Don't use the PGP Keyservers

I think it’s a bad idea to use the PGP keyservers, and also the web of trust. These are different points, but related. Maybe it’s a bad idea to use PGP at all, but that is already covered elsewhere.

Problems with the keyservers:

  1. You can't delete keys

    Your name, email address, and any comment you made are permanently bound together and published. You might not like people to know your old name if you change it.

    Old keys clutter the servers, and it can become hard to know which key to use.

  2. Spam / vandalism

    Keyservers publish anything you send them. If someone sends them signatures on your key, these will always be shown when people look for your key. This was used to add an ascii goatse to a key.
  3. Easily DOSed

    Almost always, I find anyway, you won't find a web of trust path to a key you get from the servers. If someone decided to publish lots of fake keys, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. You need to check with someone by other means anyway. I guess the only reason that there has been so little abuse of the servers is that almost noöne knows about them.
  4. Signatures publicise relationships

    This is partly a web of trust problem, and partly a matter of posting signatures publicly, but in any case the problem is that signatures give a lot of information about who you have met, when, and maybe even where.
  5. Key lookups reveal your contacts

    When you ask a keyserver for a key for a new contact, you tell it who you are talking to. When you refresh your keyring, you tell a server everyone you use pgp with. If you don't configure tls for the keyserver connection, anyone can see what you are doing.

What should you do then?

I recommend attaching your key to your emails. Preferably your mail program would then use TOFU, and you can verify out of band too if you want. Keys could also be verified by downloading from the owners website over multiple network paths, for example with tor. There are various other possibilities.

Really though, email is the problem. We need a messaging system that is designed to be secure from the start. Some systems currently in development that are worth checking out are Pond and Briar.


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