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PEP: 458
Title: Surviving a Compromise of PyPI
Version: $Revision$
Last-Modified: $Date$
Author: Trishank Karthik Kuppusamy <>,
Vladimir Diaz <>,
Donald Stufft <>, Justin Cappos <>
BDFL-Delegate: Richard Jones <>
Discussions-To: DistUtils mailing list <>
Status: Deferred
Type: Standards Track
Content-Type: text/x-rst
Created: 27-Sep-2013
This PEP proposes how the Python Package Index (PyPI [1]_) should be integrated
with The Update Framework [2]_ (TUF). TUF was designed to be a flexible
security add-on to a software updater or package manager. The framework
integrates best security practices such as separating role responsibilities,
adopting the many-man rule for signing packages, keeping signing keys offline,
and revocation of expired or compromised signing keys. For example, attackers
would have to steal multiple signing keys stored independently to compromise
a role responsible for specifying a repository's available files. Another role
responsible for indicating the latest snapshot of the repository may have to be
similarly compromised, and independent of the first compromised role.
The proposed integration will allow modern package managers such as pip [3]_ to
be more secure against various types of security attacks on PyPI and protect
users from such attacks. Specifically, this PEP describes how PyPI processes
should be adapted to generate and incorporate TUF metadata (i.e., the minimum
security model). The minimum security model supports verification of PyPI
distributions that are signed with keys stored on PyPI: distributions uploaded
by developers are signed by PyPI, require no action from developers (other than
uploading the distribution), and are immediately available for download. The
minimum security model also minimizes PyPI administrative responsibilities by
automating much of the signing process.
This PEP does not prescribe how package managers such as pip should be adapted
to install or update projects from PyPI with TUF metadata. Package managers
interested in adopting TUF on the client side may consult TUF's `library
documentation`__, which exists for this purpose. Support for project
distributions that are signed by developers (maximum security model) is also
not discussed in this PEP, but is outlined in the appendix as a possible future
extension and covered in detail in PEP 480 [26]_. The PEP 480 extension
focuses on the maximum security model, which requires more PyPI administrative
work (none by clients), but it also proposes an easy-to-use key management
solution for developers, how to interface with a potential future build farm on
PyPI infrastructure, and discusses the feasibility of end-to-end signing.
PEP Status
Due to the amount of work required to implement this PEP, it is deferred until
appropriate funding can be secured to implement the PEP.
In January 2013, the Python Software Foundation (PSF) announced [4]_ that the wikis for Python, Jython, and the PSF were subjected to a security
breach that caused all of the wiki data to be destroyed on January 5, 2013.
Fortunately, the PyPI infrastructure was not affected by this security breach.
However, the incident is a reminder that PyPI should take defensive steps to
protect users as much as possible in the event of a compromise. Attacks on
software repositories happen all the time [5]_. The PSF must accept the
possibility of security breaches and prepare PyPI accordingly because it is a
valuable resource used by thousands, if not millions, of people.
Before the wiki attack, PyPI used MD5 hashes to tell package managers, such as
pip, whether or not a package was corrupted in transit. However, the absence
of SSL made it hard for package managers to verify transport integrity to PyPI.
It was therefore easy to launch a man-in-the-middle attack between pip and
PyPI, and change package content arbitrarily. Users could be tricked into
installing malicious packages with man-in-the-middle attacks. After the wiki
attack, several steps were proposed (some of which were implemented) to deliver
a much higher level of security than was previously the case: requiring SSL to
communicate with PyPI [6]_, restricting project names [7]_, and migrating from
MD5 to SHA-2 hashes [8]_.
These steps, though necessary, are insufficient because attacks are still
possible through other avenues. For example, a public mirror is trusted to
honestly mirror PyPI, but some mirrors may misbehave due to malice or accident.
Package managers such as pip are supposed to use signatures from PyPI to verify
packages downloaded from a public mirror [9]_, but none are known to actually
do so [10]_. Therefore, it would be wise to add more security measures to
detect attacks from public mirrors or content delivery networks [11]_ (CDNs).
Even though official mirrors are being deprecated on PyPI [12]_, there remain a
wide variety of other attack vectors on package managers [13]_. These attacks
can crash client systems, cause obsolete packages to be installed, or even
allow an attacker to execute arbitrary code. In `September 2013`__, a post was
made to the Distutils mailing list showing that the latest version of pip (at
the time) was susceptible to such attacks, and how TUF could protect users
against them [14]_. Specifically, testing was done to see how pip would
respond to these attacks with and without TUF. Attacks tested included replay
and freeze, arbitrary packages, slow retrieval, and endless data. The post
also included a demonstration of how pip would respond if PyPI were
With the intent to protect PyPI against infrastructure compromises, this PEP
proposes integrating PyPI with The Update Framework [2]_ (TUF). TUF helps
secure new or existing software update systems. Software update systems are
vulnerable to many known attacks, including those that can result in clients
being compromised or crashed. TUF solves these problems by providing a flexible
security framework that can be added to software updaters.
Threat Model
The threat model assumes the following:
* Offline keys are safe and securely stored.
* Attackers can compromise at least one of PyPI's trusted keys stored online,
and may do so at once or over a period of time.
* Attackers can respond to client requests.
An attacker is considered successful if they can cause a client to install (or
leave installed) something other than the most up-to-date version of the
software the client is updating. If the attacker is preventing the installation
of updates, they want clients to not realize there is anything wrong.
"SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be
interpreted as described in RFC 2119__.
This PEP focuses on integrating TUF with PyPI; however, the reader is
encouraged to read about TUF's design principles [2]_. It is also RECOMMENDED
that the reader be familiar with the TUF specification [16]_.
Terms used in this PEP are defined as follows:
* Projects: Projects are software components that are made available for
integration. Projects include Python libraries, frameworks, scripts,
plugins, applications, collections of data or other resources, and various
combinations thereof. Public Python projects are typically registered on the
Python Package Index [17]_.
* Releases: Releases are uniquely identified snapshots of a project [17]_.
* Distributions: Distributions are the packaged files that are used to publish
and distribute a release [17]_.
* Simple index: The HTML page that contains internal links to the
distributions of a project [17]_.
* Roles: There is one *root* role in PyPI. There are multiple roles whose
responsibilities are delegated to them directly or indirectly by the *root*
role. The term top-level role refers to the *root* role and any role
delegated by the *root* role. Each role has a single metadata file that it is
trusted to provide.
* Metadata: Metadata are signed files that describe roles, other metadata, and
target files.
* Repository: A repository is a resource comprised of named metadata and target
files. Clients request metadata and target files stored on a repository.
* Consistent snapshot: A set of TUF metadata and PyPI targets that capture the
complete state of all projects on PyPI as they existed at some fixed point in
* The *snapshot* (*release*) role: In order to prevent confusion due to the
different meanings of the term "release" used in PEP 426 [17]_ and the TUF
specification [16]_, the *release* role is renamed as the *snapshot* role.
* Developer: Either the owner or maintainer of a project who is allowed to
update the TUF metadata as well as distribution metadata and files for the
* Online key: A private cryptographic key that MUST be stored on the PyPI
server infrastructure. This is usually to allow automated signing with the
key. However, an attacker who compromises the PyPI infrastructure will be
able to read these keys.
* Offline key: A private cryptographic key that MUST be stored independent of
the PyPI server infrastructure. This prevents automated signing with the
key. An attacker who compromises the PyPI infrastructure will not be able to
immediately read these keys.
* Threshold signature scheme: A role can increase its resilience to key
compromises by specifying that at least t out of n keys are REQUIRED to sign
its metadata. A compromise of t-1 keys is insufficient to compromise the
role itself. Saying that a role requires (t, n) keys denotes the threshold
signature property.
Overview of TUF
At its highest level, TUF provides applications with a secure method of
obtaining files and knowing when new versions of files are available. On the
surface, this all sounds simple. The basic steps for updating applications are:
* Knowing when an update exists.
* Downloading a correct copy of the latest version of an updated file.
The problem is that updating applications is only simple when there are no
malicious activities in the picture. If an attacker is trying to interfere with
these seemingly simple steps, there is plenty they can do.
Assume a software updater takes the approach of most systems (at least the ones
that try to be secure). It downloads both the file it wants and a cryptographic
signature of the file. The software updater already knows which key it trusts
to make the signature. It checks that the signature is correct and was made by
this trusted key. Unfortunately, the software updater is still at risk in many
ways, including:
* An attacker keeps giving the software updater the same update file, so it
never realizes there is an update.
* An attacker gives the software updater an older, insecure version of a file
that it already has, so it downloads that one and blindly uses it thinking it
is newer.
* An attacker gives the software updater a newer version of a file it has but
it is not the newest one. The file is newer to the software updater, but it
may be insecure and exploitable by the attacker.
* An attacker compromises the key used to sign these files and now the software
updater downloads a malicious file that is properly signed.
TUF is designed to address these attacks, and others, by adding signed metadata
(text files that describe the repository's files) to the repository and
referencing the metadata files during the update procedure. Repository files
are verified against the information included in the metadata before they are
handed off to the software update system. The framework also provides
multi-signature trust, explicit and implicit revocation of cryptographic keys,
responsibility separation of the metadata, and minimizes key risk. For a full
list and outline of the repository attacks and software updater weaknesses
addressed by TUF, see Appendix A.
Integrating TUF with PyPI
A software update system must complete two main tasks to integrate with TUF.
First, it must add the framework to the client side of the update system. For
example, TUF MAY be integrated with the pip package manager. Second, the
repository on the server side MUST be modified to provide signed TUF metadata.
This PEP is concerned with the second part of the integration, and the changes
required on PyPI to support software updates with TUF.
What Additional Repository Files are Required on PyPI?
In order for package managers like pip to download and verify packages with
TUF, a few extra files MUST exist on PyPI. These extra repository files are
called TUF metadata. TUF metadata contains information such as which keys are
trustable, the cryptographic hashes of files, signatures to the metadata,
metadata version numbers, and the date after which the metadata should be
considered expired.
When a package manager wants to check for updates, it asks TUF to do the work.
That is, a package manager never has to deal with this additional metadata or
understand what's going on underneath. If TUF reports back that there are
updates available, a package manager can then ask TUF to download these files
from PyPI. TUF downloads them and checks them against the TUF metadata that it
also downloads from the repository. If the downloaded target files are
trustworthy, TUF then hands them over to the package manager.
The `Metadata`__ document provides information about each of the required
metadata and their expected content. The next section covers the different
kinds of metadata RECOMMENDED for PyPI.
PyPI and TUF Metadata
TUF metadata provides information that clients can use to make update
decisions. For example, a *targets* metadata lists the available distributions
on PyPI and includes the distribution's signatures, cryptographic hashes, and
file sizes. Different metadata files provide different information. The
various metadata files are signed by different roles, which are indicated by
the *root* role. The concept of roles allows TUF to delegate responsibilities
to multiple roles and minimizes the impact of a compromised role.
TUF requires four top-level roles. These are *root*, *timestamp*, *snapshot*,
and *targets*. The *root* role specifies the public cryptographic keys of the
top-level roles (including its own). The *timestamp* role references the
latest *snapshot* and can signify when a new snapshot of the repository is
available. The *snapshot* role indicates the latest version of all the TUF
metadata files (other than *timestamp*). The *targets* role lists the
available target files (in our case, it will be all files on PyPI under the
/simple and /packages directories). Each top-level role will serve its
responsibilities without exception. Figure 1 provides a table of the roles
used in TUF.
.. image:: pep-0458-1.png
Figure 1: An overview of the TUF roles.
Signing Metadata and Repository Management
The top-level *root* role signs for the keys of the top-level *timestamp*,
*snapshot*, *targets*, and *root* roles. The *timestamp* role signs for every
new snapshot of the repository metadata. The *snapshot* role signs for *root*,
*targets*, and all delegated roles. The *bins* roles (delegated roles) sign
for all distributions belonging to registered PyPI projects.
Figure 2 provides an overview of the roles available within PyPI, which
includes the top-level roles and the roles delegated by *targets*. The figure
also indicates the types of keys used to sign each role and which roles are
trusted to sign for files available on PyPI. The next two sections cover the
details of signing repository files and the types of keys used for each role.
.. image:: pep-0458-2.png
Figure 2: An overview of the role metadata available on PyPI.
The roles that change most frequently are *timestamp*, *snapshot* and delegated
roles (*bins* and its delegated roles). The *timestamp* and *snapshot*
metadata MUST be updated whenever *root*, *targets* or delegated metadata are
updated. Observe, though, that *root* and *targets* metadata are much less
likely to be updated as often as delegated metadata. Therefore, *timestamp*
and *snapshot* metadata will most likely be updated frequently (possibly every
minute) due to delegated metadata being updated frequently in order to support
continuous delivery of projects. Continuous delivery is a set of processes
that PyPI uses produce snapshots that can safely coexist and be deleted
independent of other snapshots [18]_.
Every year, PyPI administrators SHOULD sign for *root* and *targets* role keys.
Automation will continuously sign for a timestamped, snapshot of all projects.
A `repository management`__ tool is available that can sign metadata files,
generate cryptographic keys, and manage a TUF repository.
How to Establish Initial Trust in the PyPI Root Keys
Package managers like pip need to ship a file called "root.json" with the
installation files that users initially download. This includes information
about the keys trusted for certain roles, as well as the root keys themselves.
Any new version of "root.json" that clients may download are verified against
the root keys that client's initially trust. If a root key is compromised, but
a threshold of keys are still secured, the PyPI administrator MUST push a new
release that revokes trust in the compromised keys. If a threshold of root keys
are compromised, then "root.json" should be updated out-of-band, however the
threshold should be chosen so that this is extremely unlikely. The TUF client
library does not require manual intervention if root keys are revoked or added:
the update process handles the cases where "root.json" has changed.
To bundle the software, "root.json" MUST be included in the version of pip
shipped with CPython (via ensurepip). The TUF client library then loads the
root metadata and downloads the rest of the roles, including updating
"root.json" if it has changed. An `outline of the update process`__ is
Minimum Security Model
There are two security models to consider when integrating TUF with PyPI. The
one proposed in this PEP is the minimum security model, which supports
verification of PyPI distributions that are signed with private cryptographic
keys stored on PyPI. Distributions uploaded by developers are signed by PyPI
and immediately available for download. A possible future extension to this
PEP, discussed in Appendix B, proposes the maximum security model and allows a
developer to sign for his/her project. Developer keys are not stored online:
therefore, projects are safe from PyPI compromises.
The minimum security model requires no action from a developer and protects
against malicious CDNs [19]_ and public mirrors. To support continuous
delivery of uploaded packages, PyPI signs for projects with an online key.
This level of security prevents projects from being accidentally or
deliberately tampered with by a mirror or a CDN because the mirror or CDN will
not have any of the keys required to sign for projects. However, it does not
protect projects from attackers who have compromised PyPI, since attackers can
manipulate TUF metadata using the keys stored online.
This PEP proposes that the *bins* role (and its delegated roles) sign for all
PyPI projects with an online key. The *targets* role, which only signs with an
offline key, MUST delegate all PyPI projects to the *bins* role. This means
that when a package manager such as pip (i.e., using TUF) downloads a
distribution from a project on PyPI, it will consult the *bins* role about the
TUF metadata for the project. If no bin roles delegated by *bins* specify the
project's distribution, then the project is considered to be non-existent on
Metadata Expiry Times
The *root* and *targets* role metadata SHOULD expire in one year, because these
two metadata files are expected to change very rarely.
The *timestamp*, *snapshot*, and *bins* metadata SHOULD expire in one day
because a CDN or mirror SHOULD synchronize itself with PyPI every day.
Furthermore, this generous time frame also takes into account client clocks
that are highly skewed or adrift.
Metadata Scalability
Due to the growing number of projects and distributions, TUF metadata will also
grow correspondingly. For example, consider the *bins* role. In August 2013,
it was found that the size of the *bins* metadata was about 42MB if the *bins*
role itself signed for about 220K PyPI targets (which are simple indices and
distributions). This PEP does not delve into the details, but TUF features a
so-called "`lazy bin walk`__" scheme that splits a large targets' metadata file
into many small ones. This allows a TUF client updater to intelligently
download only a small number of TUF metadata files in order to update any
project signed for by the *bins* role. For example, applying this scheme to
the previous repository resulted in pip downloading between 1.3KB and 111KB to
install or upgrade a PyPI project via TUF.
Based on our findings as of the time of writing, PyPI SHOULD split all targets
in the *bins* role by delegating them to 1024 delegated roles, each of which
would sign for PyPI targets whose hashes fall into that "bin" or delegated role
(see Figure 2). It was found that 1024 bins would result in the *bins*
metadata, and each of its delegated roles, being about the same size (40-50KB)
for about 220K PyPI targets (simple indices and distributions).
It is possible to make TUF metadata more compact by representing it in a binary
format as opposed to the JSON text format. Nevertheless, a sufficiently large
number of projects and distributions will introduce scalability challenges at
some point, and therefore the *bins* role will still need delegations (as
outlined in figure 2) in order to address the problem. Furthermore, the JSON
format is an open and well-known standard for data interchange. Due to the
large number of delegated metadata, compressed versions of *snapshot* metadata
SHOULD also be made available to clients.
PyPI and Key Requirements
In this section, the kinds of keys required to sign for TUF roles on PyPI are
examined. TUF is agnostic with respect to choices of digital signature
algorithms. For the purpose of discussion, it is assumed that most digital
signatures will be produced with the well-tested and tried RSA algorithm [20]_.
Nevertheless, we do NOT recommend any particular digital signature algorithm in
this PEP because there are a few important constraints: first, cryptography
changes over time; second, package managers such as pip may wish to perform
signature verification in Python, without resorting to a compiled C library, in
order to be able to run on as many systems as Python supports; and third, TUF
recommends diversity of keys for certain applications.
Number Of Keys Recommended
The *timestamp*, *snapshot*, and *bins* roles require continuous delivery.
Even though their respective keys MUST be online, this PEP requires that the
keys be independent of each other. Different keys for online roles allow for
each of the keys to be placed on separate servers if need be, and prevents side
channel attacks that compromise one key from automatically compromising the
rest of the keys. Therefore, each of the *timestamp*, *snapshot*, and *bins*
roles MUST require (1, 1) keys.
The *bins* role MAY delegate targets in an automated manner to a number of
roles called "bins", as discussed in the previous section. Each of the "bin"
roles SHOULD share the same key as the *bins* role, due to space efficiency,
and because there is no security advantage to requiring separate keys.
The *root* role key is critical for security and should very rarely be used.
It is primarily used for key revocation, and it is the locus of trust for all
of PyPI. The *root* role signs for the keys that are authorized for each of
the top-level roles (including its own). Keys belonging to the *root* role are
intended to be very well-protected and used with the least frequency of all
keys. It is RECOMMENDED that every PSF board member own a (strong) root key.
A majority of them can then constitute a quorum to revoke or endow trust in all
top-level keys. Alternatively, the system administrators of PyPI could be
given responsibility for signing for the *root* role. Therefore, the *root*
role SHOULD require (t, n) keys, where n is the number of either all PyPI
administrators or all PSF board members, and t > 1 (so that at least two
members must sign the *root* role).
The *targets* role will be used only to sign for the static delegation of all
targets to the *bins* role. Since these target delegations must be secured
against attacks in the event of a compromise, the keys for the *targets* role
MUST be offline and independent of other keys. For simplicity of key
management, without sacrificing security, it is RECOMMENDED that the keys of
the *targets* role be permanently discarded as soon as they have been created
and used to sign for the role. Therefore, the *targets* role SHOULD require
(1, 1) keys. Again, this is because the keys are going to be permanently
discarded and more offline keys will not help resist key recovery attacks [21]_
unless diversity of keys is maintained.
Online and Offline Keys Recommended for Each Role
In order to support continuous delivery, the *timestamp*, *snapshot*, *bins*
role keys MUST be online.
As explained in the previous section, the *root* and *targets* role keys MUST
be offline for maximum security: these keys will be offline in the sense that
their private keys MUST NOT be stored on PyPI, though some of them MAY be
online in the private infrastructure of the project.
How Should Metadata be Generated?
Project developers expect the distributions they upload to PyPI to be
immediately available for download. Unfortunately, there will be problems when
many readers and writers simultaneously access the same metadata and
distributions. That is, there needs to be a way to ensure consistency of
metadata and repository files when multiple developers simultaneously change the
same metadata or distributions. There are also issues with consistency on PyPI
without TUF, but the problem is more severe with signed metadata that MUST keep
track of the files available on PyPI in real-time.
Suppose that PyPI generates a *snapshot*, which indicates the latest version of
every metadata except *timestamp*, at version 1 and a client requests this
*snapshot* from PyPI. While the client is busy downloading this *snapshot*,
PyPI then timestamps a new snapshot at, say, version 2. Without ensuring
consistency of metadata, the client would find itself with a copy of *snapshot*
that disagrees with what is available on PyPI, which is indistinguishable from
arbitrary metadata injected by an attacker. The problem would also occur for
mirrors attempting to sync with PyPI.
Consistent Snapshots
There are problems with consistency on PyPI with or without TUF. TUF requires
that its metadata be consistent with the repository files, but how would the
metadata be kept consistent with projects that change all the time? As a
result, this proposal MUST address the problem of producing a consistent
snapshot that captures the state of all known projects at a given time. Each
snapshot should safely coexist with any other snapshot, and be able to be
deleted independently, without affecting any other snapshot.
The solution presented in this PEP is that every metadata or data file managed
by PyPI and written to disk MUST include in its filename the `cryptographic
hash`__ of the file. How would this help clients that use the TUF protocol to
securely and consistently install or update a project from PyPI?
The first step in the TUF protocol requires the client to download the latest
*timestamp* metadata. However, the client would not know in advance the hash
of the *timestamp* associated with the latest snapshot. Therefore, PyPI MUST
redirect all HTTP GET requests for *timestamp* to the *timestamp* referenced in
the latest snapshot. The *timestamp* role is the root of a tree of
cryptographic hashes that points to every other metadata that is meant to exist
together (i.e., clients request metadata in timestamp -> snapshot -> root ->
targets order). Clients are able to retrieve any file from this snapshot
by deterministically including, in the request for the file, the hash of the
file in the filename. Assuming infinite disk space and no `hash collisions`__,
a client may safely read from one snapshot while PyPI produces another
In this simple but effective manner, PyPI is able to capture a consistent
snapshot of all projects and the associated metadata at a given time. The next
subsection provides implementation details of this idea.
Note: This PEP does not prohibit using advanced file systems or tools to
produce consistent snapshots. There are two important reasons for why this PEP
proposes the simple solution. First, the solution does not mandate that PyPI
use any particular file system or tool. Second, the generic file-system based
approach allows mirrors to use extant file transfer tools such as rsync to
efficiently transfer consistent snapshots from PyPI.
Producing Consistent Snapshots
Given a project, PyPI is responsible for updating the *bins* metadata (roles
delegated by the *bins* role and signed with an online key). Every project
MUST upload its release in a single transaction. The uploaded set of files is
called the "project transaction". How PyPI MAY validate the files in a project
transaction is discussed in a later section. For now, the focus is on how PyPI
will respond to a project transaction.
Every metadata and target file MUST include in its filename the `hex digest`__
of its `SHA-256`__ hash. For this PEP, it is RECOMMENDED that PyPI adopt a
simple convention of the form: digest.filename, where filename is the original
filename without a copy of the hash, and digest is the hex digest of the hash.
When a project uploads a new transaction, the project transaction process MUST
add all new targets and relevant delegated *bins* metadata. (It is shown later
in this section why the *bins* role will delegate targets to a number of
delegated *bins* roles.) Finally, the project transaction process MUST inform
the snapshot process about new delegated *bins* metadata.
Project transaction processes SHOULD be automated and MUST also be applied
atomically: either all metadata and targets -- or none of them -- are added.
The project transaction and snapshot processes SHOULD work concurrently.
Finally, project transaction processes SHOULD keep in memory the latest *bins*
metadata so that they will be correctly updated in new consistent snapshots.
All project transactions MAY be placed in a single queue and processed
serially. Alternatively, the queue MAY be processed concurrently in order of
appearance, provided that the following rules are observed:
1. No pair of project transaction processes must concurrently work on the same
2. No pair of project transaction processes must concurrently work on
*bins* projects that belong to the same delegated *bins* targets
These rules MUST be observed so that metadata is not read from or written to
Snapshot Process
The snapshot process is fairly simple and SHOULD be automated. The snapshot
process MUST keep in memory the latest working set of *root*, *targets*, and
delegated roles. Every minute or so, the snapshot process will sign for this
latest working set. (Recall that project transaction processes continuously
inform the snapshot process about the latest delegated metadata in a
concurrency-safe manner. The snapshot process will actually sign for a copy of
the latest working set while the latest working set in memory will be updated
with information that is continuously communicated by the project transaction
processes.) The snapshot process MUST generate and sign new *timestamp*
metadata that will vouch for the metadata (*root*, *targets*, and delegated
roles) generated in the previous step. Finally, the snapshot process MUST make
available to clients the new *timestamp* and *snapshot* metadata representing
the latest snapshot.
A few implementation notes are now in order. So far, we have seen only that
new metadata and targets are added, but not that old metadata and targets are
removed. Practical constraints are such that eventually PyPI will run out of
disk space to produce a new consistent snapshot. In that case, PyPI MAY then
use something like a "mark-and-sweep" algorithm to delete sufficiently old
consistent snapshots: in order to preserve the latest consistent snapshot, PyPI
would walk objects beginning from the root (*timestamp*) of the latest
consistent snapshot, mark all visited objects, and delete all unmarked objects.
The last few consistent snapshots may be preserved in a similar fashion.
Deleting a consistent snapshot will cause clients to see nothing except HTTP
404 responses to any request for a file within that consistent snapshot.
Clients SHOULD then retry (as before) their requests with the latest consistent
All clients, such as pip using the TUF protocol, MUST be modified to download
every metadata and target file (except for *timestamp* metadata) by including,
in the request for the file, the cryptographic hash of the file in the
filename. Following the filename convention recommended earlier, a request for
the file at filename.ext will be transformed to the equivalent request for the
file at digest.filename.
Finally, PyPI SHOULD use a `transaction log`__ to record project transaction
processes and queues so that it will be easier to recover from errors after a
server failure.
Key Compromise Analysis
This PEP has covered the minimum security model, the TUF roles that should be
added to support continuous delivery of distributions, and how to generate and
sign the metadata of each role. The remaining sections discuss how PyPI
SHOULD audit repository metadata, and the methods PyPI can use to detect and
recover from a PyPI compromise.
Table 1 summarizes a few of the attacks possible when a threshold number of
private cryptographic keys (belonging to any of the PyPI roles) are
compromised. The leftmost column lists the roles (or a combination of roles)
that have been compromised, and the columns to its right show whether the
compromised roles leaves clients susceptible to malicious updates, a freeze
attack, or metadata inconsistency attacks.
| Role Compromise | Malicious Updates | Freeze Attack | Metadata Inconsistency Attacks |
| timestamp | NO | YES | NO |
| | snapshot and | limited by | snapshot needs to cooperate |
| | targets or any | earliest root, | |
| | of the bins need | targets, or | |
| | to cooperate | bin expiry | |
| | | time | |
| snapshot | NO | NO | NO |
| | timestamp and | timestamp | timestamp needs to cooperate |
| | targets or any of | needs to | |
| | the bins need to | cooperate | |
| | cooperate | | |
| timestamp | NO | YES | YES |
| **AND** | targets or any | limited by | limited by earliest root, |
| snapshot | of the bins need | earliest root, | targets, or bin metadata |
| | to cooperate | targets, or | expiry time |
| | | bin metadata | |
| | | expiry time | |
| **OR** | timestamp and | need timestamp | need timestamp and snapshot |
| bin | snapshot need to | and snapshot | |
| | cooperate | | |
| timestamp | YES | YES | YES |
| **AND** | | limited by | limited by earliest root, |
| snapshot | | earliest root, | targets, or bin metadata |
| **AND** | | targets, or | expiry time |
| bin | | bin metadata | |
| | | expiry time | |
| root | YES | YES | YES |
Table 1: Attacks possible by compromising certain combinations of role keys.
In `September 2013`__, it was shown how the latest version (at the time) of pip
was susceptible to these attacks and how TUF could protect users against them
Note that compromising *targets* or any delegated role (except for project
targets metadata) does not immediately allow an attacker to serve malicious
updates. The attacker must also compromise the *timestamp* and *snapshot*
roles (which are both online and therefore more likely to be compromised).
This means that in order to launch any attack, one must not only be able to
act as a man-in-the-middle but also compromise the *timestamp* key (or
compromise the *root* keys and sign a new *timestamp* key). To launch any
attack other than a freeze attack, one must also compromise the *snapshot* key.
Finally, a compromise of the PyPI infrastructure MAY introduce malicious
updates to *bins* projects because the keys for these roles are online. The
maximum security model discussed in the appendix addresses this issue. PEP 480
also covers the maximum security model and goes into more detail on generating
developer keys and signing uploaded distributions.
In the Event of a Key Compromise
A key compromise means that a threshold of keys (belonging to the metadata
roles on PyPI), as well as the PyPI infrastructure, have been compromised and
used to sign new metadata on PyPI.
If a threshold number of *timestamp*, *snapshot*, or *bins* keys have
been compromised, then PyPI MUST take the following steps:
1. Revoke the *timestamp*, *snapshot* and *targets* role keys from
the *root* role. This is done by replacing the compromised *timestamp*,
*snapshot* and *targets* keys with newly issued keys.
2. Revoke the *bins* keys from the *targets* role by replacing their keys with
newly issued keys. Sign the new *targets* role metadata and discard the new
keys (because, as explained earlier, this increases the security of
*targets* metadata).
3. All targets of the *bins* roles SHOULD be compared with the last known
good consistent snapshot where none of the *timestamp*, *snapshot*, or
*bins* keys
were known to have been compromised. Added, updated or deleted targets in
the compromised consistent snapshot that do not match the last known good
consistent snapshot MAY be restored to their previous versions. After
ensuring the integrity of all *bins* targets, the *bins* metadata
MUST be regenerated.
4. The *bins* metadata MUST have their version numbers incremented, expiry
times suitably extended, and signatures renewed.
5. A new timestamped consistent snapshot MUST be issued.
Following these steps would preemptively protect all of these roles even though
only one of them may have been compromised.
If a threshold number of *root* keys have been compromised, then PyPI MUST take
the steps taken when the *targets* role has been compromised. All of the
*root* keys must also be replaced.
It is also RECOMMENDED that PyPI sufficiently document compromises with
security bulletins. These security bulletins will be most informative when
users of pip-with-TUF are unable to install or update a project because the
keys for the *timestamp*, *snapshot* or *root* roles are no longer valid. They
could then visit the PyPI web site to consult security bulletins that would
help to explain why they are no longer able to install or update, and then take
action accordingly. When a threshold number of *root* keys have not been
revoked due to a compromise, then new *root* metadata may be safely updated
because a threshold number of existing *root* keys will be used to sign for the
integrity of the new *root* metadata. TUF clients will be able to verify the
integrity of the new *root* metadata with a threshold number of previously
known *root* keys. This will be the common case. Otherwise, in the worst
case, where a threshold number of *root* keys have been revoked due to a
compromise, an end-user may choose to update new *root* metadata with
`out-of-band`__ mechanisms.
Auditing Snapshots
If a malicious party compromises PyPI, they can sign arbitrary files with any
of the online keys. The roles with offline keys (i.e., *root* and *targets*)
are still protected. To safely recover from a repository compromise, snapshots
should be audited to ensure files are only restored to trusted versions.
When a repository compromise has been detected, the integrity of three types of
information must be validated:
1. If the online keys of the repository have been compromised, they can be
revoked by having the *targets* role sign new metadata delegating to a new
2. If the role metadata on the repository has been changed, this would impact
the metadata that is signed by online keys. Any role information created
since the last period should be discarded. As a result, developers of new
projects will need to re-register their projects.
3. If the packages themselves may have been tampered with, they can be
validated using the stored hash information for packages that existed at the
time of the last period.
In order to safely restore snapshots in the event of a compromise, PyPI SHOULD
maintain a small number of its own mirrors to copy PyPI snapshots according to
some schedule. The mirroring protocol can be used immediately for this
purpose. The mirrors must be secured and isolated such that they are
responsible only for mirroring PyPI. The mirrors can be checked against one
another to detect accidental or malicious failures.
Another approach is to generate the cryptographic hash of *snapshot*
periodically and tweet it. Perhaps a user comes forward with the actual
metadata and the repository maintainers can verify the metadata's cryptographic
hash. Alternatively, PyPI may periodically archive its own versions of
*snapshot* rather than rely on externally provided metadata. In this case,
PyPI SHOULD take the cryptographic hash of every package on the repository and
store this data on an offline device. If any package hash has changed, this
indicates an attack.
As for attacks that serve different versions of metadata, or freeze a version
of a package at a specific version, they can be handled by TUF with techniques
like implicit key revocation and metadata mismatch detection [81].
Appendix A: Repository Attacks Prevented by TUF
* **Arbitrary software installation**: An attacker installs anything they want
on the client system. That is, an attacker can provide arbitrary files in
respond to download requests and the files will not be detected as
* **Rollback attacks**: An attacker presents a software update system with
older files than those the client has already seen, causing the client to use
files older than those the client knows about.
* **Indefinite freeze attacks**: An attacker continues to present a software
update system with the same files the client has already seen. The result is
that the client does not know that new files are available.
* **Endless data attacks**: An attacker responds to a file download request
with an endless stream of data, causing harm to clients (e.g., a disk
partition filling up or memory exhaustion).
* **Slow retrieval attacks**: An attacker responds to clients with a very slow
stream of data that essentially results in the client never continuing the
update process.
* **Extraneous dependencies attacks**: An attacker indicates to clients that in
order to install the software they wanted, they also need to install
unrelated software. This unrelated software can be from a trusted source
but may have known vulnerabilities that are exploitable by the attacker.
* **Mix-and-match attacks**: An attacker presents clients with a view of a
repository that includes files that never existed together on the repository
at the same time. This can result in, for example, outdated versions of
dependencies being installed.
* **Wrong software installation**: An attacker provides a client with a trusted
file that is not the one the client wanted.
* **Malicious mirrors preventing updates**: An attacker in control of one
repository mirror is able to prevent users from obtaining updates from
other, good mirrors.
* **Vulnerability to key compromises**: An attacker who is able to compromise a
single key or less than a given threshold of keys can compromise clients.
This includes relying on a single online key (such as only being protected
by SSL) or a single offline key (such as most software update systems use
to sign files).
Appendix B: Extension to the Minimum Security Model
The maximum security model and end-to-end signing have been intentionally
excluded from this PEP. Although both improve PyPI's ability to survive a
repository compromise and allow developers to sign their distributions, they
have been postponed for review as a potential future extension to PEP 458. PEP
480 [26]_, which discusses the extension in detail, is available for review to
those developers interested in the end-to-end signing option. The maximum
security model and end-to-end signing are briefly covered in subsections that
There are several reasons for not initially supporting the features discussed
in this section:
1. A build farm (distribution wheels on supported platforms are generated for
each project on PyPI infrastructure) may possibly complicate matters. PyPI
wants to support a build farm in the future. Unfortunately, if wheels are
auto-generated externally, developer signatures for these wheels are
unlikely. However, there might still be a benefit to generating wheels from
source distributions that are signed by developers (provided that
reproducible wheels are possible). Another possibility is to optionally
delegate trust of these wheels to an online role.
2. An easy-to-use key management solution is needed for developers.
`miniLock`__ is one likely candidate for management and generation of keys.
Although developer signatures can remain optional, this approach may be
inadequate due to the great number of potentially unsigned dependencies each
distribution may have. If any one of these dependencies is unsigned, it
negates any benefit the project gains from signing its own distribution
(i.e., attackers would only need to compromise one of the unsigned
dependencies to attack end-users). Requiring developers to manually sign
distributions and manage keys is expected to render key signing an unused
3. A two-phase approach, where the minimum security model is implemented first
followed by the maximum security model, can simplify matters and give PyPI
administrators time to review the feasibility of end-to-end signing.
Maximum Security Model
The maximum security model relies on developers signing their projects and
uploading signed metadata to PyPI. If the PyPI infrastructure were to be
compromised, attackers would be unable to serve malicious versions of claimed
projects without access to the project's developer key. Figure 3 depicts the
changes made to figure 2, namely that developer roles are now supported and
that three new delegated roles exist: *claimed*, *recently-claimed*, and
*unclaimed*. The *bins* role has been renamed *unclaimed* and can contain any
projects that have not been added to *claimed*. The strength of this model
(over the minimum security model) is in the offline keys provided by
developers. Although the minimum security model supports continuous delivery,
all of the projects are signed by an online key. An attacker can corrupt
packages in the minimum security model, but not in the maximum model without
also compromising a developer's key.
.. image:: pep-0458-3.png
Figure 3: An overview of the metadata layout in the maximum security model.
The maximum security model supports continuous delivery and survivable key
End-to-End Signing
End-to-End signing allows both PyPI and developers to sign for the metadata
downloaded by clients. PyPI is trusted to make uploaded projects available to
clients (they sign the metadata for this part of the process), and developers
can sign the distributions that they upload.
PEP 480 [26]_ discusses the tools available to developers who sign the
distributions that they upload to PyPI. To summarize PEP 480, developers
generate cryptographic keys and sign metadata in some automated fashion, where
the metadata includes the information required to verify the authenticity of
the distribution. The metadata is then uploaded to PyPI by the client, where
it will be available for download by package managers such as pip (i.e.,
package managers that support TUF metadata). The entire process is transparent
to clients (using a package manager that supports TUF) who download
distributions from PyPI.
Appendix C: PEP 470 and Projects Hosted Externally
How should TUF handle distributions that are not hosted on PyPI? According to
`PEP 470`__, projects may opt to host their distributions externally and are
only required to provide PyPI a link to its external index, which package
managers like pip can use to find the project's distributions. PEP 470 does
not mention whether externally hosted projects are considered unverified by
default, as projects that use this option are not required to submit any
information about their distributions (e.g., file size and cryptographic hash)
when the project is registered, nor include a cryptographic hash of the file
in download links.
Potential approaches that PyPI administrators MAY consider to handle
projects hosted externally:
1. Download external distributions but do not verify them. The targets
metadata will not include information for externally hosted projects.
2. PyPI will periodically download information from the external index. PyPI
will gather the external distribution's file size and hashes and generate
appropriate TUF metadata.
3. External projects MUST submit to PyPI the file size and cryptographic hash
for a distribution.
4. External projects MUST upload to PyPI a developer public key for the
index. The distribution MUST create TUF metadata that is stored at the
index, and signed with the developer's corresponding private key. The
client will fetch the external TUF metadata as part of the package
update process.
5. External projects MUST upload to PyPI signed TUF metadata (as allowed by
the maximum security model) about the distributions that they host
externally, and a developer public key. Package managers verify
distributions by consulting the signed metadata uploaded to PyPI.
Only one of the options listed above should be implemented on PyPI. Option
(4) or (5) is RECOMMENDED because external distributions are signed by
developers. External distributions that are forged (due to a compromised
PyPI account or external host) may be detected if external developers are
required to sign metadata, although this requirement is likely only practical
if an easy-to-use key management solution and developer scripts are provided
by PyPI.
.. [1]
.. [2]
.. [3]
.. [4]
.. [5]
.. [6]
.. [7]
.. [8]
.. [9] PEP 381, Mirroring infrastructure for PyPI, Ziadé, Löwis
.. [10]
.. [11]
.. [12] PEP 449, Removal of the PyPI Mirror Auto Discovery and Naming Scheme, Stufft
.. [13]
.. [14]
.. [15]
.. [16]
.. [17] PEP 426, Metadata for Python Software Packages 2.0, Coghlan, Holth, Stufft
.. [18]
.. [19]
.. [20]
.. [21]
.. [22]
.. [23]
.. [24]
.. [25]
.. [26]
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation
under Grants No. CNS-1345049 and CNS-0959138. Any opinions, findings, and
conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the
author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science
We thank Nick Coghlan, Daniel Holth and the distutils-sig community in general
for helping us to think about how to usably and efficiently integrate TUF with
Roger Dingledine, Sebastian Hahn, Nick Mathewson, Martin Peck and Justin Samuel
helped us to design TUF from its predecessor Thandy of the Tor project.
We appreciate the efforts of Konstantin Andrianov, Geremy Condra, Zane Fisher,
Justin Samuel, Tian Tian, Santiago Torres, John Ward, and Yuyu Zheng to
develop TUF.
Vladimir Diaz, Monzur Muhammad and Sai Teja Peddinti helped us to review this
Zane Fisher helped us to review and transcribe this PEP.
This document has been placed in the public domain.
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