A formal security analysis of the Signal messaging protocol

Signal protocol

Abstract

Signal is a new security protocol and accompanying app that provides end-to-end encryption for instant messaging. The core protocol has recently been adopted by WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Google Allo among many others; the first two of these have at least 1 billion active users. Signal includes several uncommon security properties (such as "future secrecy" or "post-compromise security"), enabled by a novel technique called ratcheting in which session keys are updated with every message sent. Despite its importance and novelty, there has been little to no academic analysis of the Signal protocol.

We conduct the first security analysis of Signal's key agreement and double ratchet as a multi-stage key exchange protocol. We extract from the implementation a formal description of the abstract protocol, and define a security model which can capture the "ratcheting" key update structure. We then prove the security of Signal's core in our model, demonstrating several standard security properties. We have found no major flaws in the design, and hope that our presentation and results can serve as a starting point for other analyses of this widely adopted protocol.

Keywords: messaging, post-compromise security, Signal, future secrecy, authenticated key exchange, provable security, multi-stage key exchange

Reference

Katriel Cohn-Gordon, Cas Cremers, Benjamin Dowling, Luke Garratt, Douglas Stebila. A formal security analysis of the Signal messaging protocol. In Proc. IEEE European Symposium on Security and Privacy (EuroS&P) 2017. IEEE, April 2017. © IEEE.

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Funding

This research was supported by:
  • Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery grant RGPIN-2016-05146
  • NSERC Discovery Accelerator Supplement grant RGPIN-2016-05146
  • Oxford CDT in Cyber Security