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[liberationtech] Interesting things in keyservers

micah micah at
Sat Jul 20 07:05:42 PDT 2013

Hi Micah!

Micah Lee <micahflee at> writes:

> I'm working on a talk for OHM2013 about PGP. Can anyone send me examples
> of interesting keys in key servers that you know of?

Since you are preparing a talk about the subject, I'm going to be
pedantic and correct your usage of "PGP", because it is important to get
your terminology straight when giving a talk. I presume you aren't
giving a talk about the commercial software, but instead you are
actually giving a talk about OpenPGP which is the standard specified by
RFC4880 that different programs like GnuPG, Seahorse, MacGPG, and PGP
etc. all implement. If that is true, then you should refer to it as
OpenPGP, and not PGP.

I dont know what your talk will consist of, besides the funny enigmail
XSS and stuff (thanks for that! always good to have some
goatse early in the morning), but I would like to point out a few things
that might be useful to mention.

One is a wiki page that I created with some people: - it
contains some useful hints about using OpenPGP, maintaining a good key
and some general good practices that people often dont know about (such
as the importance of keeping your keys updated to get critical
revocation and expiration extension certifications!)

One thing mentioned on that page that I wanted to highlight, because you
used links in your original email, is that the keyserver is not a good one to use/promote. Everyone uses it as their
'goto' keyserver, but it is a really bad idea! As a keyserver, it has
been broken for years. For a long time it was just dropping revocations,
subkey updates and expirations on the floor. That is *really*
bad. Eventually, they upgraded their keyserver software, but it is
*still* running an older version of SKS, a version that fails to handle
16-digit subkeyid lookups (among other failings).

So, please don't rely on for your security, and please don't
include them in your slides! If you are looking for one to use, I highly
recommend using the SKS pool address (hkp:// or - or if you want a more close
geographical pool, have a look at 

Finally, there seems to be some amazing misconceptions about keyservers,
keys and the web of trust. In particular this circulated
recently and it pained me to see because it suggested various wreckless
conclusions that were dangerously off the mark[0] (and used,
hah). While it is true that we've jokingly called the OpenPGP web of
trust "the original social network" because of the exposed social
relational graphing that can be done by querying keyservers, and it is
for this reason that many activists I know do not want to have
signatures uploaded to keyservers (and instead use the bulky local-only
signature work-around)...

... but for some reason people seem to think that if it is on a
keyserver, is true, or it means something that it doesn't. People don't
realize critical things, such as the fact that I can create a key with
the UID Nadim Kobeissi and upload it to the keyservers[1]. That doesn't
mean that is the real Nadim's key (this is what exchanging key
fingerprints and doing certifications is for, so you can know, with a
certain degree of certainty, that this person is the person who controls
that secret key material). 

Or people think that because I signed your key and that signature is on
the keyserver that indicates: I trust you; we met in person at that
date; we know each other; we are involved in a criminal conspiracy with
each other; or many other wrong assumptions about what that
certification means. I can sign Edward Snowden's key and send that to
the keyservers[1]. Hell, I can sign Snowden's key with my fake Nadim
Kobeissi key[1] and then send it to the keyservers. Does that mean that
Nadim and Snowden have met in person?! No, it does not at all.

Anyways, I can keep going... but I dont know what the focus of your OHM
talk is about, so going on like this isn't particularly useful to you
and your talk... however, I'd be happy to provide more feedback about
your talk if you would like![2]

After all, we Micahs need to stick together,

0. "the cryptome article just sounds like impenetrable bullshit from
someone with no interest in actually understandning what's happening" -
I'm not saying who said this... 

1. no, I didn't do that, nor did I upload the edward snowden or bradly
manning keys.

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