Cryptographic Interactions

The main purpose of the SCION control plane PKI is to provide a mechanism to to distribute and authenticate public keys that are used to verify control plane messages and information. For example the SCION path segments are signed with keys that are authenticated through the SCION CP-PKI.

In this document, we describe the cryptographic interactions between control plane entities. I.e., how certificates are distributed, and how they are used to verify messages and establish secret and authentic channels.

AS certificate use cases

Currently, we have two use cases: authenticating control plane messages, and establishing a secure channel. The basis for both of these use cases is the AS certificate. We discuss these use cases briefly and go into detail, how the relying parties get the required cryptographic material.

Authentic control plane messages

In SCION, most control plane messages are signed. For example, each AS hop information in path segment is signed by the respective AS. All relying parties are able to verify the signatures with the help of the CP-PKI.

Signing process

To sign a message, the signing entity chooses an AS certificate that authenticates their private key. With the private key, they sign the message and attach the following information as signature metadata:

  • ISD-AS: The ISD-AS number of the signing entity.
  • Subject Key Identifier: The key identifier of the public key used to verify the message.

This is the bare minimum information a relying party requires to identify which certificate to use to verify the signed message.

Additionally, the signer should include the following information:

  • Serial and base number of the latest TRC: Including this information allows relying parties to discover TRC updates and trust resets passively without actively querying the authoritative ASes in the respective ISDs.
  • Timestamp: For many messages, the timestamp is useful information to ensure recentness of the message.

Verifying process

When the relying party gets a message that they want to verify, they first need to identify the certificate that authenticates the corresponding public key.

AS certificates are bundled together with the CA certificate that signed them into certificate chains. For efficiency, these certificate chains are distributed decoupled from the signed messages. A certificate chain is verified against a root certificate. However, the root certificate is not bundled in the chain, it is bundled in the TRC. This allows TRC updates that extend the validity period of the root certificate without the need to modify the certificate chain.

Now, to verify, the relying party first builds a collection of the root certificates from the latest TRC from the ISD referenced in the signature metadata. If the grace period introduced by the latest TRC is still on-going, the root certificates in the second to latest TRC are also included. For more detailed instruction, see TRC Selection. If the signature metadata contains the serial and base number, the relying part checks that they have at least that TRC or a newer one available.

After the relying party has constructed the pool of root certificates, they have to select a certificate chain that can be used to verify the message. To do so, they select a certificate chain with an AS certificate that has the following properties:

  • The ISD-AS in the subject of the AS certificate matches the ISD-AS in the signature metadata.
  • The Subject Key Identifier of the AS certificate matches the Subject Key Identifier in the signature metadata.
  • The AS certificate is valid at verification time. Normally, this will be the current time. In special cases, e.g., auditing the time can be set to the past to check if the message was verifiable at the given time.

The relying party executes the regular X509 verification path to verify the messages against the set of root certificates. In addition, the relying party checks that all subjects carry the same ISD number, that each certificate is of valid type, i.e., that the AS certificate is indeed a valid AS certificate, and that the CA certificate validity period covers the AS certificate validity period.

If any crypto material is missing in the process, the relying party queries the originator of the message for the missing material. If it can not be resolved, the verification process fails.

An implication of this is that path segments should be checked whether they are verifiable at time of use. We cannot simply rely on them being verified on insert, since TRC updates that change the root key can invalidate a certificate chain.

Secret and authentic channel

In SCION, some control plane interactions require a secret and authentic channel. For example, the DRKey and hidden path exchange require such a channel. With the X509v3 certificates, we can profit from the existing TLS protocol to establish a secret and authentic connection.

When establishing a TLS connection, both the client and the server provide their certificate chain. The AS certificate for the client side must have the extended key purpose id-kp-clientAuth. The AS certificate for the server side must have the extended key purpose id-kp-serverAuth set.

The certificates are verified against the root certificates authenticated by the latest available TRC.


A caveat of this is, that if the other side does not notice a TRC update, it might not be able to verify the certificate chain. We will tackle this issue when we gat to implementing this mechanism. One solution could be, to encode information about the latest TRC inside the exchanged certificate chains.

TRC update discovery

Relying parties need to have recent TRCs available. They should notice TRC updates in a reasonable time frame. There are multiple mechanisms for how a relying party notices these updates.

Beaconing process

The TRC version is announced in the beaconing process. Each AS announces what it considers to be the latest TRC. Furthermore, each AS includes the digest of the TRC contents to allow discovering discrepancies.

Thus, relying parties that are part of the beaconing process notice TRC updates passively. I.e., the control service in a core AS notices TRC updates for remote ISDs that are on the beaconing path. The control service in a non-core AS only notices TRC updates for the local ISD through the beaconing process.

Path resolution

In every path segment, all ASes reference the latest TRC of their ISD. Thus, when resolving paths, every relying party notices TRC updates even remote ones. This mechanism only works for ISDs that the relying party actively communicates with.

Active discovery

Relying parties actively query authoritative ASes in the ISDs they want to have recent TRCs.


To enable the interactions mentioned above, the following messages are necessary:

  • Specific certificate chain:

    Query: ISD-AS, Subject Key ID, time period
    Response: Set of certificate chains

    The requester asks for certificate chains that match the query. A certificate chain matches the query, if the AS certificate’s subject contains the ISD-AS, the AS certificate’s subject key identifier matches, and the validity period of the AS certificate covers the follow queried time period.

  • Specific TRC:

    Query: ISD, serial number, base number
    Response: signed TRC

    The requester asks for a TRC that matches the query. I.e, a TRC that carries exactly the values that of the query.

  • Latest TRC:

    Query: ISD
    Response: ISD, serial number, base number, signature

    The requester asks what the latest TRC for a given ISD known to the requestee is. The response is signed by the requestee, to ensure answers cannot be modified by a third party. Only authoritative ASes are required to respond to these requests.

For automatic certificate renewal the following messages are necessary:

  • Certificate renewal request:

    Query: CSR, signature
    Response: renewed certificate chain

    The requester sends the CSR and a signature over the CSR to its CA. The CA must have a mechanism to verify the signature. As a base protocol, we propose that the signature must be verifiable with a still active AS certificate for the subject issued by the CA itself. The response is the renewed certificate chain. Only CA ASes are required to respond to these requests.

  • Certificate chain push:

    Query: set of certificate chains
    Response: ack

    The CA ASes are required to eventually register the issued certificate chains with the authoritative ASes. With this message the CA ASes can push the new certificate chains to all authoritative ASes.