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Check out our main project at safing/portmaster


Jess is a cryptographic library and cli tool that focuses on usability and freedom.

Project Status:

  • Core Logic: production & audited
  • Go API: non-final production (breaking changes might happen)
  • CLI Tool: working alpha stage, rough around the edges

DISCLAIMER: Do not use in production yet! Use at your own risk.

Usage & Intro

Jess uses the theme of envelopes and letters in order to make everything a bit more comprehensible. Here is a list of terms that will prove helpful:

  • Signet ... private or secret key
  • Recipient ... public key
  • Envelope ... encryption configuration
  • Letter ... encrypted data with associated configuration
  • Trust Store ... a storage of everything you trust, your own keys and configurations, and your friends' public keys.

Jess makes heavy use of trust stores, which in its basic form is just a directory, where you can store your keys and configuration. You can either set a default one through an environment variable, or set it manually every time. This makes it easy to compartmentalize your trust zones.

Here is how you can setup a trust store and generate some keys:

export JESS_TSDIR=/tmp/truststore-test
jess generate --name Alice --scheme Ed25519
jess generate --name Alice --scheme ECDH-X25519
jess generate --name Bob --scheme Ed25519
jess generate --name Bob --scheme ECDH-X25519
jess generate --name BackupPassword --scheme pw
# look at result
jess manage

Now let's configure an envelope to get started with encrypting - set up an envelope to have Alice send Bob a file. Use the preset Encrypt for someone.

jess configure toBob
# look at result
jess manage

If now want to encrypt a file for Bob, you take a piece of data, put it in the envelope, and you have a letter!

echo "Hello, Bob!" > forbob.txt
jess close forbob.txt with toBob

And because we also have Bob's secret key, we can also go ahead and decrypt the file again.

jess open forbob.txt.letter -o -

Normally, of course, you would have a friend send you their recipient file (public key) and you would add it to your trust store.

In order to help you not screw up any configuration, Jess has the concept of requirements:

  • Confidentiality ... hide contents
  • Integrity ... check that nothing was modified
  • Recipient Authentication ... verify recipient
  • Sender Authentication ... verify sender

By default, all of them are required. If you, for some reason, do not require one ore more of them, you will have to disable them in the envelope for closing an envelope (encrypting) and pass the reduced requirements when opening a letter (decrypting).

In addition, if you are worried about weak algorithms, you can just pass a minimum security level (attack complexity as 2^n) that you require all algorithms to achieve. Jess does not contain any known weak algorithms, but if that changes, jess will warn you - after you upgraded to the new version.

Jess does not have a PKI or some sort of web of trust. You have to exchange public keys by yourself.

Jess is also capable of securing a network connection, but this currently only works with the library, not the CLI.


Jess uses dep as the dependency manager.
After cloning the repo, run dep ensure.

The command line tool includes build information for debugging.
Please use the provided build script for building:

cd cmd
./build -o jess
./jess version


Before we dive into technical details, here are some more/updated terms:

  • Tool/Scheme a cryptographic primitive/scheme
    • Identified via their Name/ID (used interchangeably)
  • Signet/Recipient a private/secret or public key
    • Identified by their ID (usually a UUID)
  • Envelope an encryption configuration, but also requirements
    • Identified by the name given to them

Every algorithm/piece that can be used to build a complete encryption operation is called a Tool. Tools have different capabilites and might cover more than just one primitive - eg. AES-GCM covers Confidentiality and Integrity.

Jess can either operate in single-op (eg. file encryption) or communication (eg. securing network traffic) mode.

Basically, every operation needs:

  • SenderAuthentication and ReceiverAuthentication:
    • PassDerivation: derive a key from given password
      • provides SenderAuthentication, ReceiverAuthentication
    • KeyExchange: supply trusted public key of peer comm mode only
      • provides ReceiverAuthentication
    • KeyEncapsulation: encrypt the key with trusted public key of peer
      • provides ReceiverAuthentication
    • Signing: sign the whole message
      • provides SenderAuthentication
  • KeyDerivation: guarantees clean key material, also more material than given may be needed.
  • Confidentiality:
    • Cipher: encrypt the data
    • IntegratedCipher: also provides Integrity
  • Integrity:
    • MAC: check data integrity
    • IntegratedCipher: also provides Confidentiality

Some of these properties may also be used multiple times. For example, you could choose to encrypt your data with multiple ciphers or use multiple MACs for data integrity checks.

Should any of these properties not be required, the user has to intentionally remove requirements.

Recommended Suites

In order to reduce the possibility of making unsuggested combinations of tools, the primary interface to choose tools is to use a suite:

The command jess list shows the available suites:

Name/ID   Provides   Security Level   Tools                                                                     Notes
key_v1    CIRS       128 b/s          HKDF(BLAKE2b-256), CHACHA20-POLY1305                                      recommended
pw_v1     CIRS       128 b/s          SCRYPT-20, HKDF(BLAKE2b-256), CHACHA20-POLY1305                           recommended
rcpt_v1   CIR        128 b/s          ECDH-X25519, HKDF(BLAKE2b-256), CHACHA20-POLY1305                         recommended
sign_v1   S          128 b/s          Ed25519(BLAKE2b-256)                                                      recommended
v1        CIRS       128 b/s          ECDH-X25519, Ed25519(BLAKE2b-256), HKDF(BLAKE2b-256), CHACHA20-POLY1305   recommended
w1        CIR        128 b/s          ECDH-X25519, HKDF(BLAKE2b-256), CHACHA20-POLY1305                         recommended


There is some more detail in

Known Issues

Secure Key Deletion

Go currently does not provide functionality to securely handle sensitive data, such as key material, in memory. Thus, it cannot be guaranteed that key material is correctly wiped from memory and won't leak when swapping memory to disk.

There is an issue in the Golang project about this.

We evaluated two existing workarounds for this:

  1. Using reflect to dive into the internals of all algorithms to (possibly) delete key material. This is used in the Go implementation of Wireguard, for example. This still does not guarantee that Go internally deletes the key material.
  2. Use of the Go memguard package. While this would improve handling of key material that we directly manage, it will still not solve protecting all the intermediate values used in the implementations of the algorithms.

We currently settled on waiting for further progress on the issue by the Go development team, and will reevaluate the progress regularly.


Basically, tests are run like this:

go test

There is a special variable to enable very comprehensive testing:

go test -timeout 10m -v -count=1 -cover -ldflags "-X"

There is some randomness to this, so you can use this command for predictable output in order to debug a problem:

go test -timeout 10m -v -count=1 -cover -ldflags "-X -X"

# if you only want the comprehensive test itself:
go test -timeout 10m -run ^TestCoreAllCombinations$ -v -count=1 -cover -ldflags "-X -X"


Jess is a cryptographic library and cli tool that focuses on usability and freedom.



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