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Tackpy implements TACK in python

Project description

Tackpy version 0.9.9a Sep 25 2012


Tackpy is written by Trevor Perrin and Moxie Marlinspike. It includes crypto code from Peter Pearson (ECDSA) and Bram Cohen (AES).

All code in tackpy has been dedicated to the public domain by its authors. See the LICENSE file for details.


Tackpy requires Python 2.6 or greater, or Python 3.

Run “make install” or “python install”. This installs:
  • The “tack” library for use by other Python programs (such as TLS Lite).
  • The “tack” command-line tool.

To use the command-line tool without installation run “./”.


Tackpy tries to use OpenSSL for AES and ECDSA operations. If OpenSSL cannot be loaded, Tackpy will fall back to using slower python crypto code.

To use OpenSSL on Windows you need “libeay32.dll” on your path. On Red Hat systems you need to provide your own libcrypto as the system default does not include elliptic curve support.

Quick start with command-line tool

You will need to create one or more TACK keys to “pin” your hostnames to. You should use a different key for each hostname, unless those hostnames are closely related (such as aliases for the same host, or hosts sharing a TLS private key). Once you decide how many TACK keys you need, and the assignment of hostnames to keys, do the following:

Create a TACK key:
  1. Run “tack genkey > KEY.pem” (replace “KEY” with a specific name)
  2. Back up the key file where it won’t be lost or stolen.

If a hostname is using TACK, each server at that hostname must have a tack that signs the public key in the server’s certificate. To create and deploy these tacks, do the following:

Create a tack for a certificate’s public key:
  1. Run “tack sign -k KEY.pem -c CERT > TACK.pem”.
Deploy tacks to a hostname
  1. Deploy tacks to each server at the hostname.
    • Apache: Set “SSLTACKTackFile” to a tack file.
  2. Set the activation flag on each server.
    • Apache: Set “SSLTACKActivationFlags 1”.
  3. Test the site (if there are problems, see “Pin deactivation”).
  4. Whenever you change a server’s certificate, you must replace its tack.

Pin deactivation

If you wish to stop using TACK for a hostname, simply disable the activation flag at all servers for that hostname (Apache: “SSLTACKActivationFlags 0”). Then wait for all existing client pins to become inactive.

The waiting period required is equal to the length of time that the activation flag has been enabled for any servers at the hostname, or a maximum of 30 days. Once the waiting period is elapsed, all tacks for the hostname can be safely removed.

(For example: If you start using a tack for “”, then decide to disable the activation flag after one day, you can remove the tack at the end of the second day.)

Advanced uses

Revoking older generations of a tack

If a server’s TLS key (not its TACK key) has been compromised and you are switching to a new TLS key, you may revoke the tack for the old key by “-m <min_generation>” in the “sign” command. <min_generation> is a number from 0-255 that is larger than the generation of the tack you wish to revoke.

Clients who encounter the new tack will reject older generation tacks from then on. Prior to publishing a new <min_generation> you should replace all your tacks with this generation number (or higher) by signing with “-g <generation>”.

For example: By default tacks have generation=0, so the first time you use this capability you will want to set “-m1” after pushing out a new set of tacks signed with “-g1”. If you use it a second time, you will set “-m2”, and so on.

Security Consideration: This only provides protection if clients receive the new min_generation. For a more robust defense against TLS key compromise, consider using short-lived tacks.

Short-lived tacks

Every tack contains a signature covering a TLS public key. The TLS key is contained in a certificate. By default the tack is set to expire at the same time as the certificate, and must be replaced by an updated tack at that point.

If you shorten the tack’s expiration time, then a compromised TLS key will become unusable to an attacker once the tack expires. For example, every day at midnight you could deploy a new tack that expires within 48 hours.

A good way to handle short-lived tacks is to generate a batch of them and store the tacks on a secure system that distributes them to servers. This way, you do not have to use your TACK key to sign new tacks frequently.

You can generate a batch of tacks with the “-n NUM@INTERVAL” argument to “sign”, specifying the number of tacks and the interval between their expiration times. The “-o” argument is taken as a filename prefix, and the “-e” time is used as the first expiration time. Example:

tack sign -k KEY.pem -c CERT -n 365@1d -e 2013-01-02Z -o T1

produces 365 tacks, one expiring at midnight (UTC) each day of 2013:
T1_0000.pem T1_0001.pem T1_0002.pem … T1_0364.pem

TACK Key rollover

You may “rollover” a hostname from one TACK key to another without an interruption in security by publishing two tacks simultaneously. This allows clients to form pins based on the second tack prior to the first tack being removed.

To perform a rollover, simply append the new tack to the SSLTACKTackFile, and set the SSLTACKActivationFlags to 3 (1 activates the first tack, 2 activates the second tack, and 3 activates both). Allow at least 30 days, then deactivate the first tack by setting SSLTACKActivationFlags to 2. Allow at least another 30 days, then delete the first tack and set SSLTACKActivationFlags to 1. The rollover is now complete.

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