lamps                                                  D.K. Gillmor, Ed.
Internet-Draft                                                      ACLU
Intended status: Informational                           24                           25 January 2022
Expires: 28 29 July 2022

                 Guidance on End-to-End E-mail Security


   End-to-end cryptographic protections for e-mail messages can provide
   useful security.  However, the standards for providing cryptographic
   protection are extremely flexible.  That flexibility can trap users
   and cause surprising failures.  This document offers guidance for
   mail user agent implementers that need to compose or interpret e-mail
   messages with end-to-end cryptographic protection.  It provides a
   useful set of vocabulary as well as suggestions to avoid common

Status of This Memo

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   This Internet-Draft will expire on 28 29 July 2022.

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Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
     1.1.  Requirements Language . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
     1.2.  Terminology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
       1.2.1.  Structural Headers  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
       1.2.2.  User-Facing Headers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
   2.  Usability . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
     2.1.  Simplicity  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5   6
     2.2.  E-mail Users Want a Familiar Experience . . . . . . . . .   5   6
     2.3.  Warning About Failure vs. Announcing Success  . . . . . .   6   7
   3.  Types of Protection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7   8
   4.  Cryptographic MIME Message Structure  . . . . . . . . . . . .   7   8
     4.1.  Cryptographic Layers  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7   8
       4.1.1.  S/MIME Cryptographic Layers . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
       4.1.2.  PGP/MIME Cryptographic Layers . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
     4.2.  Cryptographic Envelope  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9  10
     4.3.  Cryptographic Payload . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10  11
     4.4.  Types of Cryptographic Envelope . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10  11
       4.4.1.  Simple Cryptographic Envelopes  . . . . . . . . . . .  10  11
       4.4.2.  Multilayer Cryptographic Envelopes  . . . . . . . . .  10  11
     4.5.  Errant Crytptographic Layers  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
       4.5.1.  Mailing List Wrapping . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11  12
       4.5.2.  A Baroque Example . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11  12
   5.  Message Composition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12  13
     5.1.  Message Composition Algorithm . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12  13
     5.2.  Encryption Outside, Signature Inside  . . . . . . . . . .  13  14
     5.3.  Avoid Offering Encrypted-only Messages  . . . . . . . . .  13  14
     5.4.  Composing a Reply Message . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  14  15
   6.  Message Interpretation  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  15
     6.1.  Rendering Well-formed Messages  . . . . . . . . . . . . .  15  16
     6.2.  Errant Cryptographic Layers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  15  16
       6.2.1.  Errant Signing Layer  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  15  16
       6.2.2.  Errant Encryption Layer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  17  18
     6.3.  Forwarded Messages with Cryptographic Protection  . . . .  18
     6.4.  Signature failures  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  18  19
   7.  Reasoning about Message Parts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  19  20
     7.1.  Main Body Part  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  19  20
     7.2.  Attachments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  20  21
     7.3.  MIME Part Examples  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  21
   8.  Certificate Management  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  22
     8.1.  Peer Certificates . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  22  23
       8.1.1.  Cert Discovery from Incoming Messages . . . . . . . .  22  23
       8.1.2.  Certificate Directories . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  22  23
       8.1.3.  Peer Certificate Selection  . . . . . . . . . . . . .  22  23
       8.1.4.  Checking for Revocation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  23  24
     8.2.  Local Certificates  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  23  24
       8.2.1.  Getting a Certificate for the User  . . . . . . . . .  23  24
       8.2.2.  Local Certificate Maintenance . . . . . . . . . . . .  24
       8.2.3.  Shipping Certificates in Outbound Messages  . . . . .  24  25
     8.3.  Certificate Authorities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  25
   9.  Common Pitfalls and Guidelines  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  25  26
   10. IANA Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  25  26
   11. Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  26
   12. Acknowledgements  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  26  27
   13. References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  26  27
     13.1.  Normative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  26  27
     13.2.  Informative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  26  27
   Appendix A.  Test Vectors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  27  28
   Appendix B.  Document Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  28  29
     B.1.  Document History  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  28  29
       B.1.1.  Substantive changes from draft-ietf-...-01 to
               draft-ietf-...-02 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  29
       B.1.2.  Substantive changes from draft-ietf-...-00 to
               draft-ietf-...-01 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  28
       B.1.2.  29
       B.1.3.  Substantive changes from draft-dkg-...-01 to
               draft-ietf-...-00 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  28
       B.1.3.  29
       B.1.4.  Substantive changes from draft-dkg-...-00 to
               draft-dkg-...-01  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  28  29
   Author's Address  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  29  30

1.  Introduction

   E-mail end-to-end security using S/MIME ([RFC8551]) and PGP/MIME
   ([RFC3156]) cryptographic standards can provide integrity,
   authentication and confidentiality to MIME ([RFC4289]) e-mail

   However, there are many ways that a receiving mail user agent can
   misinterpret or accidentally break these security guarantees (e.g.,

   A mail user agent that interprets a message with end-to-end
   cryptographic protections needs to do so defensively, staying alert
   to different ways that these protections can be bypassed by mangling
   (either malicious or accidental) or a failed user experience.

   A mail user agent that generates a message with end-to-end
   cryptographic protections should be aware of these defensive
   interpretation strategies, and should compose any new outbound
   message conservatively if they want the protections to remain intact.

1.1.  Requirements Language

   The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",
   "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in BCP
   14 ([RFC2119] and [RFC8174]) when, and only when, they appear in all
   capitals, as shown here.

1.2.  Terminology

   For the purposes of this document, we define the following concepts:

   *  _MUA_ is short for Mail User Agent; an e-mail client.

   *  _Protection_ of message data refers to cryptographic encryption
      and/or signatures, providing confidentiality, authenticity, and/or

   *  _Cryptographic Layer_, _Cryptographic Envelope_, _Cryptographic
      Payload_, and _Errant Cryptographic Layer_ are defined in
      Section 4

   *  A _well-formed_ e-mail message with cryptographic protection has
      both a _Cryptographic Envelope_ and a _Cryptographic Payload_.

   *  _Structural Headers_ are documented in Section 1.2.1.

   *  _User-Facing Headers_ are documented in Section 1.2.2.

   *  _Main Body Part_ is the part (or parts) that are typically
      rendered to the user as the message itself (not "as an
      attachment).  See Section 7.1.

1.2.1.  Structural Headers

   A message header whose name begins with Content- is referred to in
   this document as a "structural" header.

   These headers indicate something about the specific MIME part they
   are attached to, and cannot be transferred or copied to other parts
   without endangering the readability of the message.

   This includes (but is not limited to):

   *  Content-Type

   *  Content-Transfer-Encoding

   *  Content-Disposition

   FIXME: are there any non-Content-* headers we should consider as

1.2.2.  User-Facing Headers

   Of all the headers that an e-mail message may contain, only a handful
   are typically presented directly to the user.  The user-facing
   headers are:

   *  Subject

   *  From

   *  To

   *  Cc

   *  Date

   *  Reply-To

   *  Followup-To

   The above is a complete list.  No other headers are considered "user-

   Other headers may affect the visible rendering of the message (e.g.,
   References and In-Reply-To may affect the placement of a message in a
   threaded discussion), but they are not directly displayed to the user
   and so are not considered "user-facing".

2.  Usability

   Any MUA that enables its user to transition from unprotected messages
   to messages with end-to-end cryptographic protection needs to
   consider how the user understands this transition.  That said, the
   primary goal of the user of an MUA is communication -- so interface
   elements that get in the way of communication should be avoided where

   Furthermore, it is likely is that the user will continue to encounter
   unprotected messages, and may need to send unprotected messages (for
   example, if a given recipient cannot handle cryptographic
   protections).  This means that the MUA needs to provide the user with
   some guidance, so that they understand what protections any given
   message or conversation has.  But the user should not be overwhelmed
   with choices or presented with unactionable information.

2.1.  Simplicity

   The end user (the operator of the MUA) is unlikely to understand
   complex end-to-end cryptographic protections on any e-mail message,
   so keep it simple.

   For clarity to the user, any cryptographic protections should apply
   to the message as a whole, not just to some subparts.

   This is true for message composition: the standard message
   composition user interface of an MUA should offer minimal controls
   which indicate which types of protection to apply to the new message
   as a whole.

   This is also true for message interpretation: the standard message
   rendering user interface of an MUA should offer a minimal, clear
   indicator about the end-to-end cryptographic status of the message as
   a whole.

2.2.  E-mail Users Want a Familiar Experience

   A person communicating over the Internet today often has many options
   for reaching their desired correspondent, including web-based
   bulletin boards, contact forms, and instant messaging services.

   E-mail offers a few distinctions from these other systems, most
   notably features like:

   *  Ubiquity: Most correspondents will have an e-mail address, while
      not everyone is present on every alternate messaging service,

   *  Federation: interaction between users on distinct domains who have
      not agreed on a common communications provider is still possible,

   *  User Control: the user can interact with the e-mail system using a
      MUA of their choosing, including automation and other control over
      their preferred and/or customized workflow.

   Other systems (like some popular instant messaging applications, such
   as WhatsApp and Signal Private Messenger) offer built-in end-to-end
   cryptographic protections by default, which are simpler for the user
   to understand.  ("All the messages I see on Signal are confidential
   and integrity-protected" is a clean user story)

   A user of e-mail is likely using e-mail instead of other systems
   because of the distinctions outlined above.  When adding end-to-end
   cryptographic protection to an e-mail endpoint, care should be taken
   not to negate any of the distinct features of e-mail as a whole.  If
   these features are violated to provide end-to-end crypto, the user
   may just as well choose one of the other systems that don't have the
   drawbacks that e-mail has.  Implmenters should try to provide end-to-
   end protections that retain the familiar experience of e-mail itself.

   Furthermore, an e-mail user is likely to regularly interact with
   other e-mail correspondents who _cannot_ handle or produce end-to-end
   cryptographic protections.  Care should be taken that enabling
   cryptography in a MUA does not inadvertently limit the ability of the
   user to interact with legacy correspondents.

2.3.  Warning About Failure vs. Announcing Success

   Moving the web from http to https offers useful historical
   similarities to adding end-to-end encryption to e-mail.

   In particular, the indicators of what is "secure" vs. "insecure" for
   web browsers have changed over time.  For example, years ago the
   default experience was http, and https sites were flagged with
   "secure" indicators like a lock icon.  In 2018, some browsers
   reversed that process by downplaying https, and instead visibly
   marking http as "not secure" (see [chrome-indicators]).

   By analogy, when the user of a MUA first enables end-to-end
   cryptographic protection, it's likely that they will want to see
   which messages _have_ protection.  But a user whose e-mail
   communications are entirely end-to-end protected might instead want
   to know which messages do _not_ have the expected protections.

   Note also that some messages are expected to be confidential, but
   other messages are expected to be public -- the types of protection
   (see Section 3) that apply to each particular message will be
   different.  And the types of protection that are _expected_ to be
   present in any context might differ (for example, by sender, by
   thread, or by date).

   It is out of scope for this document to define expectations about
   protections for any given message, but an implementer who cares about
   usable experience should be deliberate and judicious about the
   expectations their interface assumes that the user has in a given

3.  Types of Protection

   A given message might be:

   *  signed,

   *  encrypted,

   *  both signed and encrypted, or

   *  none of the above.

   Given that many e-mail messages offer no cryptographic protections,
   the user needs to be able to detect which protections are present for
   any given message.

4.  Cryptographic MIME Message Structure

   Implementations use the structure of an e-mail message to protect the
   headers.  This section establishes some conventions about how to
   think about message structure.

4.1.  Cryptographic Layers

   "Cryptographic Layer" refers to a MIME substructure that supplies
   some cryptographic protections to an internal MIME subtree.  The
   internal subtree is known as the "protected part" though of course it
   may itself be a multipart object.

   In the diagrams below, "↧" (DOWNWARDS ARROW FROM BAR, U+21A7)
   indicates "decrypts to", and "⇩" (DOWNWARDS WHITE ARROW, U+21E9)
   indicates "unwraps to".

4.1.1.  S/MIME Cryptographic Layers

   For S/MIME [RFC8551], there are four forms of Cryptographic Layers:
   multipart/signed, PKCS#7 signed-data, PKCS7 enveloped-data, PKCS7
   authEnveloped-data.  S/MIME Multipart Signed Cryptographic Layer
   └┬╴multipart/signed; protocol="application/pkcs7-signature"
    ├─╴[protected part]

   This MIME layer offers authentication and integrity.  S/MIME PKCS7 signed-data Cryptographic Layer

   └─╴application/pkcs7-mime; smime-type="signed-data"
    ⇩ (unwraps to)
    └─╴[protected part]

   This MIME layer offers authentication and integrity.  S/MIME PKCS7 enveloped-data Cryptographic Layer

   └─╴application/pkcs7-mime; smime-type="enveloped-data"
    ↧ (decrypts to)
    └─╴[protected part]

   This MIME layer offers confidentiality.  S/MIME PKCS7 authEnveloped-data Cryptographic Layer

   └─╴application/pkcs7-mime; smime-type="authEnveloped-data"
    ↧ (decrypts to)
    └─╴[protected part]

   This MIME layer offers confidentiality and integrity.

   Note that enveloped-data (Section and authEnveloped-data
   (Section have identical message structure and semantics.
   The only difference between the two is ciphertext malleability.

   The examples in this document only include enveloped-data, but the
   implications for that layer apply to authEnveloped-data as well.  PKCS7 Compression is NOT a Cryptographic Layer

   The Cryptographic Message Syntax (CMS) provides a MIME compression
   layer (smime-type="compressed-data"), as defined in [RFC3274].  While
   the compression layer is technically a part of CMS, it is not
   considered a Cryptographic Layer for the purposes of this document.

4.1.2.  PGP/MIME Cryptographic Layers

   For PGP/MIME [RFC3156] there are two forms of Cryptographic Layers,
   signing and encryption.  PGP/MIME Signing Cryptographic Layer (multipart/signed)

   └┬╴multipart/signed; protocol="application/pgp-signature"
    ├─╴[protected part]

   This MIME layer offers authenticity and integrity.  PGP/MIME Encryption Cryptographic Layer (multipart/encrypted)

     ↧ (decrypts to)
     └─╴[protected part]

   This MIME layer can offer any of:

   *  confidentiality (via a Symmetrically Encrypted Data Packet, see
      Section 5.7 of [RFC4880]; a MUA MUST NOT generate this form due to
      ciphertext malleability)

   *  confidentiality and integrity (via a Symmetrically Encrypted
      Integrity Protected Data Packet (SEIPD), see section 5.13 of
      [RFC4880]), or

   *  confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity all together (by
      including an OpenPGP Signature Packet within the SEIPD).

4.2.  Cryptographic Envelope

   The Cryptographic Envelope is the largest contiguous set of
   Cryptographic Layers of an e-mail message starting with the outermost
   MIME type (that is, with the Content-Type of the message itself).

   If the Content-Type of the message itself is not a Cryptographic
   Layer, then the message has no cryptographic envelope.

   "Contiguous" in the definition above indicates that if a
   Cryptographic Layer is the protected part of another Cryptographic
   Layer, the layers together comprise a single Cryptographic Envelope.

   Note that if a non-Cryptographic Layer intervenes, all Cryptographic
   Layers within the non-Cryptographic Layer _are not_ part of the
   Cryptographic Envelope.  They are Errant Cryptographic Layers (see
   Section 4.5).

   Note also that the ordering of the Cryptographic Layers implies
   different cryptographic properties.  A signed-then-encrypted message
   is different than an encrypted-then-signed message.  See Section 5.2.

4.3.  Cryptographic Payload

   The Cryptographic Payload of a message is the first non-Cryptographic
   Layer -- the "protected part" -- within the Cryptographic Envelope.

4.4.  Types of Cryptographic Envelope

4.4.1.  Simple Cryptographic Envelopes

   As described above, if the "protected part" identified in the sction
   above is not itself a Cryptographic Layer, that part _is_ the
   Cryptographic Payload.

   If the application wants to generate a message that is both encrypted
   and signed, it MAY use the simple MIME structure from Section
   by ensuring that the [RFC4880] Encrypted Message within the
   application/octet-stream part contains an [RFC4880] Signed Message
   (the final option described in Section

4.4.2.  Multilayer Cryptographic Envelopes

   It is possible to construct a Cryptographic Envelope consisting of
   multiple layers with either S/MIME or PGP/MIME , for example using
   the following structure:

   A └─╴application/pkcs7-mime; smime-type="enveloped-data"
   B  ↧ (decrypts to)
   C  └─╴application/pkcs7-mime; smime-type="signed-data"
   D   ⇩ (unwraps to)
   E   └─╴[protected part]

   When handling such a message, the properties of the Cryptographic
   Envelope are derived from the series A, C.

   As noted in Section 4.4.1, PGP/MIME applications also have a simpler
   MIME construction available with the same cryptographic properties.

4.5.  Errant Crytptographic Layers

   Due to confusion, malice, or well-intentioned tampering, a message
   may contain a Cryptographic Layer that is not part of the
   Cryptographic Envelope.  Such a layer is an Errant Cryptographic

   An Errant Cryptographic Layer SHOULD NOT contribute to the message's
   overall cryptographic state.

   Guidance for dealing with Errant Cryptographic Layers can be found in
   Section 6.2.

4.5.1.  Mailing List Wrapping

   Some mailing list software will re-wrap a well-formed signed message
   before re-sending to add a footer, resulting in the following
   structure seen by recipients of the e-mail:

   H └┬╴multipart/mixed
   I  ├┬╴multipart/signed
   J  │├─╴text/plain
   K  │└─╴application/pgp-signature
   L  └─╴text/plain

   In this message, L is the footer added by the mailing list.  I is now
   an Errant Cryptographic Layer.

   Note that this message has no Cryptographic Envelope at all.

   It is NOT RECOMMENDED to produce e-mail messages with this structure,
   because the data in part L may appear to the user as though it were
   part of J, though they have different cryptographic properties.  In
   particular, if the user believes that the message is signed, but
   cannot distinguish L from J then the author of L can effectively
   tamper with content of the signed message, breaking the user's
   expectation of integrity and authenticity.

4.5.2.  A Baroque Example

   Consider a message with the following overcomplicated structure:

   M └┬╴multipart/encrypted
   N  ├─╴application/pgp-encrypted
   O  └─╴application/octet-stream
   P   ↧ (decrypts to)
   Q   └┬╴multipart/signed
   R    ├┬╴multipart/mixed
   S    │├┬╴multipart/signed
   T    ││├─╴text/plain
   U    ││└─╴application/pgp-signature
   V    │└─╴text/plain
   W    └─╴application/pgp-signature
   The 3 Cryptographic Layers in such a message are rooted in parts M,
   Q, and S.  But the Cryptographic Envelope of the message consists
   only of the properties derived from the series M, Q.  The
   Cryptographic Payload of the message is part R.  Part S is an Errant
   Cryptographic Layer.

   Note that this message has both a Cryptographic Envelope _and_ an
   Errant Cryptographic Layer.

   It is NOT RECOMMENDED to generate messages with such complicated
   structures.  Even if a receiving MUA can parse this structure
   properly, it is nearly impossible to render in a way that the user
   can reason about the cryptographic properties of part T compared to
   part V.

5.  Message Composition

   This section describes the ideal composition of an e-mail message
   with end-to-end cryptographic protection.  A message composed with
   this form is most likely to achieve its end-to-end security goals.

5.1.  Message Composition Algorithm

   This section roughly describes the steps that a MUA should use to
   compose a cryptographically-protected message that has a proper
   cryptographic envelope and payload.

   The message composition algorithm takes three parameters:

   *  origbody: the traditional unprotected message body as a well-
      formed MIME tree (possibly just a single MIME leaf part).  As a
      well-formed MIME tree, origbody already has structural headers
      present (see Section 1.2.1).

   *  origheaders: the intended non-structural headers for the message,
      represented here as a list of (h,v) pairs, where h is a header
      field name and v is the associated value.

   *  crypto: The series of cryptographic protections to apply (for
      example, "sign with the secret key corresponding to X.509
      certificate X, then encrypt to X.509 certificates X and Y").  This
      is a routine that accepts a MIME tree as input (the Cryptographic
      Payload), wraps the input in the appropriate Cryptographic
      Envelope, and returns the resultant MIME tree as output.

   The algorithm returns a MIME object that is ready to be injected into
   the mail system:

   *  Apply crypto to origbody, yielding MIME tree output

   *  For each header name and value (h,v) in origheaders:

      -  Add header h of output with value v

   *  Return output

5.2.  Encryption Outside, Signature Inside

   Users expect any message that is both signed and encrypted to be
   signed _inside_ the encryption, and not the other way around.

   Putting the signature inside the encryption has two advantages:

   *  The details of the signature remain confidential, visible only to
      the parties capable of decryption.

   *  Any mail transport agent that modifies the message is unlikely to
      be able to accidentally break the signature.

   A MUA SHOULD NOT generate an encrypted and signed message where the
   only signature is outside the encryption.

5.3.  Avoid Offering Encrypted-only Messages

   When generating an e-mail, the user has options about what forms of
   end-to-end cryptographic protections to apply to it.

   In some cases, offering any end-to-end cryptographic protection is
   harmful: it may confuse the recipient and offer no benefit.

   In other cases, signing a message is useful (authenticity and
   integrity are desirable) but encryption is either impossible (for
   example, if the sender does not know how to encrypt to all
   recipients) or meaningless (for example, an e-mail message to a
   mailing list that is intended to be be published to a public

   In other cases, full end-to-end confidentiality, authenticity, and
   integrity are desirable.

   It is unclear what the use case is for an e-mail message with end-to-
   end confidentiality but without authenticity or integrity.

   A reasonable MUA will keep its message composition interface simple,
   so when presenting the user with a choice of cryptographic
   protection, it SHOULD offer no more than three choices:

   *  no end-to-end cryptographic protection

   *  signing-only

   *  signed and encrypted

5.4.  Composing a Reply Message

   When replying to a message, most MUAs compose an initial draft of the
   reply that contains quoted text from the original message.  A
   responsible MUA will take precautions to avoid leaking the cleartext
   of an encrypted message in such a reply.

   If the original message was end-to-end encrypted, the replying MUA
   MUST either:

   *  compose the reply with end-to-end encryption, or

   *  avoid including quoted text from the original message.

   In general, MUAs SHOULD prefer the first option: to compose an
   encrypted reply.  This is what users expect.

   However, in some circumstances, the replying MUA cannot compose an
   encrypted reply.  For example, the MUA might not have a valid,
   unexpired, encryption-capable certificate for all recipients.  This
   can also happen during composition when a user adds a new recipient
   into the reply, or manually toggles the cryptographic protections to
   remove encryption.

   In this circumstance, the composing MUA SHOULD strip the quoted text
   from the original message.

   Note additional nuance about replies to malformed messages that
   contain encryption in Section

6.  Message Interpretation

   Despite the best efforts of well-intentioned senders to create e-mail
   messages with well-formed end-to-end cryptographic protection,
   receiving MUAs will inevitably encounter some messages with malformed
   end-to-end cryptographic protection.

   This section offers guidance on dealing with both well-formed and
   malformed messages containing Cryptographic Layers.

6.1.  Rendering Well-formed Messages

   A message is well-formed when it has a Cryptographic Envelope, a
   Cryptographic Payload, and no Errant Cryptographic Layers.  Rendering
   a well-formed message is straightforward.

   The receiving MUA should evaluate and summarize the cryptographic
   properties of the Cryptographic Envelope, and display that status to
   the user in a secure, strictly-controlled part of the UI.  In
   particular, the part of the UI used to render the cryptographic
   summary of the message MUST NOT be spoofable, modifiable, or
   otherwise controllable by the received message itself.

   Aside from this cryptographic summary, the message itself should be
   rendered as though the Cryptographic Payload is the body of the
   message.  The Cryptographic Layers themselves SHOULD not be rendered

6.2.  Errant Cryptographic Layers

   If an incoming message has any Errant Cryptographic Layers, the
   interpreting MUA SHOULD ignore those layers when rendering the
   cryptographic summary of the message to the user.

6.2.1.  Errant Signing Layer

   When rendering a message with an Errant Cryptographic Layer that
   provides authenticity and integrity (via signatures), the message
   should be rendered by replacing the Cryptographic layer with the part
   it encloses.

   For example, a message with this structure:

   A └┬╴multipart/mixed
   B  ├╴text/plain
   C  ├┬╴multipart/signed
   D  │├─╴image/jpeg
   E  │└─╴application/pgp-signature
   F  └─╴text/plain

   Should be rendered identically to this:

   A └┬╴multipart/mixed
   B  ├─╴text/plain
   D  ├─╴image/jpeg
   F  └─╴text/plain
   In such a situation, an MUA SHOULD NOT indicate in the cryptographic
   summary that the message is signed.  Exception: Mailing List Footers

   The use case described in Section 4.5.1 is common enough in some
   contexts, that a MUA MAY decide to handle it as a special exception.

   If the MUA determines that the message comes from a mailing list (it
   has a List-ID header), and it has a structure that appends a footer
   to a signing-only Cryptographic Layer with a valid signature, such

   H └┬╴multipart/mixed
   I  ├┬╴multipart/signed
   J  │├─╴[protected part, may be arbitrary MIME subtree]
   K  │└─╴application/{pgp,pkcs7}-signature
   L  └─╴[footer, typically text/plain]


   H └┬╴multipart/mixed
   I  ├─╴application/pkcs7-mime; smime-type="signed-data"
      │⇩ (unwraps to)
   J  │└─╴[protected part, may be an arbitrary MIME subtree]
   L  └─╴[footer, typically text/plain]

   Then, the MUA MAY indicate to the user that this is a signed message
   that has been wrapped by the mailing list.

   In this case, the MUA MUST distinguish the footer (part L) from the
   protected part (part J) when rendering any information about the

   One way to do this is to offer the user two different views of the
   message: the "mailing list" view, which hides any cryptographic
   summary but shows the footer:

   Cryptographic Protections: none
   H └┬╴multipart/mixed
   J  ├─╴[protected part, may be arbitrary MIME subtree]
   L  └─╴[footer, typically text/plain]

   or the "sender's view", which shows the cryptographic summary but
   hides the footer:

   Cryptographic Protections: signed [details from part I]
   J └─╴[protected part, may be arbitrary MIME subtree]

6.2.2.  Errant Encryption Layer

   An MUA may encounter a message with an Errant Cryptographic Layer
   that offers confidentiality (encryption), and the MUA is capable of
   decrypting it.

   The user wants to be able to see the contents of any message that
   they receive, so an MUA in this situation SHOULD decrypt the part.

   In this case, though, the MUA MUST NOT indicate in the message's
   cryptographic summary that the message itself was encrypted.  Such an
   indication could be taken to mean that other (non-encrypted) parts of
   the message arrived with cryptographic confidentiality.  Replying to a Message with an Errant Encryption Layer

   Note that there is an asymmetry here between rendering and replying
   to a message with an Errant Encryption Layer.

   When rendering, the MUA does not indicate that the message was
   encrypted, even if some subpart of it was decrypted for rendering.

   But when composing a reply that contains quoted text from the
   decrypted subpart, the reply message SHOULD be marked for encryption,
   as noted in {#composing-reply}.

   Alternately, if the reply message cannot be encrypted (or if the user
   elects to not encrypt the reply), the composed reply MUST NOT include
   any material from the decrypted subpart.

6.3.  Forwarded Messages with Cryptographic Protection

   An incoming e-mail message may include an attached forwarded message,
   typically as a MIME subpart with Content-Type: message/rfc822
   ([RFC5322]) or Content-Type: message/global ([RFC5355]).

   Regardless of the cryptographic protections and structure of the
   incoming message, the internal forwarded message may have its own
   Cryptographic Envelope.

   The Cryptographic Layers that are part of the Cryptographic Envelope
   of the forwarded message are not Errant Cryptographic Layers of the
   surrounding message -- they are simply layers that apply to the
   forwarded message itself.

   The rendering MUA MUST NOT conflate the cryptographic protections of
   the forwarded message with the cryptographic protections of the
   incoming message.

   The rendering MUA MAY render a cryptograpic summary of the
   protections afforded to the forwarded message by its own
   Cryptographic Envelope, as long as that rendering is unambiguously
   tied to the forwarded message itself.

6.4.  Signature failures

   A cryptographic signature may fail in multiple ways.  A receiving MUA
   that discovers a failed signature should treat the message as though
   the signature did not exist.  This is similar to the standard
   guidance for about failed DKIM signatures (see section 6.1 of

   A MUA SHOULD NOT render a message with a failed signature as more
   dangerous or more dubious than a comparable message without any
   signature at all.

   A MUA that encounters an encrypted-and-signed message where the
   signature is invalid SHOULD treat the message the same way that it
   would treat a message that is encryption-only.

   Some different ways that a signature may be invalid on a given

   *  the signature is not cryptographically valid (the math fails).

   *  the signature relies on suspect cryptographic primitives (e.g.
      over a legacy digest algorithm, or was made by a weak key, e.g.,
      1024-bit R.SA)

   *  the signature is made by a certificate which the receiving MUA
      does not have access to.

   *  the certificate that made the signature was revoked.

   *  the certificate that made the signature was expired at the time
      that the signature was made.

   *  the certificate that made the signature does not correspond to the
      author of the message. (for X.509, there is no subjectAltName of
      type RFC822Name whose value matches an e-mail address found in
      From: or Sender:)

   *  the certificate that made the signature was not issued by an
      authority that the MUA user is willing to rely on for certifying
      the sender's e-mail address.

   *  the signature indicates that it was made at a time much before or
      much after from the date of the message itself.

   A valid signature must pass all these tests, but of course invalid
   signatures may be invalid in more than one of the ways listed above.

7.  Reasoning about Message Parts

   When generating or rendering messages, it is useful to know what
   parts of the message are likely to be displayed, and how.  This
   section introduces some common terms that can be applied to parts
   within the Cryptographic Payload.

7.1.  Main Body Part

   When an e-mail message is composed or rendered to the user there is
   typically one main view that presents a (mostly textual) part of the

   While the message itself may be constructed of several distinct MIME
   parts in a tree, but the part that is rendered to the user is the
   "Main Body Part".

   When rendering a message, one of the primary jobs of the recieving
   MUA is identifying which part (or parts) is the Main Body Part.
   Typically, this is found by traversing the MIME tree of the message
   looking for a leaf node that has a primary content type of text (e.g.
   text/plain or text/html) and is not Content-Disposition: attachment.

   MIME tree traversal follows the first child of every multipart node,
   with the exception of multipart/alternative.  When traversing a
   multipart/alternative node, all children should be scanned, with
   preference given to the last child node with a MIME type that the MUA
   is capable of rendering directly.

   A MUA MAY offer the user a mechanism to prefer a particular MIME type
   within multipart/
   alternative multipart/alternative instead of the last renderable child.
   For example, a user may explicitly prefer a text/plain alternative
   part over text/
   html. text/html.

   Note that due to uncertainty about the capabilities and configuration
   of the receiving MUA, the composing MUA SHOULD consider that multiple
   parts might be rendered as the Main Body Part when the message is
   ultimately viewed.

   When composing a message, an originating MUA operating on behalf of
   an active user can identify which part (or parts) are the "main"
   parts: these are the parts the MUA generates from the user's editor.

   Tooling that automatically generates e-mail messages should also have
   a reasonable estimate of which part (or parts) are the "main" parts,
   as they can be programmatically identified by the message author.

   For a filtering program that attempts to transform an outbound
   message without any special knowledge about which parts are Main Body
   Parts, it can identify the likely parts by following the same routine
   as a receiving MUA.

7.2.  Attachments

   A message may contain one or more separated MIME parts that are
   intended for download or extraction.  Such a part is commonly called
   an "attachment", and is commonly identified by having Content-
   Disposition: attachment, and is a subpart of a multipart/mixed or
   multipart/related container.

   An MUA MAY identify a subpart as an attachment, or permit extraction
   of a subpart even when the subpart does not have Content-Disposition:

   For end-to-end encrypted messages, attachments _MUST_ be included
   within the Cryptographic Payload.  If an attachment is found outside
   the Cryptographic Payload, then the message is not well-formed (see
   Section 6.1).

   Some MUAs have tried to compose messages where each attachment is
   placed in its own cryptographic envelope.  Such a message is
   problematic for several reasons:

   *  The attachments can be stripped, replaced, or reordered without
      breaking any cryptographic integrity mechanism.

   *  The resulting message may have a mix of cryptographic statuses
      (e.g. if a signature on one part fails but another succeeds, or if
      one part is encrypted and another is not).  This mix of statuses
      is difficult to represent to the user in a comprehensible way.

7.3.  MIME Part Examples

   Consider a common message with the folloiwing MIME structure:

   M └─╴application/pkcs7-mime
      ↧ (decrypts to)
   N  └─╴application/pkcs7-mime
       ⇩ (unwraps to)
   O   └┬╴multipart/mixed
   P    ├┬╴multipart/alternative
   Q    │├─╴text/plain
   R    │└─╴text/html
   S    └─╴image/png

   Parts M and N comprise the Cryptographic Envelope.

   Parts Q and R are both Main Body Parts.

   If part S is Content-Disposition: attachment, then it is an
   attachment.  If part S has no Content-Disposition header, it is
   potentially ambiguous whether it is an attachment or not.

   Consider also this alternate structure:

   M └─╴application/pkcs7-mime
      ↧ (decrypts to)
   N  └─╴application/pkcs7-mime
       ⇩ (unwraps to)
   O   └┬╴multipart/alternative
   P    ├─╴text/plain
   Q    └┬╴multipart/related
   R     ├─╴text/html
   S     └─╴image/png

   In this case, parts M and N are still the Cryptographic Envelope.

   Parts P and R (the first two leaf nodes within each subtree of part
   O) are the Main Body Parts.

   Part S is more likely not to be an attachment, as the subtree layout
   suggests that it is only relevant for the HTML version of the
   message.  For example, it might be rendered as an image within the
   HTML alternative.

8.  Certificate Management

   A cryptographically-capable MUA typically maintains knowledge about
   certificates for the user's own account(s), as well as certificates
   for the peers that it communicates with.

8.1.  Peer Certificates

   Most certificates that a cryptographically-capable MUA will use will
   be certificates belonging to the parties that the user communicates
   with through the MUA.  This section discusses how to manage the
   certificates that belong to such a peer.

   The MUA will need to be able to discover X.509 certificates for each
   peer, cache them, and select among them when composing an encrypted

8.1.1.  Cert Discovery from Incoming Messages

   TODO: incoming PKCS#7 messages tend to have a bundle of certificates
   in them.  How should these certs be handled?

   TODO: point to Autocrypt certificate discovery mechanism

   TODO: point to OpenPGP embedded certificate subpacket proposal

   TODO: compare mechanisms, explain where each case is useful.

8.1.2.  Certificate Directories

   Some MUAs may have the capability to look up peer certificates in a

   TODO: more information here about X.509 directories -- LDAP?

   TODO: mention WKD for OpenPGP certificates?

8.1.3.  Peer Certificate Selection

   When composing an encrypted message, the MUA needs to select a
   certificate for each recipient that is capable of encryption.

   To select such a certificate for a given destination e-mail address,
   the MUA should look through all of its known certificates and verify
   that _all_ of the conditions below are met:

   *  The certificate must be valid, not expired or revoked.

   *  It must have a subjectAltName of type rFC822Name whose contents
      exactly match the destination address.

   *  The algorithm OID in the certificate's SPKI is known to the MUA
      and capable of encryption.  Examples include (TODO: need OIDs)
      -  RSA, with keyUsage present and the "key encipherment" bit set

      -  EC Public Key, with keyUsage present and the "key agreement"
         bit set

      -  EC DH, with keyUsage present and the "key agreement" bit set

   *  If extendedKeyUsage is present, it contains at least one of the
      following OIDs: e-mail protection, anyExtendedKeyUsage.

   TODO: If OID is EC Public Key and keyUsage is absent, what should

   TODO: what if multiple certificates meet all of these criteria for a
   given recipient?

8.1.4.  Checking for Revocation

   TODO: discuss how/when to check for peer certificate revocation

   TODO: privacy concerns: what information leaks to whom when checking
   peer cert revocations?

8.2.  Local Certificates

   The MUA also needs to know about one or more certificates associated
   with the user's e-mail account.  It is typically expected to have
   access to the secret key material associated with the public keys in
   those certificates.

8.2.1.  Getting a Certificate for the User

   TODO: mention ACME SMIME?

   TODO: mention automatic self-signed certs e.g.  OpenPGP?

   TODO: SHOULD generate secret key material locally, and MUST NOT
   accept secret key material from an untrusted third party as the basis
   for the user's certificate.

8.2.2.  Local Certificate Maintenance

   The MUA should warn the user when/if:

   *  The user's own certificate set does not include a valid, unexpired
      encryption-capable X.509 certificate, and a valid, unexpired
      signature-capable X.509 certificate.

   *  Any of the user's own certificates is due to expire soon (TODO:
      what is "soon"?)

   *  Any of the user's own certificates does not match the e-mail
      address associated with the user's account.

   *  Any of the user's own certificates does not have a keyUsage

   *  Any of the user's own certificates does not contain an
      extendedKeyUsage extension

   TODO: how does the MUA do better than warning in the cases above?
   What can the MUA actually _do_ here to fix problems before they

   TODO: discuss how/when to check for own certificate revocation, and
   what to do if it (or any intermediate certificate authority) is found
   to be revoked.

8.2.3.  Shipping Certificates in Outbound Messages

   TODO: What certificates should the MUA include in an outbound message
   so that peers can discover them?

   *  local signing certificate so that signature can be validated

   *  local encryption-capable certificate(s) so that incoming messages
      can be encypted.

   *  On an encrypted message to multiple recipients, the encryption-
      capable peer certs of the other recipients (to enable "reply

   *  intermediate certificates to chain all of the above to some set of
      root authorities?

8.3.  Certificate Authorities

   TODO: how should the MUA select root certificate authorities?

   TODO: should the MUA cache intermediate CAs?

   TODO: should the MUA share such a cache with other PKI clients (e.g.,
   web browsers)?  Are there distinctions between a CA for S/MIME and
   for the web?

9.  Common Pitfalls and Guidelines

   This section highlights a few "pitfalls" and guidelines based on
   these discussions and lessons learned.

   FIXME: some possible additional commentary on:

   *  indexing and search of encrypted messages

   *  managing access to cryptographic secret keys that require user

   *  secure deletion

   *  inline PGP, ugh

   *  storage of composed/sent messages

   *  encrypt-to-self during composition

   *  cached signature validation

   *  interaction between encryption and Bcc

   *  aggregated cryptographic status of threads/conversations ?

   *  Draft messages

   *  copies to the Sent folder

10.  IANA Considerations

   MAYBE: provide an indicator in the IANA header registry for which
   headers are "structural" ? and which are "user-facing"?  This is
   probably unnecessary.

11.  Security Considerations

   This entire document addresses security considerations about end-to-
   end cryptographic protections for e-mail messages.

12.  Acknowledgements

   The set of constructs and recommendations in this document are
   derived from discussions with many different implementers, including
   Alexey Melnikov, Bernie Hoeneisen, Bjarni Runar Einarsson, David
   Bremner, Deb Cooley, Holger Krekel, Jameson Rollins, Jonathan
   Hammell, juga, Patrick Brunschwig, Santosh Chokhani, and Vincent

13.  References

13.1.  Normative References

   [RFC2119]  Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
              Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, March 1997,

   [RFC3156]  Elkins, M., Del Torto, D., Levien, R., and T. Roessler,
              "MIME Security with OpenPGP", RFC 3156,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC3156, August 2001,

   [RFC4289]  Freed, N. and J. Klensin, "Multipurpose Internet Mail
              Extensions (MIME) Part Four: Registration Procedures",
              BCP 13, RFC 4289, DOI 10.17487/RFC4289, December 2005,

   [RFC8174]  Leiba, B., "Ambiguity of Uppercase vs Lowercase in RFC
              2119 Key Words", BCP 14, RFC 8174, DOI 10.17487/RFC8174,
              May 2017, <>.

   [RFC8551]  Schaad, J., Ramsdell, B., and S. Turner, "Secure/
              Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (S/MIME) Version 4.0
              Message Specification", RFC 8551, DOI 10.17487/RFC8551,
              April 2019, <>.

13.2.  Informative References

              Schechter, E., "Evolving Chrome's security indicators",
              May 2018, <

   [EFAIL]    "EFAIL", n.d., <>.

              Einarsson, B. R., "juga", and D. K. Gillmor, "OpenPGP
              Example Keys and Certificates", Work in Progress,
              Internet-Draft, draft-bre-openpgp-samples-01, 20 December
              2019, <

              Gillmor, D. K., "S/MIME Example Keys and Certificates",
              Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-ietf-lamps-
              samples-05, 5 August 2021,

   [RFC3274]  Gutmann, P., "Compressed Data Content Type for
              Cryptographic Message Syntax (CMS)", RFC 3274,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC3274, June 2002,

   [RFC4880]  Callas, J., Donnerhacke, L., Finney, H., Shaw, D., and R.
              Thayer, "OpenPGP Message Format", RFC 4880,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC4880, November 2007,

   [RFC5322]  Resnick, P., Ed., "Internet Message Format", RFC 5322,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC5322, October 2008,

   [RFC5355]  Stillman, M., Ed., Gopal, R., Guttman, E., Sengodan, S.,
              and M. Holdrege, "Threats Introduced by Reliable Server
              Pooling (RSerPool) and Requirements for Security in
              Response to Threats", RFC 5355, DOI 10.17487/RFC5355,
              September 2008, <>.

   [RFC6376]  Crocker, D., Ed., Hansen, T., Ed., and M. Kucherawy, Ed.,
              "DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) Signatures", STD 76,
              RFC 6376, DOI 10.17487/RFC6376, September 2011,

Appendix A.  Test Vectors

   FIXME: This document should contain examples of well-formed and
   malformed messages using cryptographic key material and certificates
   from [I-D.draft-bre-openpgp-samples-01] and

   It may also include example renderings of these messages.

Appendix B.  Document Considerations

   [ RFC Editor: please remove this section before publication ]

   This document is built from markdown using ruby-kramdown-rfc2629
   (, and tracked using git
   (  The markdown source under development can be
   found in the file in the main branch of the git
   repository (

   You may also be interested in the latest editor's copy

   Minor editorial changes can be suggested via merge requests at or by e-mail to the editor.
   Please direct all significant commentary to the public IETF LAMPS
   mailing list, (

B.1.  Document History

B.1.1.  Substantive changes from draft-ietf-...-01 to draft-ietf-...-02

   *  Added definition of "user-facing" headers

B.1.2.  Substantive changes from draft-ietf-...-00 to draft-ietf-...-01

   *  Added section about distinguishing Main Body Parts and Attachments

   *  Updated document considerations section, including reference to
      auto-built editor's copy


B.1.3.  Substantive changes from draft-dkg-...-01 to draft-ietf-...-00

   *  WG adopted draft

   *  moved Document History and Document Considerations sections to end
      of appendix, to avoid section renumbering when removed


B.1.4.  Substantive changes from draft-dkg-...-00 to draft-dkg-...-01

   *  consideration of success/failure indicators for usability

   *  clarify extendedKeyUsage and keyUsage algorithm-specific details

   *  initial section on certificate management

   *  added more TODO items

Author's Address

   Daniel Kahn Gillmor (editor)
   American Civil Liberties Union
   125 Broad St.
   New York, NY,  10004
   United States of America