices receive information and at which point in time.

   Even though they can't necessarily access the content, which is
   typically encrypted MLS messages, the service provider and the push
   notification provider have to be trusted to avoid making correlation
   on which devices are recipients of the same message.

   For secure messaging systems, push notification are often sent real-
   time as it is not acceptable to create artificial delays for message

      *RECOMMENDATION:* If real time notification are not necessary and
      that specific steps must be taken to improve privacy, one can
      delay notifications randomly across recipient devices using a
      mixnet or other techniques.

   Note that it is quite easy for legal requests to ask the service
   provider for the push-token associated to an identifier and perform a
   second request to the company operating the push-notification system
   to get information about the device, which is often linked with a
   real identity via a cloud account, a credit card or other

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 21]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

      *RECOMMENDATION:* If stronger privacy guarantees are needed vis-
      a-vis of the push notification provider, the client can choose to
      periodically connect to the Delivery Service without the need of a
      dedicated push notification infrastructure.

3.4.  Authentication Service Compromise

   The Authentication Service design is left to the infrastructure
   designers.  In most designs, a compromised AS is a serious matter, as
   the AS can serve incorrect or attacker-provided identities to

   -- The attacker can link an identity to a credential

   -- The attacker can generate new credentials

   -- The attacker can sign new credentials

   -- The attacker can publish or distribute credentials

   Infrastructures that provide cryptographic material or credentials in
   place of the MLS client (which is under the control of the user) have
   often the ability to use the associated secrets to perform operations
   on behalf of the user, which is unacceptable in many situations.
   Other mechanisms can be used to prevent this issue, such as the
   service blessing cryptographic material used by an MLS client.

      *RECOMMENDATION:* Make clients submit signature public keys to the
      AS, this is usually better than the AS generating public key pairs
      because the AS cannot sign on behalf of the client.  This is a
      benefit of a Public Key Infrastructure in the style of the
      Internet PKI.

   An attacker that can generate or sign new credential may or may not
   have access to the underlying cryptographic material necessary to
   perform such operations.  In that last case, it results in windows of
   time for which all emitted credentials might be compromised.

      *RECOMMENDATION:* Using HSMs to store the root signature keys to
      limit the ability of an adversary with no physical access to
      extract the top-level signature key.

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 22]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

3.4.1.  Authentication compromise: Ghost users and impersonations

   One thing for which the MLS Protocol is designed for is to make sure
   that all clients know who is in the group at all times.  This means
   that - if all Members of the group and the Authentication Service are
   honest - no other parties than the members of the current group can
   read and write messages protected by the protocol for that Group.

   Beware though, the link between the cryptographic identity of the
   Client and the real identity of the User is important.  With some
   Authentication Service designs, a private or centralized authority
   can be trusted to generate or validate signature keypairs used in the
   MLS protocol.  This is typically the case in some of the biggest
   messaging infrastructures.

   While this service is often very well protected from external
   attackers, it might be the case that this service is compromised.  In
   such infrastructure, the AS could generate or validate a signature
   keypair for an identity which is not the expected one.  Because a
   user can have many MLS clients running the MLS protocol, it possibly
   has many signature keypairs for multiple devices.

   In the case where an adversarial keypair is generated for a specific
   identity, an infrastructure without any transparency mechanism or
   out-of-band authentication mechanism could inject a malicious client
   into a group by impersonating a user.  This is especially the case in
   large groups where the UI might not reflect all the changes back the
   the users.

      *RECOMMENDATION:* Make sure that MLS clients reflect all the
      membership changes to the users as they happen.  If a choice has
      to be made because the number of notifications is too high, a
      public log should be maintained in the state of the device so that
      user can examine it.

   While the ways to handle MLS credentials are not defined by the
   protocol or the architecture documents, the MLS protocol has been
   designed with a mechanism that can be used to provide out-of-band
   authentication to users.  The "authentication_secret" generated for
   each user at each epoch of the group is a one-time, per client,
   authentication secret which can be exchanged between users to prove
   their identity to each other.  This can be done for instance using a
   QR code that can be scanned by the other parties.

   Another way to improve the security for the users is to provide a
   transparency mechanism which allows each user to check if credentials
   used in groups have been published in the transparency log.  Another
   benefit of this mechanism is for revocation.  The users of a group

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 23]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

   could check for revoked keys (in case of compromise detection) using
   a mechanism such as CRLite or some more advanced privacy preserving

      *RECOMMENDATION:* Provide a Key Transparency and Out-of-Band
      authentication mechanisms to limit the impact of an Authentication
      Service compromise.

   We note, again, that as described prior to that section, the
   Authentication Service is facultative to design a working
   infrastructure and can be replaced by many mechanisms such as
   establishing prior one-to-one deniable channels, gossiping, or using
   TOFU for credentials used by the MLS Protocol.

   Another important consideration is the ease of redistributing new
   keys on client compromise, which helps recovering security faster in
   various cases.

3.4.2.  Privacy of the Group Membership

   Often, expectation from users is that the infrastructure will not
   retain the ability to constantly map the user identity to signature
   public keys of the MLS protocol.  Some infrastructures will keep a
   mapping between signature public keys of clients and user identities.
   This can benefit an adversary that has compromised the AS (or
   required access according to regulation) the ability of monitoring
   unencrypted traffic and correlate the messages exchanged within the
   same group.

      *RECOMMENDATION:* Always use encrypted group operation messages to
      reduce issues related to privacy.

   In certain cases, the adversary can access to specific bindings
   between public keys and identities.  If the signature keys are reused
   across groups, the adversary can get more information about the
   targeted user.

      *RECOMMENDATION:* Do not use the same signature keypair across

      *RECOMMENDATION:* Separate the service binding the identities and
      the public keys from the service which generates or validates the
      credentials or cryptographic material of the Clients.

3.5.  Shared considerations regarding adversarial AS or DS services

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 24]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

3.5.1.  Privacy of the network connections

   There are many scenarios leading to communication between the
   application on a device and the Delivery Service or the
   Authentication Service.  In particular when:

   *  The application connects to the Authentication Service to generate
      or validate a new credential before distributing it.

   *  The application fetches credentials at the Delivery Service prior
      to creating a messaging group (one-to-one or more than two

   *  The application fetches service provider information or messages
      on the Delivery Service.

   *  The application sends service provider information or messages to
      the Delivery Service.

   In all these cases, the application will often connect to the device
   via a secure transport which leaks information about the origin of
   the request such as the IP address and depending on the protocol the
   MAC address of the device.

   Similar concern exist in the peer-to-peer use cases of MLS.

      *RECOMMENDATION:* In the case where privacy or anonymity is
      important, using adequate protection such as TOR or a VPN can
      improve metadata protection.

   More generally, using anonymous credential in an MLS based
   architecture might not be enough to provide strong privacy or
   anonymity properties.

3.6.  Client Compromise

   The MLS protocol adopts a threat model which includes multiple forms
   of Client compromises.  While adversaries are in a very strong
   position if they have compromised an MLS client, there are still
   situations where security guarantees can be recovered thanks to the
   PCS properties achieved by the MLS protocol.

   In this section we will explore the consequences and recommendations
   regarding the following compromise scenarios:

   -- The attacker has access to a specific symmetric encryption key

   -- The attacker has access to the group secrets for one group

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 25]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

   -- The attacker has access to a signature oracle for any group

   -- The attacker has access to the signature key for one group

   -- The attacker has access to all secrets of a user for all groups
   (full state compromise)

   [[TODO: Cite the research papers in the context of these compromise

   Recall that the MLS protocol provides chains of AEAD keys, per sender
   that are generated from Group Secrets.  These keys are used to
   protect MLS Plaintext messages which can be Group Operation or
   Application messages.  The Group Operation messages offer an
   additional protection as the secret exchanged within the TreeKEM
   group key agreement are public-key encrypted to subgroups with HPKE.

3.6.1.  Compromise of AEAD key material

   In some circumstances, adversaries may have access to specific AEAD
   keys and nonces which protect an Application or a Group Operation
   message.  While this is a very weak kind of compromise, it can be
   realistic in cases of implementation vulnerabilities where only part
   of the memory leaks to the adversary.

   When an AEAD key is compromised, the adversary has access to a set of
   AEAD keys for the same chain and the same epoch, hence can decrypt
   messages sent using keys of this chain.  An adversary cannot send a
   message to a group which appears to be from any valid client since
   they cannot forge the signature.

   The MLS protocol will ensure that an adversary cannot compute any
   previous AEAD keys for the same epoch, or any other epochs.  Because
   of its Forward Secrecy guarantees, MLS will also retain secrecy of
   all other AEAD keys generated for _other_ MLS clients, outside this
   dedicated chain of AEAD keys and nonces, even within the epoch of the
   compromise.  However the MLS protocol does not provide Post
   Compromise Secrecy for AEAD encryption within an epoch.  This means
   that if the AEAD key of a chain is compromised, the adversary can
   compute an arbitrary number of subsequent AEAD keys for that chain.

   These guarantees are ensured by the structure of the MLS key schedule
   which provides Forward Secrecy for these AEAD encryptions, across the
   messages within the epoch and also across previous epochs.  Those
   chains are completely disjoint and compromising keys across the
   chains would mean that some Group Secrets have been compromised,
   which is not the case in this attack scenario (we explore stronger
   compromise scenarios as part of the following sections).

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 26]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

   MLS provides Post-Compromise Secrecy against an active adaptative
   attacker across epochs for AEAD encryption, which means that as soon
   as the epoch is changed, if the attacker does not have access to more
   secret material they won't be able to access any protected messages
   from future epochs.

   In the case of an Application message, an AEAD key compromise means
   that the encrypted application message will be leaked as well as the
   signature over that message.  This means, that the compromise has
   both confidentiality and privacy implications on the future AEAD
   encryptions of that chain.  In the case of a Group Operation message,
   only the privacy is affected, as the signature is revealed, because
   the secrets themselves are protected by HPKE encryption.

   Note that under that compromise scenario, authentication is not
   affected in neither of these cases.  As every member of the group can
   compute the AEAD keys for all the chains (they have access to the
   Group Secrets) in order to send and receive messages, the
   authentication provided by the AEAD encryption layer of the common
   framing mechanism is very weak.  Successful decryption of an AEAD
   encrypted message only guarantees that a member of the group sent the

3.6.2.  Compromise of the Group Secrets of a single group for one or
        more group epochs

   The attack scenario considering an adversary gaining access to a set
   of Group secrets is significantly stronger.  This can typically be
   the case when a member of the group is compromised.  For this
   scenario, we consider that the signature keys are not compromised.
   This can be the case for instance if the adversary has access to part
   of the memory containing the group secrets but not to the signature
   keys which might be stored in a secure enclave.

   In this scenario, the adversary gains the ability to compute any
   number of AEAD encryption keys for any AEAD chains and can encrypt
   and decrypt all messages for the compromised epochs.

   If the adversary is passive, it is expected from the PCS properties
   of the MLS protocol that, as soon as an honest Commit message is sent
   by the compromised party, the next epochs will provide message

   If the adversary is active, the adversary can follow the protocol and
   perform updates on behalf of the compromised party with no ability to
   an honest group to recover message secrecy.  However, MLS provides
   PCS against active adaptative attackers through its Remove group
   operation.  This means that, as long as other members of the group

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 27]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

   are honest, the protocol will guarantee message secrecy for all
   messages exchanged in the epochs after the compromised party has been

3.6.3.  Compromise by an active adversary with the ability to sign

   Under such a scenario, where an active adversary has compromised an
   MLS client, two different settings emerge.  In the strongest
   compromise scenario, the attacker has access to the signing key and
   can forge authenticated messages.  In a weaker, yet realistic
   scenario, the attacker has compromised a client but the client
   signature keys are protected with dedicated hardware features which
   do not allow direct access to the value of the private key and
   instead provide a signature API.

   When considering an active adaptative attacker with access to a
   signature oracle, the compromise scenario implies a significant
   impact on both the secrecy and authentication guarantees of the
   protocol, especially if the attacker also has access to the group
   secrets.  In that case both secrecy and authentication are broken.
   The attacker can generate any message, for the current and future
   epochs until an honest update from the compromised client happens.

   Note that under this compromise scenario, the attacker can perform
   all operations which are available to an legitimate client even
   without access to the actual value of the signature key.

   Without access to the group secrets, the adversary will not have the
   ability to generate messages which look valid to other members of the
   group and to the infrastructure as they need to have access to group
   secrets to compute the encryption keys or the membership tag.

3.6.4.  Compromise of the authentication with access to a signature key

   DISCLAIMER: Significant work remains in this section.  [[TODO: Remove

   The difference between having access to the value of the signature
   key and only having access to a signing oracle is not about the
   ability of an active adaptative network attacker to perform different
   operations during the time of the compromise, the attacker can
   perform every operations available to a legitimate client in both

   There is a significant difference, however in terms of recovery after
   a compromise.

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 28]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

   Because of the PCS guarantees provided by the MLS protocol, when a
   previously compromised client performs an honest Commit which is not
   under the control of the adversary, both secrecy and authentication
   of messages can be recovered in the case where the attacker didn't
   get access to the key.  Because the adversary doesn't have the key
   and has lost the ability to sign messages, they cannot authenticate
   messages on behalf of the compromised party, even if they still have
   control over some group keys by colluding with other members of the

   This is in contrast with the case where the signature key is leaked.
   In that case PCS of the MLS protocol will eventually allow recovery
   of the authentication of messages for future epochs but only after
   compromised parties refresh their credentials securely.

   Beware that in both oracle and private key access, an active
   adaptative attacker, can follow the protocol and request to update
   its own credential.  This in turn induce a signature key rotation
   which could provide the attacker with part or the full value of the
   private key depending on the architecture of the service provider.

      *RECOMMENDATION:* Signature private keys should be
      compartmentalized from other secrets and preferably protected by
      an HSM or dedicated hardware features to allow recovery of the
      authentication for future messages after a compromised.

   Even if the dedicated hardware approach is used, ideally, neither the
   Client or the Authentication service alone should provide the
   signature private key.  Both should contribute to the key and it
   should be stored securely by the client with no direct access.

3.6.5.  Security consideration in the context of a full state compromise

   In real-world compromise scenarios, it is often the case that
   adversaries target specific devices to obtain parts of the memory or
   even the ability to execute arbitrary code in the targeted device.

   Also, recall that in this setting, the application will often retain
   the unencrypted messages.  If so, the adversary does not have to
   break encryption at all to access sent and received messages.
   Messages may also be send by using the application to instruct the
   protocol implementation.

      *RECOMMENDATION:* If messages are stored on the device, they
      should be protected using encryption at rest, and the keys used
      should be stored securely using dedicated mechanisms on the

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 29]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

      *RECOMMENDATION:* If the threat model of the system is against an
      adversary which can access the messages on the device without even
      needing to attack MLS, the application should delete plaintext
      messages and ciphertexts immediately after encryption or

   Even though, from the strict point of view of the security
   formalization, a ciphertext is always public and will forever be,
   there is no loss in trying to erase ciphertexts as much as possible.

   Note that this document makes a clear distinction between the way
   signature keys and other group shared secrets must be handled.  In
   particular, a large set of group secrets cannot necessarily assumed
   to be protected by an HSM or secure enclave features.  This is
   especially true because these keys are extremely frequently used and
   changed with each message received by a client.

   However, the signature private keys are mostly used by clients to
   send a message.  They also are providing the strong authentication
   guarantees to other clients, hence we consider that their protection
   by additional security mechanism should be a priority.

   Overall there is no way to detect or prevent these compromise, as
   discussed in the previous sections, performing separation of the
   application secret states can help recovery after compromise, this is
   the case for signature keys but similar concern exists for the
   encryption private key used in the TreeKEM Group Key Agreement.

      *RECOMMENDATION:* The secret keys used for public key encryption
      should be stored similarly to the way the signature keys are
      stored as key can be used to decrypt the group operation messages
      and contain the secret material used to compute all the group

   Even if secure enclaves are not perfectly secure, or even completely
   broken, adopting additional protections for these keys can ease
   recovery of the secrecy and authentication guarantees after a
   compromise where for instance, an attacker can sign messages without
   having access to the key.  In certain contexts, the rotation of
   credentials might only be triggered by the AS through ACLs, hence be
   outside of the capabilities of the attacker.

   [[TODO: Considerations for Signature keys being reused or not across

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 30]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

3.6.6.  More attack scenarios

   [[TODO: Make examples for more complex attacks, cross groups, multi

   [[TODO: Do we discuss PCFS in this document?  If yes, where?]]

4.  IANA Considerations

   This document makes no requests of IANA.

5.  Contributors

   *  Katriel Cohn-Gordon

      University of Oxford

   *  Cas Cremers

      University of Oxford

   *  Thyla van der Merwe

      Royal Holloway, University of London

   *  Jon Millican


   *  Raphael Robert


6.  Informative References

              Google, ., "Key Transparency", 2017,

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 31]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021

   [MLSPROTO] Barnes, R., Beurdouche, B., Millican, J., Omara, E., Cohn-
              Gordon, K., and R. Robert, "Messaging Layer Security
              Protocol", 2018.

   [RFC3552]  Rescorla, E. and B. Korver, "Guidelines for Writing RFC
              Text on Security Considerations", BCP 72, RFC 3552,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC3552, July 2003,

   [RFC6120]  Saint-Andre, P., "Extensible Messaging and Presence
              Protocol (XMPP): Core", RFC 6120, DOI 10.17487/RFC6120,
              March 2011, <>.

   [RFC7049]  Bormann, C. and P. Hoffman, "Concise Binary Object
              Representation (CBOR)", RFC 7049, DOI 10.17487/RFC7049,
              October 2013, <>.

   [RFC7159]  Bray, T., Ed., "The JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) Data
              Interchange Format", RFC 7159, DOI 10.17487/RFC7159, March
              2014, <>.

   [RFC8446]  Rescorla, E., "The Transport Layer Security (TLS) Protocol
              Version 1.3", RFC 8446, DOI 10.17487/RFC8446, August 2018,

Authors' Addresses

   Emad Omara


   Benjamin Beurdouche
   Inria & Mozilla


   Eric Rescorla


   Srinivas Inguva

Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 32]

Internet-Draft              MLS Architecture                  March 2021


   Albert Kwon


   Alan Duric


Omara, et al.           Expires 9 September 2021               [Page 33]