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MIME Security with Pretty Good Privacy (PGP)

Updated by:    3156

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Network Working Group                                          M. Elkins
Request for Comments: 2015                     The Aerospace Corporation
Category: Standards Track                                   October 1996

              MIME Security with Pretty Good Privacy (PGP)

Status of this Memo

   This document specifies an Internet standards track protocol for the
   Internet community, and requests discussion and suggestions for
   improvements.  Please refer to the current edition of the "Internet
   Official Protocol Standards" (STD 1) for the standardization state
   and status of this protocol.  Distribution of this memo is unlimited.


   This document describes how Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) can be used to
   provide privacy and authentication using the Multipurpose Internet
   Mail Extensions (MIME) security content types described in RFC1847.

1.  Introduction

   Previous work on integrating PGP with MIME (including the since
   withdrawn application/pgp content type) has suffered from a number of
   problems, the most significant of which is the inability to recover
   signed message bodies without parsing data structures specific to
   PGP.  This work makes use of the elegant solution proposed in
   RFC1847, which defines security multipart formats for MIME. The
   security multiparts clearly separate the signed message body from the
   signature, and have a number of other desirable properties. This
   document is styled after RFC 1848, which defines MIME Object Security
   Services (MOSS) for providing security and authentication.

   This document defines three new content types for implementing
   security and privacy with PGP: application/pgp-encrypted,
   application/pgp-signature and application/pgp-keys.

1.1  Compliance

   In order for an implementation to be compliant with this
   specification, is it absolutely necessary for it to obey all items
   labeled as MUST or REQUIRED.

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2.  PGP data formats

   PGP can generate either ASCII armor (described in [3]) or 8-bit
   binary output when encrypting data, generating a digital signature,
   or extracting public key data.  The ASCII armor output is the
   REQUIRED method for data transfer.  This allows those users who do
   not have the means to interpret the formats described in this
   document to be able extract and use the PGP information in the

   When the amount of data to be transmitted requires that it be sent in
   many parts, the MIME message/partial mechanism should be used rather
   than the multipart ASCII armor PGP format.

3.  Content-Transfer-Encoding restrictions

   Multipart/signed and multipart/encrypted are to be treated by agents
   as opaque, meaning that the data is not to be altered in any way [1].
   However, many existing mail gateways will detect if the next hop does
   not support MIME or 8-bit data and perform conversion to either
   Quoted-Printable or Base64.  This presents serious problems for
   multipart/signed, in particular, where the signature is invalidated
   when such an operation occurs.  For this reason all data signed
   according to this protocol MUST be constrained to 7 bits (8- bit data
   should be encoded using either Quoted-Printable or Base64).  Note
   that this also includes the case where a signed object is also
   encrypted (see section 6).  This restriction will increase the
   likelihood that the signature will be valid upon receipt.

   Data that is ONLY to be encrypted is allowed to contain 8-bit
   characters and therefore need not be converted to a 7-bit format.

     Implementor's note: It cannot be stressed enough that applications
     using this standard should follow MIME's suggestion that you "be
     conservative in what you generate, and liberal in what you accept."
     In this particular case it means it would be wise for an
     implementation to accept messages with any content-transfer-
     encoding, but restrict generation to the 7-bit format required by
     this memo.  This will allow future compatibility in the event the
     Internet SMTP framework becomes 8-bit friendly.

4.  PGP encrypted data

   Before encryption with PGP, the data should be written in MIME
   canonical format (body and headers).

   PGP encrypted data is denoted by the "multipart/encrypted" content
   type, described in [1], and MUST have a "protocol" parameter value of

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   "application/pgp-encrypted".  Note that the value of the parameter
   MUST be enclosed in quotes.

   The multipart/encrypted MUST consist of exactly two parts.  The first
   MIME body part must have a content type of "application/pgp-
   encrypted".  This body contains the control information.  A message
   complying with this standard MUST contain a "Version: 1" field in
   this body.  Since the PGP packet format contains all other
   information necessary for decrypting, no other information is
   required here.

   The second MIME body part MUST contain the actual encrypted data.  It
   must be labeled with a content type of "application/octet- stream".

   Example message:

     From: Michael Elkins <>
     To: Michael Elkins <>
     Mime-Version: 1.0
     Content-Type: multipart/encrypted; boundary=foo;

     Content-Type: application/pgp-encrypted

     Version: 1

     Content-Type: application/octet-stream

     -----BEGIN PGP MESSAGE-----
     Version: 2.6.2

     -----END PGP MESSAGE-----


5.  PGP signed data

   PGP signed messages are denoted by the "multipart/signed" content
   type, described in [1], with a "protocol" parameter which MUST have a
   value of "application/pgp-signature" (MUST be quoted).  The "micalg"

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   parameter MUST have a value of "pgp-<hash-symbol>", where <hash-
   symbol> identifies the message integrity check (MIC) used to generate
   the signature.  The currently defined values for <hash-symbol> are
   "md5" for the MD5 checksum, and "sha1" for the SHA.1 algorithm.

   The multipart/signed body MUST consist of exactly two parts.  The
   first part contains the signed data in MIME canonical format,
   including a set of appropriate content headers describing the data.

   The second body MUST contain the PGP digital signature.  It MUST be
   labeled with a content type of "application/pgp-signature".

   When the PGP digital signature is generated:

   (1)  The data to be signed must first be converted to its
        type/subtype specific canonical form.  For text/plain, this
        means conversion to an appropriate character set and conversion
        of line endings to the canonical <CR><LF> sequence.

   (2)  An appropriate Content-Transfer-Encoding is then applied. Each
        line of the encoded data MUST end with the canonical <CR><LF>

   (3)  MIME content headers are then added to the body, each ending
        with the canonical <CR><LF> sequence.

   (4)  As described in [1], the digital signature MUST be calculated
        over both the data to be signed and its set of content headers.

   (5)  The signature MUST be generated detached from the signed data
        so that the process does not alter the signed data in any way.

   Example message:

     From: Michael Elkins <>
     To: Michael Elkins <>
     Mime-Version: 1.0
     Content-Type: multipart/signed; boundary=bar; micalg=pgp-md5;

     & Content-Type: text/plain; charset=iso-8859-1
     & Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable
     & =A1Hola!
     & Did you know that talking to yourself is a sign of senility?

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     & It's generally a good idea to encode lines that begin with
     & From=20because some mail transport agents will insert a greater-
     & than (>) sign, thus invalidating the signature.
     & Also, in some cases it might be desirable to encode any   =20
     &railing whitespace that occurs on lines in order to ensure  =20
     & that the message signature is not invalidated when passing =20
     & a gateway that modifies such whitespace (like BITNET). =20
     & me

     Content-Type: application/pgp-signature

    -----BEGIN PGP MESSAGE-----
   Version: 2.6.2

   -----END PGP MESSAGE-----


   The "&"s in the previous example indicate the portion of the data
   over which the signature was calculated.

   Though not required, it is generally a good idea to use Quoted-
   Printable encoding in the first step (writing out the data to be
   signed in MIME canonical format) if any of the lines in the data
   begin with "From ", and encode the "F".  This will avoid an MTA
   inserting a ">" in front of the line, thus invalidating the

   Upon receipt of a signed message, an application MUST:

   (1)  Convert line endings to the canonical <CR><LF> sequence before
        the signature can be verified.  This is necessary since the
        local MTA may have converted to a local end of line convention.

   (2)  Pass both the signed data and its associated content headers
        along with the PGP signature to the signature verification

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6.  Encrypted and Signed Data

   Sometimes it is desirable to both digitally sign and then encrypt a
   message to be sent.  This protocol allows for two methods of
   accomplishing this task.

6.1  RFC1847 Encapsulation

   [1], it is stated that the data should first be signed as a
   multipart/signature body, and then encrypted to form the final
   multipart/encrypted body, i.e.,

    Content-Type: multipart/encrypted;
       protocol="application/pgp-encrypted"; boundary=foo

    Content-Type: application/pgp-encrypted

    Version: 1

    Content-Type: application/octet-stream

    -----BEGIN PGP MESSAGE-----
    & Content-Type: multipart/signed; micalg=pgp-md5
    &     protocol="application/pgp-signature"; boundary=bar
    & --bar
    & Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
    & This message was first signed, and then encrypted.
    & --bar
    & Content-Type: application/pgp-signature
    & -----BEGIN PGP MESSAGE-----
    & Version: 2.6.2
    & jJV5bNvkZIGPIcEmI5iFd9boEgvpirHtIREEqLQRkYNoBActFBZmh9GC3C041WGq
    & uMbrbxc+nIs1TIKlA08rVi9ig/2Yh7LFrK5Ein57U/W72vgSxLhe/zhdfolT9Brn
    & HOxEa44b+EI=
    & =ndaj
    & -----END PGP MESSAGE-----
    & --bar--
    -----END PGP MESSAGE-----

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    (The text preceded by '&' indicates that it is really
    encrypted, but presented as text for clarity.)

6.2  Combined method

   Versions 2.x of PGP also allow data to be signed and encrypted in one
   operation.  This method is an acceptable shortcut, and has the
   benefit of less overhead.  The resulting data should be formed as a
   "multipart/encrypted" object as described above.

   Messages which are encrypted and signed in this combined fashion are
   REQUIRED to follow the same canonicalization rules as for
   multipart/signed objects.

   It is explicitly allowed for an agent to decrypt a combined message
   and rewrite it as a multipart/signed object using the signature data
   embedded in the encrypted version.

7.  Distribution of PGP public keys

   Content-Type: application/pgp-keys
   Required parameters: none
   Optional parameters: none

   This is the content type which should be used for relaying public key

8.  Notes

   PGP and Pretty Good Privacy are trademarks of Philip Zimmermann.

9.  Security Considerations

   Use of this protocol has the same security considerations as PGP, and
   is not known to either increase or decrease the security of messages
   using it; see [3] for more information.

10.  Author's Address

        Michael Elkins
        P.O. Box 92957 - M1/102
        Los Angeles, CA 90009-2957

        Phone: +1 310 336 8040
        Fax: +1 310 336 4402

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   [1]  Galvin, J., Murphy, G., Crocker, S., and N. Freed, "Security
        Multiparts for MIME: Multipart/Signed and Multipart/Encrypted",
        RFC 1847, October 1995.

   [2]  Galvin, J., Murphy, G., Crocker, S., and N. Freed, "MIME Object
        Security Services", RFC 1848, October 1995.

   [3]  Atkins, D., Stallings, W., and P. Zimmermann, "PGP Message
        Exchange Formats", RFC 1991, August 1996.