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# Kernel developer PGP guide
Updated: 2018-01-24
### Target audience
This document is aimed at Linux kernel developers, and especially subsystem
maintainers. It contains a subset of information discussed in the more
general "Protecting Code Integrity" guide found in the same repository. If you
are not a Linux kernel developer, you should read the more general guide
This document covers the following topics:
1. How to improve your PGP key security
2. When and how to use PGP with git
3. How to verify fellow kernel developer identities
### Structure
Each section is split into two areas:
- A checklist of actionable items
- Free-form list of considerations that explain what dictated these decisions,
together with configuration instructions
#### Checklist priority levels
The items in each checklist include the priority level, which we hope will
help guide your decision:
- _(ESSENTIAL)_ items should definitely be high on the consideration list.
- _(NICE)_ to have items will improve the overall security, but will affect how
you interact with your work environment, and probably require learning new
habits or unlearning old ones.
Remember, these are only guidelines. If you feel these priority levels do not
reflect your commitment to security, you should adjust them as you see fit.
## The role of PGP in Linux Kernel development
PGP helps ensure the integrity of the code that is produced by the Linux
Kernel development community and, to a lesser degree, establish trusted
communication channels between developers via PGP-signed email exchange.
The Linux Kernel source code is available in two main formats:
- Distributed source repositories (git)
- Periodic release snapshots (tarballs)
Both git repositories and tarballs carry PGP signatures of the kernel
developers who create official kernel releases. These signatures offer a
cryptographic guarantee that downloadable versions made available via or any other mirrors are identical to what these developers have on
their workstations. To this end:
- git repositories provide PGP signatures on all tags
- tarballs provide detached PGP signatures with all downloads
### Trusting the developers, not infrastructure
Ever since the 2011 compromise of core systems, the main operating
principle of the Kernel Archives project has been to assume that any part of
the infrastructure can be compromised at any time. For this reason, the
administrators have taken deliberate steps to emphasize that trust must always
be placed with developers and never with the code hosting infrastructure,
regardless of how good the security practices for the latter may be.
The above guiding principle is the reason why this guide is needed. We want to
make sure that by placing trust into developers we do not simply shift the
blame for potential future security incidents to someone else. The goal is to
provide a set of guidelines developers can use to create a secure working
environment and safeguard the PGP keys used to establish the integrity of the
Linux Kernel itself.
## PGP tools
### Checklist
- [ ] Make sure you use GnuPG version 2 _(ESSENTIAL)_
- [ ] Configure gpg-agent _(ESSENTIAL)_
- [ ] Set up a refresh cronjob _(ESSENTIAL)_
### Considerations
### Installing GnuPG
Your distro should already have GnuPG installed by default, you just need to
verify that you are using version 2.x and not the legacy 1.4 release --
many distributions still package both, with the default `gpg` command invoking
GnuPG v.1. To check, run:
$ gpg --version | head -n1
If you see `gpg (GnuPG) 1.4.x`, then you are using GnuPG v.1. Try the `gpg2`
command (if you don't have it, you may need to install the gnupg2 package):
$ gpg2 --version | head -n1
If you see `gpg (GnuPG) 2.x.x`, then you are good to go. This guide will
assume you have the version 2.2 of GnuPG (or later). If you are using version
2.0 of GnuPG, then some of the commands in this guide will not work, and you
should consider installing the latest 2.2 version of GnuPG. Versions of
gnupg-2.1.11 and later should be compatible for the purposes of this guide as
##### Making sure you always use GnuPG v.2
If you have both `gpg` and `gpg2` commands, you should make sure you are
always using GnuPG v2, not the legacy version. You can enforce this by setting
the appropriate alias:
$ alias gpg=gpg2
You can put that in your `.bashrc` to make sure it's always the case.
#### Configure gpg-agent options
The GnuPG agent is a helper tool that will start automatically whenever you
use the `gpg` command and run in the background with the purpose of caching
the private key passphrase. It is no longer necessary to start it manually
at the beginning of your shell session.
There are two options you should know in order to tweak when the passphrase
should be expired from cache:
- `default-cache-ttl` (seconds): If you use the same key again before the
time-to-live expires, the countdown will reset for another period.
The default is 600 (10 minutes).
- `max-cache-ttl` (seconds): Regardless of how recently you've used the key
since initial passphrase entry, if the maximum time-to-live countdown
expires, you'll have to enter the passphrase again. The default is 30
If you find either of these defaults too short (or too long), you can edit
your `~/.gnupg/gpg-agent.conf` file to set your own values:
# set to 30 minutes for regular ttl, and 2 hours for max ttl
default-cache-ttl 1800
max-cache-ttl 7200
#### Set up a refresh cronjob
You will need to regularly refresh your keyring in order to get the latest
changes on other people's public keys, which is best done with a daily
$ crontab -e
Add the following on a new line:
@daily /usr/bin/gpg2 --refresh >/dev/null 2>&1
**NOTE**: check the full path to your `gpg` or `gpg2` command and use the `gpg2`
command if regular `gpg` for you is the legacy GnuPG v.1.
## Protecting your master PGP key
### Checklist
- [ ] Understand the "master" key vs. subkeys _(ESSENTIAL)_
- [ ] Ensure your private key passphrase is strong _(ESSENTIAL)_
- [ ] Create a separate **[S]** subkey _(ESSENTIAL)_
- [ ] Back up the master key using paperkey _(ESSENTIAL)_
- [ ] Back up your whole `.gnupg` directory to encrypted media _(ESSENTIAL)_
- [ ] Remove the master key from your homedir _(ESSENTIAL)_
### Considerations
This guide assumes that you already have a PGP key that you use for Linux
Kernel development purposes. If you do not yet have one, please see the
"Protecting Code Integrity" document in this repository for guidance on how to
create a new one.
You should also make a new key if your current one is weaker than 2048 bits
#### Understanding the "Master" (Certify) key
In this and next section we'll talk about the "master key" and "subkeys". It
is important to understand the following:
1. There are no technical differences between the "master key" and "subkeys."
2. At creation time, we assign functional limitations to each key by
giving it specific capabilities.
3. A PGP key can have 4 capabilities.
- **[S]** key can be used for signing
- **[E]** key can be used for encryption
- **[A]** key can be used for authentication
- **[C]** key can be used for certifying other keys
4. A single key may have multiple capabilities.
The key carrying the **[C]** (certify) capability is considered the "master"
key because it is the only key that can be used to indicate relationship with
other keys. Only the **[C]** key can be used to:
- add or revoke other keys (subkeys) with S/E/A capabilities
- add, change or revoke identities (uids) associated with the key
- add or change the expiration date on itself or any subkey
- sign other people's keys for the web of trust purposes
By default, GnuPG creates the following when generating new keys:
- A master key carrying both Certify and Sign capabilities (**[SC]**)
- A separate subkey with the Encryption capability (**[E]**)
If you used the default parameters when generating your key, then that is what
you will have. You can verify by running `gpg --list-secret-keys`, for
sec rsa2048 2018-01-23 [SC] [expires: 2020-01-23]
uid [ultimate] Alice Dev <>
ssb rsa2048 2018-01-23 [E] [expires: 2020-01-23]
Any key carrying the **[C]** capability is your master key, regardless of any
other capabilities it may have assigned to it.
The long line under the `sec` entry is your key fingerprint -- whenever you
see `[fpr]` in the examples below, that 40-character string is what it refers
#### Ensure your passphrase is strong
GnuPG uses passphrases to encrypt your private keys before storing them on
disk. This way, even if your `.gnupg` directory is leaked or stolen in its
entirety, the attackers cannot use your private keys without first obtaining
the passphrase to decrypt them.
It is absolutely essential that your private keys are protected by a
strong passphrase. To set it or change it, use:
$ gpg --change-passphrase [fpr]
#### Create a separate Signing subkey
Our goal is to protect your master key by moving it to offline media, so
if you only have a combined **[SC]** key, then you should create a separate
signing subkey.
##### RSA vs. ECC subkeys
GnuPG 2.1 and later has full support for Elliptic Curve Cryptography, with
ability to combine ECC subkeys with traditional RSA master keys. The main
upside of ECC cryptography is that it is much faster computationally and
creates much smaller signatures when compared byte for byte with 2048+ bit RSA
Unless you plan on using a smartcard device that does not support ECC
operations, we recommend that you create an ECC signing subkey for your kernel
$ gpg --quick-add-key [fpr] ed25519 sign
If for some reason you prefer to stay with RSA subkeys, just replace "ed25519"
with "rsa2048" in the above command.
Remember to tell the keyservers about this change, so others can pull down
your new subkey:
$ gpg --send-key [fpr]
#### Back up your master key for disaster recovery
The more signatures you have on your PGP key from other developers, the more
reasons you have to create a backup version that lives on something other than
digital media, for disaster recovery reasons.
The best way to create a printable hardcopy of your private key is by using
the `paperkey` software written for this very purpose. See `man paperkey` for
more details on the output format and its benefits over other solutions.
Paperkey should already be packaged for most distributions.
Run the following command to create a hardcopy backup of your private key:
$ gpg --export-secret-key [fpr] | paperkey > /tmp/key-backup.txt
Print out that file (or pipe the output straight to lpr), then take a pen and
write your passphrase on the margin of the paper. **This is strongly
recommended** because the key printout is still encrypted with that
passphrase, and if you ever change it you will not remember what it used to be
when you had created the backup -- *guaranteed*.
Put the resulting printout and the hand-written passphrase into an envelope
and store in a secure and well-protected place, preferably away from your
home, such as your bank vault.
**NOTE ON PRINTERS**: Your printer is probably no longer a simple dumb device
connected to your parallel port, but since the output is still encrypted with
your passphrase, printing out even to "cloud-integrated" modern printers
should remain a relatively safe operation. One option is to change the
passphrase on your master key immediately after you are done with paperkey.
#### Back up your whole GnuPG directory
**!!!Do not skip this step!!!**
It is important to have a readily available backup of your PGP keys should you
need to recover them (this is different from the disaster-level preparedness
we did with `paperkey`). You will also rely on these external copies whenever
you need to use your Certify key -- such as when making changes to your own
key or signing other people's keys after conferences and meetups.
##### Prepare detachable encrypted storage
Start by getting a small USB "thumb" drive (preferably two!) that you will use
for backup purposes. You will need to encrypt them before using them for our
- [Ubuntu instructions](
For the encryption passphrase, you can use the same one as on your master key.
##### Back up your GnuPG directory
Once the encryption process is over, re-insert the USB drive and make sure it
gets properly mounted. Find out the full mount point of the device, for
example by running the `mount` command (under Linux, external media usually
gets mounted under `/media/disk`).
Once you know the full mount path, copy your entire GnuPG directory there:
$ cp -a ~/.gnupg [/media/disk/name]/gnupg-backup
(Note: If you get any `Operation not supported on socket` errors, those are
benign and you can ignore them.)
You should now test to make sure everything still works:
$ gpg --homedir=[/media/disk/name]/gnupg-backup --list-key [fpr]
If you don't get any errors, then you should be good to go. Unmount the USB
drive, distinctly label it so you don't blow it away next time you need to use
a random USB drive, and put in a safe place -- but not too far away, because
you'll need to use it every now and again for things like editing identities,
adding or revoking subkeys, or signing other people's keys.
#### Remove the master key from your homedir
The files in our home directory are not as well protected as we like to think.
They can be leaked or stolen via many different means:
- by accident when making quick homedir copies to set up a new workstation
- by systems administrator negligence or malice
- via poorly secured backups
- via malware in desktop apps (browsers, pdf viewers, etc)
- via coercion when crossing international borders
Protecting your key with a good passphrase greatly helps reduce the risk of
any of the above, but passphrases can be discovered via keyloggers,
shoulder-surfing, or any number of other means. For this reason, the
recommended setup is to remove your master key from your home directory and
store it on offline storage.
##### Removing your master key
Please see the previous section and make sure you have backed up your GnuPG
directory in its entirety. What we are about to do will render your key
useless if you do not have a usable backup!
First, identify the keygrip of your master key:
$ gpg --with-keygrip --list-key [fpr]
The output will be something like this:
pub rsa2048 2018-01-24 [SC] [expires: 2020-01-24]
Keygrip = 1111000000000000000000000000000000000000
uid [ultimate] Alice Dev <>
sub rsa2048 2018-01-24 [E] [expires: 2020-01-24]
Keygrip = 2222000000000000000000000000000000000000
sub ed25519 2018-01-24 [S]
Keygrip = 3333000000000000000000000000000000000000
Find the keygrip entry that is beneath the `pub` line (right under the master
key fingerprint). This will correspond directly to a file in your `~/.gnupg`
$ cd ~/.gnupg/private-keys-v1.d
$ ls
All you have to do is simply remove the `.key` file that corresponds to the
master keygrip:
$ cd ~/.gnupg/private-keys-v1.d
$ rm 1111000000000000000000000000000000000000.key
Now, if you issue the `--list-secret-keys` command, it will show that the
master key is missing (the `#` indicates it is not available):
$ gpg --list-secret-keys
sec# rsa2048 2018-01-24 [SC] [expires: 2020-01-24]
uid [ultimate] Alice Dev <>
ssb rsa2048 2018-01-24 [E] [expires: 2020-01-24]
ssb ed25519 2018-01-24 [S]
You should also remove any `secring.gpg` files in the `~/.gnupg` directory,
which are left over from earlier versions of GnuPG.
##### If you don't have the "private-keys-v1.d" directory
If you do not have a `~/.gnupg/private-keys-v1.d` directory, then your
secret keys are still stored in the legacy `secring.gpg` file used by GnuPG
v1. Making any changes to your key, such as changing the passphrase or adding
a subkey, should automatically convert the old `secring.gpg` format to use
`private-keys-v1.d` instead.
Once you get that done, make sure to delete the obsolete `secring.gpg` file,
which still contains your private keys.
## Move the subkeys to a dedicated crypto device
### Checklist
- [ ] Get a GnuPG-compatible hardware device _(NICE)_
- [ ] Configure the device to work with GnuPG _(NICE)_
- [ ] Set the user and admin PINs _(NICE)_
- [ ] Move your subkeys to the device _(NICE)_
### Considerations
Even though the master key is now safe from being leaked or stolen, the
subkeys are still in your home directory. Anyone who manages to get their
hands on those will be able to decrypt your communication or fake your
signatures (if they know the passphrase). Furthermore, each time a GnuPG
operation is performed, the keys are loaded into system memory and can be
stolen from there by sufficiently advanced malware (think Meltdown and
The best way to completely protect your keys is to move them to a specialized
hardware device that is capable of smartcard operations.
#### The benefits of smartcards
A smartcard contains a cryptographic chip that is capable of storing private
keys and performing crypto operations directly on the card itself. Because the
key contents never leave the smartcard, the operating system of the computer
into which you plug in the hardware device is not able to retrieve the
private keys themselves. This is very different from the encrypted USB storage
device we used earlier for backup purposes -- while that USB device is plugged
in and mounted, the operating system is able to access the private key
Using external encrypted USB media is not a substitute to having a
smartcard-capable device.
#### Available smartcard devices
Unless all your laptops and workstations have smartcard readers, the easiest
is to get a specialized USB device that implements smartcard functionality.
There are several options available:
- [Nitrokey Start](
Open hardware and Free Software, based on FSI Japan's
[Gnuk]( Offers support for ECC keys,
but fewest security features (such as resistance to tampering or some
side-channel attacks).
- [Nitrokey Pro](
Similar to the Nitrokey Start, but more tamper-resistant and offers more
security features, but no ECC support.
- [Yubikey 4]( Proprietary
hardware and software, but cheaper than Nitrokey Pro and comes available in
the USB-C form that is more useful with newer laptops. Offers
additional security features such as FIDO U2F, but no ECC.
[LWN has a good review]( of some of the above
models, as well as several others. If you want to use ECC keys, your best bet
among commercially available devices is the Nitrokey Start.
#### Configuring your smartcard device
Your smartcard device should Just Work (TM) the moment you plug it into any
modern Linux workstation. You can verify it by running:
$ gpg --card-status
If you see full smartcard details, then you are good to go. Unfortunately,
troubleshooting all possible reasons why things may not be working for you is
way beyond the scope of this guide. If you are having trouble getting the card
to work with GnuPG, please seek help via usual support channels.
##### Quick setup
To configure your smartcard, you will need to use the GnuPG menu system, as
there are no convenient command-line switches:
$ gpg --card-edit
gpg/card> admin
Admin commands are allowed
gpg/card> passwd
You should set the user PIN (1), Admin PIN (3), and the Reset Code (4). Please
make sure to record and store these in a safe place -- especially the Admin
PIN and the Reset Code (which allows you to completely wipe the smartcard).
You so rarely need to use the Admin PIN, that you will inevitably forget what
it is if you do not record it.
Getting back to the main card menu, you can also set other values (such as
name, sex, login data, etc), but it's not necessary and will additionally leak
information about your smartcard should you lose it.
##### PINs don't have to be numbers
Note, that despite having the name "PIN" (and implying that it must be a
"number"), neither the user PIN nor the admin PIN on the card need to be
#### Moving the subkeys to your smartcard
Exit the card menu (using "q") and save all changes. Next, let's move your
subkeys onto the smartcard. You will need both your PGP key passphrase and the
admin PIN of the card for most operations.
$ gpg --edit-key [fpr]
Secret subkeys are available.
created: 2018-01-23 expires: 2020-01-23 usage: SC
trust: ultimate validity: ultimate
ssb rsa2048/1111222233334444
created: 2018-01-23 expires: never usage: E
ssb ed25519/5555666677778888
created: 2017-12-07 expires: never usage: S
[ultimate] (1). Alice Dev <>
Using `--edit-key` puts us into the menu mode again, and you will notice that
the key listing is a little different. From here on, all commands are done
from inside this menu mode, as indicated by `gpg>`.
First, let's select the key we'll be putting onto the card -- you do this by
typing `key 1` (it's the first one in the listing, the **[E]** subkey):
gpg> key 1
In the output, you should now see `ssb*` on the **[E]** key. The `*` indicates
which key is currently "selected." It works as a *toggle*, meaning that if you
type `key 1` again, the `*` will disappear and the key will not be selected
any more.
Now, let's move that key onto the smartcard:
gpg> keytocard
Please select where to store the key:
(2) Encryption key
Your selection? 2
Since it's our **[E]** key, it makes sense to put it into the Encryption slot.
When you submit your selection, you will be prompted first for your PGP key
passphrase, and then for the admin PIN. If the command returns without an
error, your key has been moved.
**Important**: Now type `key 1` again to unselect the first key, and `key 2`
to select the **[S]** key:
gpg> key 1
gpg> key 2
gpg> keytocard
Please select where to store the key:
(1) Signature key
(3) Authentication key
Your selection? 1
You can use the **[S]** key both for Signature and Authentication, but we want
to make sure it's in the Signature slot, so choose (1). Once again, if your
command returns without an error, then the operation was successful.
gpg> q
Save changes? (y/N) y
Saving the changes will delete the keys you moved to the card from your home
directory (but it's okay, because we have them in our backups should we need
to do this again for a replacement smartcard).
##### Verifying that the keys were moved
If you perform `--list-secret-keys` now, you will see a subtle difference in
the output:
$ gpg --list-secret-keys
sec# rsa2048 2018-01-24 [SC] [expires: 2020-01-24]
uid [ultimate] Alice Dev <>
ssb> rsa2048 2018-01-24 [E] [expires: 2020-01-24]
ssb> ed25519 2018-01-24 [S]
The `>` in the `ssb>` output indicates that the subkey is only available on
the smartcard. If you go back into your secret keys directory and look at the
contents there, you will notice that the `.key` files there have been replaced
with stubs:
$ cd ~/.gnupg/private-keys-v1.d
$ strings *.key | grep 'private-key'
The output should contain `shadowed-private-key` to indicate that these files
are only stubs and the actual content is on the smartcard.
#### Verifying that the smartcard is functioning
To verify that the smartcard is working as intended, you can create a
$ echo "Hello world" | gpg --clearsign > /tmp/test.asc
$ gpg --verify /tmp/test.asc
This should ask for your smartcard PIN on your first command, and then show
"Good signature" after you run `gpg --verify`.
Congratulations, you have successfully made it extremely difficult to steal
your digital developer identity!
### Other common GnuPG operations
Here is a quick reference for some common operations you'll need to do with
your PGP key.
#### Mounting your master key offline storage
You will need your master key for any of the operations below, so you will
first need to mount your backup offline storage and tell GnuPG to use it.
$ export GNUPGHOME=/media/disk/name/gnupg-backup
$ gpg --list-secret-keys
You want to make sure that you see `sec` and not `sec#` in the output (the `#`
means the key is not available and you're still using your regular home
directory location).
##### Updating your regular GnuPG working directory
After you make any changes to your key using the offline storage, you will
want to import these changes back into your regular working directory:
$ gpg --export | gpg --homedir ~/.gnupg --import
#### Extending key expiration date
The master key has the default expiration date of 2 years from the date of
creation. This is done both for security reasons and to make obsolete keys
eventually disappear from keyservers.
To extend the expiration on your key by a year from current date, just run:
$ gpg --quick-set-expire [fpr] 1y
You can also use a specific date if that is easier to remember (e.g. your
birthday, January 1st, or Canada Day):
$ gpg --quick-set-expire [fpr] 2020-07-01
Remember to send the updated key back to keyservers:
$ gpg --send-key [fpr]
## Using PGP with Git
One of the core features of Git is its decentralized nature -- once a
repository is cloned to your system, you have full history of the project,
including all of its tags, commits and branches. However, with hundreds of
cloned repositories floating around, how does anyone verify that their copy of
linux.git has not been tampered with by a malicious third party?
Or what happens if a backdoor is discovered in the code and the "Author" line
in the commit says it was done by you, while you're pretty sure you had
[nothing to do with it](
To address both of these issues, Git introduced PGP integration. Signed tags
prove the repository integrity by assuring that its contents are exactly the
same as on the workstation of the developer who created the tag, while signed
commits make it nearly impossible for someone to impersonate you without
having access to your PGP keys.
### Checklist
- [ ] Configure git to use your key _(ESSENTIAL)_
- [ ] Configure git to always sign annotated tags _(NICE)_
- [ ] Decide if you're going to use commit signing _(NICE)_
### Considerations
#### Configure git to use your PGP key
If you only have one secret key in your keyring, then you don't really need to
do anything extra, as it becomes your default key.
However, if you happen to have multiple secret keys, you can tell git which
key should be used (`[fpr]` is the fingerprint of your key):
$ git config --global user.signingKey [fpr]
**IMPORTANT**: If you have a distinct `gpg2` command, then you should tell git
to always use it instead of the legacy `gpg` from version 1:
$ git config --global gpg.program gpg2
#### How to work with signed tags
To create a signed tag, simply pass the `-s` switch to the tag command:
$ git tag -s [tagname]
Our recommendation is to always sign git tags, as this allows other developers
to ensure that the git repository they are pulling from has not been
maliciously altered.
##### How to verify signed tags
To verify a signed tag, simply use the `verify-tag` command:
$ git verify-tag [tagname]
If you are verifying someone else's git tag, then you will need to import
their PGP key. Please refer to the "how to verify kernel developer identities"
section below.
##### Verifying at pull time
If you are pulling a tag from another fork of the project repository, git
should automatically verify the signature at the tip you're pulling and show
you the results during the merge operation:
$ git pull [url] tags/sometag
The merge message will contain something like this:
Merge tag 'sometag' of [url]
[Tag message]
# gpg: Signature made [...]
# gpg: Good signature from [...]
#### Configure git to always sign annotated tags
Chances are, if you're creating an annotated tag, you'll want to sign it. To
force git to always sign annotated tags, you can set a global configuration
$ git config --global tag.forceSignAnnotated true
Alternatively, you can just train your muscle memory to always pass the `-s`
$ git tag -asm "Tag message" tagname
#### How to work with signed commits
It is easy to create signed commits, but it is much more difficult to
use them in Linux Kernel development, since it relies on patches sent to
the mailing list, and this workflow does not preserve PGP commit signatures.
If you have your working git tree publicly available at some git hosting
service (,,, or others), then the
recommendation is that you sign all your git commits even if upstream
developers do not directly benefit from this practice. Should there ever be a
need to perform code forensics or track code provenance, even externally
maintained trees carrying PGP commit signatures will be extremely valuable for
such purposes.
##### Creating signed commits
To create a signed commit, you just need to pass the `-S` flag to the `git
commit` command (it's capital `-S` due to collision with another flag):
$ git commit -S
#### Configure git to always sign commits
You can tell git to always sign commits:
git config --global commit.gpgSign true
Or you can train your muscle memory to always pass the `-S` flag to all `git
commit` operations (this includes `--amend`).
## How to verify kernel developer identities
Signing tags and commits is easy, but how does one go about verifying that the
key used to sign something belongs to the actual kernel developer and not to
a malicious imposter?
### Checklist
- [ ] Configure auto-key-retrieval using WKD and DANE _(ESSENTIAL)_
- [ ] Configure trust-model to `tofu+pgp` _(ESSENTIAL)_
- [ ] Learn how to use keyservers (more) safely _(ESSENTIAL)_
### Considerations
#### Configure auto-key-retrieval using WKD and DANE
If you are not already someone with an extensive collection of other
developers' public keys, then you can jumpstart your keyring by relying
on key auto-discovery and auto-retrieval. GnuPG can piggyback on other
delegated trust technologies, namely DNSSEC and TLS, to get you going if the
prospect of starting your own Web of Trust from scratch is too daunting.
Add the following to your `~/.gnupg/gpg.conf`:
auto-key-locate wkd,dane,local
DNS-Based Authentication of Named Entities ("DANE") is a method for publishing
public keys in DNS and securing them using DNSSEC signed zones. Web Key
Directory ("WKD") is the alternative method that uses https lookups for the
same purpose. When using either DANE or WKD for looking up public keys, GnuPG
will validate DNSSEC or TLS certificates, respectively, before adding
auto-retrieved public keys to your local keyring. publishes the WKD for all developers who have accounts.
Once you have the above changes in your `gpg.conf`, you can auto-retrieve the
keys for Linus Torvalds and Greg Kroah-Hartman (if you don't already have
$ gpg --locate-keys
If you have a account, then you should make sure that you have
[added the UID to your key](
to make WKD more useful to other kernel developers.
#### Web of Trust (WOT) vs. Trust on First Use (TOFU)
PGP incorporates a trust delegation mechanism known as the "Web of Trust." At
its core, this is an attempt to replace the need for centralized Certification
Authorities of the HTTPS/TLS world. Instead of various software makers
dictating who should be your trusted certifying entity, PGP leaves this
responsibility to each user.
Unfortunately, very few people understand how the Web of Trust works. While
it remains an important aspect of the OpenPGP specification, recent
versions of GnuPG (2.2 and above) have implemented an alternative mechanism
called "Trust on First Use" (TOFU).
You can think of TOFU as "the SSH-like approach to trust." With SSH, the first
time you connect to a remote system, its key fingerprint is recorded and
remembered. If the key changes in the future, the SSH client will alert you
and refuse to connect, forcing you to make a decision on whether you choose to
trust the changed key or not.
Similarly, the first time you import someone's PGP key, it is assumed to be
valid. If at any point in the future GnuPG comes across another key with the
same identity, both the previously imported key and the new key will be marked
as invalid and you will need to manually figure out which one to keep.
We recommend that you use the combined TOFU+PGP trust model (which is the new
default in GnuPG v2). To set it, add (or modify) the `trust-model` setting in
trust-model tofu+pgp
#### Learn to use keyservers (more) safely
If, despite setting `auto-key-retrieve`, you still get a "No public key" error
when trying to validate someone's tag, then you should attempt to lookup that
key using a keyserver. It is important to keep in mind that there is
absolutely no guarantee that the key you retrieve from a keyserver belongs to
the actual person -- that much is by design. You are supposed to use the Web
of Trust to establish key validity.
How to properly maintain the Web of Trust is beyond the scope of this
document, simply because doing it properly requires both effort and dedication
that tends to be beyond the caring threshold of most human beings. Here are
some shortcuts that will help you reduce the risk of importing a malicious
First, let's say you've tried to run `git verify-tag` but it returned an error
saying the key is not found:
$ git verify-tag sunxi-fixes-for-4.15-2
gpg: Signature made Sun 07 Jan 2018 10:51:55 PM EST
gpg: using RSA key DA73759BF8619E484E5A3B47389A54219C0F2430
gpg: issuer ""
gpg: Can't check signature: No public key
Let's query the keyserver for more info about that key fingerprint (the
fingerprint probably belongs to a subkey, so we can't use it directly without
finding out the ID of the master key it is associated with):
$ gpg --search DA73759BF8619E484E5A3B47389A54219C0F2430
gpg: data source: hkp://
(1) Chen-Yu Tsai <>
4096 bit RSA key C94035C21B4F2AEB, created: 2017-03-14, expires: 2019-03-15
Keys 1-1 of 1 for "DA73759BF8619E484E5A3B47389A54219C0F2430". Enter number(s), N)ext, or Q)uit > q
Locate the ID of the master key in the output, in our example
`C94035C21B4F2AEB`. Now say `q` and display the key of Linus Torvalds that you
have on your keyring:
$ git --list-key
pub rsa2048 2011-09-20 [SC]
uid [ unknown] Linus Torvalds <>
sub rsa2048 2011-09-20 [E]
Next, open the [PGP pathfinder]( In the "From" field,
paste the key fingerprint of Linus Torvalds from the output above. In the "To"
field, paste they key-id you found via `gpg --search` of the unknown key, and
check the results:
- [From Linus to Chen-Yu](
If you get a few decent trust paths, then it's a pretty good indication that
it is a valid key. You can add it to your keyring from the keyserver now:
$ gpg --recv-key C94035C21B4F2AEB
This process is not perfect, and you are obviously trusting the administrators
of the PGP Pathfinder service to not be malicious. However, if you do not
carefully maintain your own web of trust, then it is an improvement over
blindly trusting keyservers.