This document proposes a mechanism for the distribution and activation of the revocation certificate of the Tails signing key.


Covered by current proposal:

  1. Prevent any single individual from revoking our signing key.
  2. Allow a coalition of people from to revoke our signing key in case most of the people from become unavailable.
  3. Allow a coalition of people, not necessarily from, to revoke our signing key in case everybody or almost everybody from becomes unavailable.
  4. Make it hard for a coalition of people not from to revoke our signing key unless everybody or almost everybody from becomes unavailable.
  5. People not from shouldn't know how the shares are spread and who has them.
  6. People in possession of a share of the revocation certificate of the signing key should have instructions on how to use it if needed.


We define four complementary groups of trusted people:

  • Group A: people from themselves
  • Group B
  • Group C
  • Group D

All these people should have an OpenPGP key and understand what a revocation certificate is.

Cryptographic shares

We generate a revocation certificate of the signing key and split it into a number of cryptographic shares, using for example Shamir's secret sharing scheme implemented by gfshare.

The following combinations of people could get together and reassemble their shares to reconstruct a complete revocation certificate:

  • Three people from A{3}
  • Two people from and one person not from A{2}+(B|C|D)
  • One person from, and two people not from but from two different groups: A+(B|C|D){2}
  • Three people not from but from three different groups: (B+C+D){3}

We generate these shares:

  • N shares, one for each person from
  • 1 share for people in group B
  • 1 share for people in group C
  • 1 share for people in group D

Who knows what

  • People from know the composition of each group
  • People not from
    • Are explained in which circumstances they should revoke the signing key
    • Are told to write to a certain contact email address if they decide to revoke the signing key
    • Are told that they need three different shares to reassemble the revocation certificate


  • Everybody who owns a share is subscribed to a mailing list.
  • This mailing list is hosted on a trusted server different from to be more resilient than our usual communication channels.

Changing the members of the groups B, C, or D

To add someone to a given group:

  • Request someone from that group to send her share to the new person in the group.

To remove someone from a given group:

  • Send new shares to everybody except to the person who is being removed.
  • Request everybody to delete their previous share and track this. Once everybody in 2 groups amongst B, C, or D have deleted their share, it becomes impossible for them to reassemble the revocation certificate with the previous set of shares.
  • Let's hope that this doesn't happen very often :)


There is no expiry date on revocation certificates. One way of cancelling the revocation power is to destroy all copies of shares of 2 groups amongst B, C, or D.

Email to members of the groups

Subject: distribution


We want to propose you to be part of a distributed mechanism for the
revocation certificate of the Tails signing key.

The idea is to distribute cryptographic shares of this revocation
certificate to people that we trust. These cryptographic shares can be put
together to reassemble the revocation certificate and revoke the Tails
signing key. This may be needed in case something really bad happens to us
and we are not able to do the revocation ourselves.

Note: In all this document, 'us' refers to the set of people subscribed to which is a Schleuder mailing list.

You can read a complete description of the distribution mechanism on:

The recipe is public and the only secret component is the list of people who
are in possession of the cryptographic material.

We are proposing this to you because we trust in both your technical
abilities to store your share in a safe place and manipulate it as required
but also because we trust in you as a human being to make informed judgment
on when to use your share and act only in the interest of Tails.

The bad things that could happen if the mechanism fails are:

A. The signing key is not revoked while it should be. This could allow
possible attackers to distribute malicious Tails ISO images or publish
malicious information on our name.

B. The signing key is revoked when it should not have been. This would
prevent people from verifying our ISO images with OpenPGP until we publish a
new signing key.

Distribution of the shares

Each person from, group A, has a *different* share, A1, A2,
..., An.

On top of this, we defined three complementary groups, B, C, and D of
trusted people who have a close relationship with Tails but different
interests and different access to information about us. You are part of one
of these groups.

Everybody in group B has an *identical* share B.

Everybody in group C has an *identical* share C.

Everybody in group D has an *identical* share D.

Three different shares are needed to reassemble the revocation
certificate. For example, shares A1, A2, and A3, or shares A1, B, and C.

How to store your share

Please keep your share in an encrypted storage and make it as hard as you
can for untrusted people to get a copy of it.

You can rename the file as long as you keep the number in the file name of
your share as it is needed to use the share.

Feel free to back up the file but we might also request you to delete it at
some point and you should be able to know whether you still have a copy of
it or not. It is all-right to lose your share as long as you tell us that
you have lost it. It is actually worse to still have a copy of the share
"somewhere" while thinking that you don't, than to lose it by mistake.

Don't hesitate to ask us if you need clarification on the technical aspects
of this.

When to use your share

Everybody in possession of a share is subscribed to a mailing list.

If someone in possession of a share gets to learn about a very bad event
that happened to many of us and really thinks that we are not capable of
revoking the Tails signing key ourselves anymore, then this person should
write to the mailing list explaining why she thinks that the signing key
needs to be revoked.

Yes, there is no mathematically proven algorithm for this and here is where
your judgement as a human being is needed. The description of the very bad
event should be checked or backed by enough people to be plausible.

Keep in mind that we could still revoke the signing key ourselves as long as
three of us are able to communicate and gather their shares. So we only need
your help if only two of us are still able to communicate.

Unless you really want to start the key revocation process, do not write to
this mailing list.

Further communications

In case we need to communicate with you about this revocation mechanism in
the future, we will always do it with messages signed by the Tails signing
key itself. We might do so for example to:

  - Ask you to send your share to a new member of your group.

  - Ask you to delete your share. This could be needed to cancel the power
    of others people's share: as long as enough of you delete their shares,
    the few people that might not delete them would end up with unusable

So, can we count on you for this?

If you answer positively, we will send you your share and subscribe you to
the mailing list.

Thanks, and may the force be with you!