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Security Analysis and Improvements for the IETF MLS Standard for Group Messaging
August/2020, CRYPTO '20
Secure messaging (SM) protocols allow users to communicate securely over untrusted infrastructure. In contrast to most other secure communication protocols (such as TLS, SSH, or Wireguard), SM sessions may be long-lived (e.g., years) and highly asynchronous. In order to deal with likely state compromises of users during the lifetime of a session, SM protocols do not only protect authenticity and privacy, but they also guarantee forward secrecy (FS) and post-compromise security (PCS). The former ensures that messages sent and received before a state compromise remain secure, while the latter ensures that users can recover from state compromise as a consequence of normal protocol usage.
SM has received considerable attention in the two-party case, where prior work has studied the well-known double-ratchet paradigm in particular and SM as a cryptographic primitive in general. Unfortunately, this paradigm does not scale well to the problem of secure group messaging (SGM). In order to address the lack of satisfactory SGM protocols, the IETF has launched the message-layer security (MLS) working group, which aims to standardize an eponymous SGM protocol. In this work we analyze the TreeKEM protocol, which is at the core of the SGM protocol proposed by the MLS working group.
On a positive note, we show that TreeKEM achieves PCS in isolation (and slightly more). However, we observe that the current version of TreeKEM does not provide an adequate form of FS. More precisely, our work proceeds by formally capturing the exact security of TreeKEM as a so-called continuous group key agreement (CGKA) protocol, which we believe to be a primitive of independent interest. To address the insecurity of TreeKEM, we propose a simple modification to TreeKEM inspired by recent work of Jost et al. (EUROCRYPT '19) and an idea due to Kohbrok (MLS Mailing List). We then show that the modified version of TreeKEM comes with almost no efficiency degradation but achieves optimal (according to MLS specification) CGKA security, including FS and PCS. Our work also lays out how a CGKA protocol can be used to design a full SGM protocol.
Finally, we propose and motivate an extensive list of potential future research directions for the area.