Internet-Draft K-Check July 2023
Beurdouche, et al. Expires 11 January 2024 [Page]
Privacy Pass
Intended Status:
Standards Track
B. Beurdouche
Inria & Mozilla
M. Finkel
Apple Inc.
S. Valdez
Google LLC
C. A. Wood

The K-Check Protocol for HTTP Resource Consistency


This document describes a protocol called K-Check for implementing HTTP resource consistency checks. The primary use case for K-Check is for deployments of protocols such as Privacy Pass and Oblivious HTTP in which privacy goals require that clients have a consistent view of some protocol-specific resource (typically, a public key).

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Privacy-enhancing protocols such as Privacy Pass [PRIVACYPASS] and Oblivious HTTP [OHTTP] require clients to obtain and use a public key for execution. In Privacy Pass, public keys are used by clients when issuing and redeeming tokens for anonymous authorization. In Oblivious HTTP (OHTTP), clients use public keys to encrypt messages to a gateway server.

Deployments of protocols such as Privacy Pass and OHTTP requires that very large sets of clients share the same key, or even that all clients globally share the same key. This is because the privacy properties depend on the client anonymity set size. In other words, the key that's used determines the set to which a particular client belongs. Using a unique, client-specific key would yield an anonymity set of size one, therefore violating the desired privacy goals of the system. Clients that use the same key as one another are said to have a consistent view of the key.

[CONSISTENCY] describes this notion of consistency in more detail. It also outlines several designs that can be used as the basis for consistency systems. This document is a concrete instantiation of one of those designs, "Shared Cache Discovery". In particular, this document describes a protocol called K-Check, based on [DOUBLE-CHECK], for checking that an HTTP resource is consistent with the view of one or more so-called mirrors. In this context, a mirror is an HTTP resource that fetches and caches copies of an HTTP resource for clients to use for consistency checks. More specifically, clients obtain copies of a desired resource from a mirror and then compare those copies to their resource.

K-Check is a generic protocol for consistency checks of HTTP resources, and therefore is suitable for any protocol that needs consistency of an HTTP resource. Section 5.1 and Section 5.2 describe Privacy Pass and OHTTP profiles for K-Check, respectively.

2. Conventions and Definitions

The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "NOT RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in BCP 14 [RFC2119] [RFC8174] when, and only when, they appear in all capitals, as shown here.

3. Terminology

The following terms are used throughout this document:

4. Mirror Protocol

The mirror protocol is a simple HTTP-based protocol similar to a reverse proxy. Each mirror resource, henceforth referred to as a mirror, is identified by a Mirror URI Template [RFC6570]. The scheme for the Mirror URI Template MUST be "https". The Mirror URI Template uses the Level 3 encoding defined Section 1.2 of [RFC6570] and contains one variables: "target", which is the percent-encoded URL of a HTTP resource to be mirrored. Example Mirror URI Templates are shown below.


The Mirror URI Template MUST contain the "target" variable exactly once. The variable MUST be within the path or query components of the URI.

In addition, each mirror is configured with a MIN_VALIDITY_WINDOW parameter, which is an integer indicating the minimum time for resources the mirror will cache according to their "max-age" response directive. We refer to the validity window of the mirror response as the period of time determined by the Cache-Control headers as the response.

Clients send requests to mirror resources after being configured with their corresponding Mirror URI Template. Clients MUST ignore configurations that do not conform to this template.

Upon receipt of a mirror request, mirrors validate the incoming request. If the request is invalid or malformed, e.g., the "target" parameter is not a correctly encoded URL, the mirror aborts and returns a a 4xx (Client Error) to the client. The mirror SHOULD check that the target resource identified by the "target" parameter is allowed by policy, e.g., so that it is not abused to fetch arbitrary resources. One way to implement this check is via an allowlist of target URLs.

If the request is valid and allowed, the mirror checks to see if it has a cached version of the resource identified by the target URL. Mirrors can provide a cached response to a client request if the following criteria are met:

  1. The target URL matches that of a cached response.
  2. The cached response is fresh according to its Cache-Control header (see Section 4.2 of [CACHING]).

If both criteria are met, the mirror encodes the cached response using Binary HTTP [BHTTP] and returns it to the client in a response. The mirror response incldues a Cache-Control header with "max-age" directive set to that of the cached response.

Otherwise, mirrors send a GET request to the target resource URL, copying the Accept header from the client request if present. If this request fails, the mirror returns a 4xx error to the client. Otherwise, the response to a mirror request is the content that was contained in the target resource. If this request suceeeds, the mirror checks it for validity. The response is considered valid and stored in the mirror's cache if the following criteria are met:

  1. The response can be cached according to the rules in Section 3 of [CACHING]. In particular, if the request had a Vary header, this is used in determining whether the mirror's response is valid.
  2. The Cache-Control header is present, has a "max-age" response directive that is greater than or equal to MIN_VALIDITY_WINDOW, and does not have a "no-store" or "private" directive.

If the response is valid, the response is stored in the mirror's cache. Mirrors purge this cache when the response is no longer valid according to the Cache-Control headers.

To complete the client request, the mirror then encodes the response using Binary HTTP [BHTTP] and returns it to the client in a response. The mirror response incldues a Cache-Control header with "max-age" directive set to that of the cached response.

Clients recover the target's mirrored response by Binary HTTP decoding the mirror response content.

4.1. Mirror Request and Respnose Example

The following example shows two mirror request and response examples. The first one yields a mirror cache miss and the second one yields a mirror cache hit. The Mirror URI Template is "https://mirror.example/mirror{?target}", and the target URL is "https://issuer.example/.well-known/private-token-issuer-directory".

The first client request to the mirror might be the following.

:method = GET
:scheme = https
:authority = mirror.example
:path = /mirror?target=https%3A%2F%2Fissuer.example%2F.well-known%2Fprivate-token-issuer-directory
accept = application/private-token-issuer-directory

Upon receipt, the mirror decodes the "target" parameter, inspects its cache for a copy of the resource, and then constructs a HTTP request to the target URL to fetch the content. If present, the relay copies the Accept header from the client request to the request sent to the target. This mirror request to the target might be the following.

:method = GET
:scheme = https
:authority = target.example
:path = /.well-known/private-token-issuer-directory
accept = application/private-token-issuer-directory

The target response is then returned to the mirror, like so:

:status = 200
content-type = application/private-token-issuer-directory
content-length = ...
cache-control: max-age=3600

<Bytes containing a private token issuer directory>

The mirror caches this response content for the target URL, encodes it using Binary HTTP [BHTTP], and then returns the response to the client:

:status = 200
content-length = ...
cache-control: max-age=3600

<Bytes containing the target's BHTTP-encoded response>

When a second client asks for the same request by the mirror it can be served with the cached copy. The second client's request might be the following:

:method = GET
:scheme = https
:authority = mirror.example
:path = /mirror?target=https%3A%2F%2Fissuer.example%2F.well-known%2Fprivate-token-issuer-directory

The mirror validates the request, locates the cached copy of the "https://issuer.example/.well-known/private-token-issuer-directory" content, and then returns it to the client without updating its cached copy.

:status = 200
content-length = ...
cache-control: max-age=3600

<Bytes containing the target's BHTTP-encoded response>

5. K-Check

Clients are configured with the URLs for one or more mirror resources. Each URL identifies an API endpoint that clients use to obtain mirrored copies of a resource.

The input to K-Check is a candidate HTTP resource, a target URL at which the resource was obtained, and a representation of the input resource. To check this resource, the client runs the following steps for each configured mirror.

  1. Send a mirror request to the mirror for the target URL. If the request fails, fail this mirror check.
  2. Otherwise, compute the first valid representation of the resource based on the mirror's response.
  3. Compare the computed representation to the input representation. If they do not match, fail this mirror check. Otherwise, this mirror check succeeds.

If all mirror checks succeed, the client outputs success. Otherwise, the client has detected an inconsistency and outputs fail.

[[OPEN ISSUE: Can mirrors somehow communicate the number of “active users” to clients? How would mirrors determine client uniqueness? And finally, if mirrors did this accurately, how would clients use this information?]]

5.1. Privacy Pass Profile

Clients are given as input an issuer token key from an origin server and want to check whether it is consistent with the key that is given to other clients. Let the input key be denoted token_key and its identifier be token_key_id. Clients are also given as input the name of the issuer, from which they can construct the target URL for the issuer directory. If clients have already checked this issuer’s token key, i.e., they’ve previously run K-Check, they can simply reuse the result up to its expiration. Otherwise, clients invoke K-Check in parallel with the issuance protocol.

Each issuer directory can yield one or more normalized representations that clients use in the K-Check protocol. For example, given a mirrored token directory resource like the following:

  "issuer-request-uri": "",
  "token-keys": [
      "token-type": 2,
      "token-key": "MI...AB",
      "not-before": 1686913811,
      "token-type": 2,
      "token-key": "MI...AQ",

Clients compute the first valid representation of this directory, i.e., the first entry in the list that the client can use, which might be the key ID of the first key in the "token-keys" list (depending on the "not-before" value), or the key ID of the second key in the "token-keys" list. The key ID is computed as defined in Section 6.5 of [PRIVACYPASS-ISSUANCE].

5.2. Oblivious HTTP Profile

Clients can run K-Check for OHTTP in several ways depending on the deployment. In practice, common deployments are as follows:

  1. Clients are configured with gateway configurations; and
  2. Clients fetch gateway configurations before use.

In both cases, clients begin with a gateway configuration and want to check it for consistency. In OHTTP, there is exactly one representation for a gateway configuration – the configuration itself. Before using the configuration to encrypt a binary HTTP message to the gateway, clients can run K-Check with their configured mirrors to ensure that this configuration is correct for the given gateway.

6. Security Considerations

K-Check assumes that at least one client-configured mirror is honest. Under this assumption, the consistency properties of K-Check are as follows:

  1. With honest mirrors, clients that successfully check a resource are assured that they share the same copy of the resource with the union of mirror clients for each configured mirror.
  2. Consistency only holds for the period of time of the minimum mirror validity window.
  3. With at least one dishonest mirror, the probability of discovering an inconsistency is 1 - (1 / 2^(k-1)). This is the probability that each individual mirror check succeeds in the mirror protocol.

Unless all clients share the same configured mirrors, K-Check does not achieve global consistency as is defined in [CONSISTENCY].

7. IANA Considerations

This document has no IANA actions.

8. References

8.1. Normative References

Thomson, M. and C. A. Wood, "Binary Representation of HTTP Messages", RFC 9292, DOI 10.17487/RFC9292, , <>.
Davidson, A., Finkel, M., Thomson, M., and C. A. Wood, "Key Consistency and Discovery", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-ietf-privacypass-key-consistency-01, , <>.
Thomson, M. and C. A. Wood, "Oblivious HTTP", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-ietf-ohai-ohttp-08, , <>.
Davidson, A., Iyengar, J., and C. A. Wood, "The Privacy Pass Architecture", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-ietf-privacypass-architecture-13, , <>.
Celi, S., Davidson, A., Valdez, S., and C. A. Wood, "Privacy Pass Issuance Protocol", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-ietf-privacypass-protocol-11, , <>.
Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, , <>.
Gregorio, J., Fielding, R., Hadley, M., Nottingham, M., and D. Orchard, "URI Template", RFC 6570, DOI 10.17487/RFC6570, , <>.
Leiba, B., "Ambiguity of Uppercase vs Lowercase in RFC 2119 Key Words", BCP 14, RFC 8174, DOI 10.17487/RFC8174, , <>.

8.2. Informative References

Fielding, R., Ed., Nottingham, M., Ed., and J. Reschke, Ed., "HTTP Caching", STD 98, RFC 9111, DOI 10.17487/RFC9111, , <>.
Schwartz, B. M., "Key Consistency by Double-Checking via a Semi-Trusted Proxy", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-schwartz-ohai-consistency-doublecheck-03, , <>.


This document is based on the [DOUBLE-CHECK] protocol from Benjamin Schwartz.

Authors' Addresses

Benjamin Beurdouche
Inria & Mozilla
Matthew Finkel
Apple Inc.
Steven Valdez
Google LLC
Christopher A. Wood