How to publish a GPG key via DNS

Albert

Publishing keys is quite common. One nice way to do so is by using the Public Key Association (PKA) DNS record. Basically this is a record that points to a file that can be downloaded over the internet. This method is an alternative (not exclusive) to using keyservers.

One of the problems of keyservers (in my opinion), is the problem of deleting old keys. I pretty much like the idea of PGP keyserver which verifies periodically by sending an email if the address is still in use and therefore maintain that uid of the key. The only problem is that the PGP server is centralized and it does not use FLOSS standards.

I understand that deleting a key on a distributed environment is hard and probably maintaining a history of deletions as done actually on most of keyservers is still a good solution. However since I don’t use GPG very often and I am not publishing my key yet, I wanted to try PKA.

This tutorial is made of two basic parts, first creating a TXT DNS record and then verifying that the key gets downloaded properly.

Tutorial overview #

  1. Creating the TXT DNS record
  2. Testing the PKA record

Assumptions #

I assume that you have gpg installed and that you know the basic idea on how it works, that you know what a private and a public keys are for and how to use them.

Creating the TXT DNS record #

To create the TXT DNS record you will need to know the fingerprint of the key. To do so:

$ gpg --list-keys vonpupp@keybase.io
pub   rsa2048/0x536814BF4871A220 2016-11-12 [SC] [expires: 2018-11-12]
      Key fingerprint = F0B9 B3FB 25E9 1209 728E  4844 5368 14BF 4871 A220
      uid                   [ultimate] Albert De La Fuente <vonpupp@keybase.io>
      uid                   [ultimate] Albert De La Fuente (Social email address) <vonpupp@gmail.com>
      uid                   [ultimate] Albert De La Fuente (Main email address) <mail@albertdelafuente.com>
      uid                   [ultimate] Albert De La Fuente (Haevas email address) <albert@haevas.com>
      uid                   [ultimate] Albert De La Fuente (Academic email address) <albert@ime.usp.br>
      sub   rsa2048/0xE2977BF3F82AB971 2016-11-12 [E] [expires: 2018-11-12]

In my case, the fingerprint is F0B9 B3FB 25E9 1209 728E 4844 5368 14BF 4871 A220, or 0x536814BF4871A220 for short.

Then you need to export the key with:

$ gpg --export -a 0x536814BF4871A220 > public-0x536814BF4871A220.asc

Then create a TXT record where:

The Name part: #

Is composed of mailbox._pka.albertdelafuente.com. So for instance if my email is long-anti-spam-email-address@albertdelafuentedotcom, then the name part should be long-anti-spam-email-address._pka.albertdelafuente.com.

The Text data: #

Contains the fingerprint and the URL where to download the key. In my case:

"v=pka1;fpr=F0B9B3FB25E91209728E4844536814BF4871A220;uri=http://albertdelafuente.com/media/files/public-0x536814BF4871A220.asc"

Do not forget to upload the key to match the uri as on the TXT record. In my case: http://albertdelafuente.com/media/files/public-0x536814BF4871A220.asc

Testing the PKA record #

Once done that you can download the key (just for testing purposes) on another computer or VM as follows:

$ echo "Test message" | gpg --auto-key-locate pka -ear mail@albertdelafuente.com

In my case this will prompt you with a confirmation since my primary uid does not match the email. This is made in purpose because I have read that some spammers are using keyservers to get valid email addresses, therefore I always use keybase as my primary id.

You will see something similar to this as the output:

gpg: directory =/home/vagrant/.gnupg' created
gpg: new configuration file =/home/vagrant/.gnupg/gpg.conf' created
gpg: WARNING: options in =/home/vagrant/.gnupg/gpg.conf' are not yet active during this run
gpg: keyring =/home/vagrant/.gnupg/secring.gpg' created
gpg: keyring =/home/vagrant/.gnupg/pubring.gpg' created
gpg: requesting key 4871A220 from http server albertdelafuente.com
gpg: /home/vagrant/.gnupg/trustdb.gpg: trustdb created
gpg: key 4871A220: public key "Albert De La Fuente <vonpupp@keybase.io>" imported
gpg: Total number processed: 1
gpg:               imported: 1  (RSA: 1)
gpg: automatically retrieved =mail@albertdelafuente.com' via PKA
gpg: F82AB971: There is no assurance this key belongs to the named user

pub  2048R/F82AB971 2016-11-12 Albert De La Fuente <vonpupp@keybase.io>
 Primary key fingerprint: F0B9 B3FB 25E9 1209 728E  4844 5368 14BF 4871 A220
      Subkey fingerprint: 7A10 07B4 3F49 5317 5DE0  52E8 E297 7BF3 F82A B971

It is NOT certain that the key belongs to the person named
in the user ID.  If you *really* know what you are doing,
you may answer the next question with yes.

Use this key anyway? (y/N) y
-----BEGIN PGP MESSAGE-----
Version: GnuPG v1

hQEMA+KXe/P4KrlxAQf/d1yxYFBSPs0RKHJ98w+s82jK25R/IXCiFNe6BkX+oyp+
uh+4AObx93SuJ/ryHlthHQmnpid4BQWmhmCksiAH+xD1xrlrCDIsNQfJ5+aPQXjz
+Z6iKrWy8Lk13i6u3wgMZuk2eKN9Z1ppi15arXhFc93cta5p5K5tAH7CwMd5zP93
r7wgI2Jff+x3erN0zbkJ2PZgDrHZVLVWyOnwgRBw12N8El3L8i6JFbNY+g25AMUm
MMCPSTit8ILsFoPtkrJEOdq5p5aCw3dvIVSzmxflMJEsgqO+Per+KxtMehaBF5qX
I2TzltcgjlisSJ3rcBtjpm12rSVJrPs4BG2UKz0w6tJIAbF0FLlWXe8zMJMK1E3Q
BQ7y/gjTduiuuD++qyIxqWCoLCgHixvP4WiTPbbKvoXl4BP8Bf1ED9M/0Cyss2NI
tW7vVlLcXRQb
=gdKa
-----END PGP MESSAGE-----

Conclusions #

As you can see it is not that hard to publish a public key via DNS. You need to export your key to a file and upload it and then create a TXT record relating the fingerprint and the location of the key. You may also publish your key on a keyserver also since not everybody retrieve the keys over DNS.

Thanks for reading. Spot an error or want to explain something better, feel free to send me a PR.