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Seeding WebAuthN Authenticator Credentials

This specification defines how create non-resident credentials for WebAuthN/FIDO2 from a 256-bit seed key and to authenticate with those credentials.

Specifically, on calls to authenticatorMakeCredential, an authenticator will use the seedKey to generate a Credential ID and public/private authentication key pair, sending the Credential ID and public key to the relying party.

On calls to authenticatorGetAssertion, an authenticator will use the seedKey to validate that the Credential ID was generated from seedKey for use by the requesting relying party, and then to re-derive the private key needed to authenticate.



The secret seed key (seedKey)

seedKey is a fixed-length 256-bit (32 byte) secret key written into an authenticator to give it an replicable identity. It is so named as it seeds all other cryptographic operations. This secret key is the only information an authenticator should require to authenticate via the authenticatorGetAssertion operation, even if a different authenticator used the same seed to create the Credential ID and accompanying public key during the authenticatorMakeCredential operation.

External state stored with the seedKey (extState)

extState is an optional field of 0 and 256 bytes and is written to the authenticator along with the seedKey. It is stored in plaintext within the Credential ID so that the relying party will keep a copy of it and share it with any party that attempts to authenticate. The field may contain information used to locate or re-generate the seedKey if an authenticator needs to be replaced. Since this field is stored in plaintext with the relying party, it should not be used without careful consideration of the risks of sharing the information therein with the relying party, and the potential to make Credential IDs linkable. (The degree of this risk depends on whether the value is quite common among multiple users or unique to each user.)

Relying Party ID (rpId) and its hash (rpIdHash)

rpId is the relying party identifier passed to authenticatorMakeCredential via the the id field of the rpEntity parameter, and passed to authenticatorGetAssertion via the rpId parameter. Its SHA256 hash is named rpIdHash by the WebAuthN standard.

rpIdHash = SHA256(rpId)

Implementing authenticatorMakeCredential

Generating a Credential ID (credentialId)

Generate a Credential ID by concatenating four fields.

credentialId = version || uniqueId || extState || credentialMac

version is a single byte and should be set to 1 (0x01).

uniqueId is any 32-byte value that ensures the Credential Id meets the WebAuthN's requirement of having at least 100 bits of entropy to ensure uniqueness. To generate this value deterministically so that an observer with knowledge of seekKey can verify that the authenticator generated the credentialId correctly, see the Appendix.

credentialMac is a message authentication code that ensures the Credential ID has not been modified since it was created by the authenticator.

credentialMac = SHA256HMAC(seedKey, rpIdHash || version || uniqueId || extState)

Deriving the ES256 public key

The private key es256SPrivateKey is generated from the seedKey on the authenticator, the rpIdHash from the relying party, and the credentialMac field from the credentialId (which, as a MAC, effectively encapsulates the three other fields of credentialId.

We use the method of key pair generation by testing candidates as described in NIST FIPS 186.4 Section B.4.2, substituting in for the random bit generator a deterministic pseudo-random bit generator that generates a stream of 256-bit blocks C[i] of the form:

C[0] = SHA256HMAC(seedKey, credentialMac)
C[i] = SHA256HMAC(seedKey, C[i-1])

The algorithm is as follows:

C = SHA256HMAC(seedKey, credentialMac);
while (cPlusOne >= p || cPlusOne == 0) {
  C = SHA256HMAC(seedKey, C);
d = cPlusOne; // d is the private key
Q = dG; // (Q is the public key)

We named the candidate private keys in the above algorithm cPlusOne for the proof in Appendix 2 that this algorithm is compliant with NIST FIPS 186.4 Section B.4.2.

Setting the Signature Counter

The W3C's WebAuthN specification states that "Authenticators SHOULD implement a signature counter feature" and that "the signature counter's purpose is to aid Relying Parties in detecting cloned authenticators." The W3C uses "SHOULD" as defined by IETF RFC 2119, which states

This word, or the adjective "RECOMMENDED", mean that there may exist valid reasons in particular circumstances to ignore a particular item, but the full implications must be understood and carefully weighed before choosing a different course.

No reason could be more valid than to support users who choose purchase an authenticator that can be cloned because they want the ability to clone it. Authenticators following our standard MUST use the approach specified in WebAuthN Specification Section 6.2.3, item 10, option 3 to set no signature counter.

no signature counter

let the signature counter value for the new credential be constant at zero.

Implementing authenticatorGetAssertion

Decoding and validating credential Ids is part of step 3 of the WebAuthN specification for authenticatorGetAssertion.

Extracting the four fields of the credentialId

Since the only variable length field is extData, its length can be calculated by subtracting the length of the other fields (65 bytes, the collective lengths of the one byte version, the 32-byte uniqueId and the 32-byte credentialMac) from the length of the Credential ID.

// The first byte of credentialId is the version field
version = CredentialId[0]

// The next 32 bytes are the uniqueID field
uniqueId = credentialId[1...32] // inclusive

// The credentialMac is the last 32 bytes and extData is any remaining bytes before the credentialMac
extData = credentialId[33...(credentialId.length - 33)] // [33...32] indicates a 0-length array
credentialMac = credentialId[(credentialId.length - 32)...(credentialId.length - 1)]

Validating the credentialID.

If version 1 != 1 terminate the processing of this Credential ID. If no valid Credential IDs are found, the list of credentials will be empty and step 6 of the specification of authenticatorGetAssertion dictates that the operation be terminated with a "NotAllowedError".

Next, recalculate the MAC so that we can verify the Credential ID has not been modified.

recalculatedCredentialMac = SHA256HMAC(seedKey, rpId || version || uniqueId || extState)

If recalculatedCredentialMac != credentialMac, terminate the processing of this Credential ID. Again, if no valid Credential IIs are found, the list of credentials will be empty and step 6 of the specification of authenticatorGetAssertion dictates that the operation be terminated with a "NotAllowedError".

Re-deriving the es256SPrivateKey

Iff all steps of the above validation process succeed, use the same formula was was used above and authenticate with the secret key (d).

Appendix 1: Deterministic generation of uniqueIds

To support an optional deterministic mode, in which an observer that knows seekKey can verify that the authenticator generated the credentialId correctly, one can use a deterministic formula such as the one below to calculate the uniqueID:

uniqueId = SHA256HMAC( SHA256HMAC(seedKey, salt), rpIdHash || userId || clientDataHash)


The clientDataHash field is included ensure that if a user registers their key, un-registers it, and then re-registers it, the second registration will have a different uniqueId than the first. This is necessary because relying parties may reasonably assume that the same credentialId never be registered twice. For example, a relying party might be implemented to maintain a set of un-registered credentialIds and treat any member of the set as permanently unregistered. Such an implementation would not allow the user to re-register a key after un-registering it, as the uniqueId generated only from the rpIdHash and userId would not change between the two registrations.

Appendix 2: Compliance with NIST FIPS.186-4

To comply with NIST FIPS 186.4 Section B.4.2, we must perform the following steps (square brackets indicate our notes):

  • Step 4: Obtain a string of N [256] returned_bits from an RBG [random bit generator].
  • Step 5: Convert returned_bits to the (non-negative) integer c (see Appendix C.2.1).
  • Step 6: If (c > p–2), then go to step 4: [for P-256, the n of Step 6 is set to p]
  • Step 7: d = c + 1.
  • Step 8: Q = dG.

The implementer is given freedom to choose the means of converting the returned_bits into an integer (Step 5), and so for Step 5 we choose to set c equal to the little endian representation of returned_bits minus 1.


Rather than working with c directly, our algorithm works with cPlusOne = c + 1, which is just the little-endian representation of the 32 pseudorandom bytes. Using algebra to replace c with cPlusOne in Step 6:

(c > p - 2)
(c + 1 > p - 2 + 1 || c + 1 == 0)
(cPlusOne > p - 1 || cPlusOne == 0)
(cPlusOne >= p || cPlusOne == 0)

Substituting cPlusOne for c simplifies Step 7:

d = c + 1
d = cPlusOne

The other steps are unaffected.


A spec for deriving FIDO key pairs from a seed






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