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The CA system is strictly better than PGP for identity management in every respect.

People often think it must be the opposite but this is essentially emotional reasoning: the Web of Trust feels decentralised, social, "webby" un"corporate", free, etc. All things that appeal to hobbyist geeks with socialist or libertarian leanings, who see encryption primarily through the activist lens of fighting governments / existing social power structures.

But there's nothing secure about the WoT. As the post points out, the entire thing is theatre. Effectively the WoT converts every PGP user into a certificate authority, but they can't hope to even begin to match the competence of even not very competent WebTrust audited CAs. Basic things all CAs are required to do, like use hardware security modules, don't apply in the WoT, where users routinely do unsafe things like use their private key from laptops that run all kinds of random software pulled from the net, or carry their private keys through airports, or accept an email "From" header as a proof of identity.

I wrote about this a long time ago here:

https://blog.plan99.net/why-you-think-the-pki-sucks-b64cf591...




In an otherwise good write-up, I disagreed with this line:

" There is no scope for difference between a “big corporate” CA and a “small politically active” CA because the work they do is so mechanical, auditable and predictable."

There is room for a politically-active CA like there is for anything else. In each market, there's players that get business for doing better things for privacy, being eco-friendly, being more inclusive, etc. Things that get business from vote with your wallet types. My idea, inspired by Praxis doing Mondex's CA, was a non-profit or public-benefit company that had built into its charter and legal agreements many protections for the customers in a country without secret laws/courts like U.S. Patriot Act. The CA would also be mandated to use high-security approaches for everything it did instead of just HSM's. They might also provide services like digital notary.

In short, I can imagine more trustworthy and innovative CA's being made. I'd easily pay one like that over the rest. I'm sure there's some number of people and businesses out there that think the same way. I wouldn't try it as main business, though, since market is too cut-throat. My idea was a company like Mozilla would try it to see what happens. Let's Encrypt confirmed the non-profit, public-benefit part being feasible.


> But there's nothing secure about the WoT.

I haven't read your blog, but this sentence unfairly paints WoT with PGP/GPG's problems.

It's completely reasonable to have a WoT that operates correctly when at least a single participant isn't completely incompetent. That's how git works.

I haven't looked closely but I'd be willing to speculate that PGP is to WoT what C++ is to fast compile times.


Just to drive the point home, compare:

* the amount of time some pedants waste at a PGP "key party"

* the time it takes me to accept a merge request from someone who made a commit in the gitlab UI using Internet Explorer on their grandparents' malware-laden Dell desktop

Both examples leverage WoT.

Edit: hehe I wrote PGP "key party" instead of "key signing party."


Are we talking about extended validation or domain validation?

With domain validation it is likely better to use dane in the context of email. The sender looks up the key and mx record and act accordingly, and for postfix there are plugins that already do it. Very few current users however.


I am not against CAs but even then, what tool do you use? Personal SSL certificates for signing? Except for s/mime I haven't seen this used anywhere


The CA system as set up today is a bit fragile and much too limited, though. If it was all we needed, everybody would be using S/MIME with signed certs.

We need something more expressive than the current CA system, where you can make the choice to define your own trusted roots.


You can always edit the trust store to add or remove certs your local computer trusts. That's easy, there are even GUI tools available to do it. Heck on MacOS there's even a GUI wizard to create a local CA from scratch!

Nobody does it because the hard part of being a CA isn't the protocol part, it's convincing everyone that you're going to do a good job of issuing certificates. The WoT just ignores that problem entirely - and it's ultimately a social issue.


But you can't trivially define your own scopes wherein each has their own independent set of trusted CA:s. That's part of what's missing. But default it's universal or per program.

Just look at every kind of umbrella organization out there like industry specific auditors with a scope limited to a field (medical, finance, food safety), or even hobby organizations with a parent organization auditing local chapters.

You don't go to the social security office to look up your neighbors phone number when you need to talk to them. The attributes people care about are often more local, more narrow.

People first go to local trust anchors to get information about things (and their software clients could then traverse various directories up to a root and back down, if necessary). I need my client to be able to understand an assertion from an entity far more personal to me than a distant CA. The CA:s are most useful in ephemeral connection, not long term ones.

This is what I mean when I say the CA system isn't expressive enough.




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