Cipher suites supported by Corda

The set of signature schemes supported forms a part of the consensus rules for a Corda DLT network. Thus, it is important that implementations do not support pluggability of any crypto algorithms and do take measures to prevent algorithms supported by any underlying cryptography library from becoming accidentally accessible. Signing a transaction with an algorithm that is not a part of the base specification would result in a transaction being considered invalid by peer nodes and thus a loss of consensus occurring. The introduction of new algorithms over time will require a global upgrade of all nodes.

Corda has been designed to be cryptographically agile, in the sense that the available set of signature schemes is carefully selected based on various factors, such as provided security-level and cryptographic strength, compatibility with various HSM vendors, algorithm standardisation, variety of cryptographic primitives, business demand, option for post-quantum resistance, side channel security, efficiency and rigorous testing.

Before we present the pool of supported schemes it is useful to be familiar with Network certificates and API: Identity. An important design decision in Corda is its shared hierarchy between the TLS and Node Identity certificates.

Certificate hierarchy

A Corda network has 8 types of keys and a regular node requires 4 of them:

Network Keys

  • The root network CA key
  • The doorman CA key
  • The network map key
  • The service identity key(s) (per service, such as a notary cluster; it can be a Composite key)

Node Keys

  • The node CA key(s) (one per node)
  • The legal identity key(s) (one per node)
  • The tls key(s) (per node)
  • The confidential identity key(s) (per node)

We can visualise the certificate structure as follows (for a detailed description of cert-hierarchy, see Network certificates):

certificate structure

Supported cipher suites

Due to the shared certificate hierarchy, the following 4 key/certificate types: root network CA, doorman CA, node CA and tls should be compatible with the standard TLS 1.2 protocol. The latter is a requirement from the TLS certificate-path validator. It is highlighted that the rest of the keys can be any of the 5 supported cipher suites. For instance, network map is ECDSA NIST P-256 (secp256r1) in the Corda Network (CN) as it is well-supported by the underlying HSM device, but the default for dev-mode is Pure EdDSA (ed25519).

The following table presents the 5 signature schemes currently supported by Corda. The TLS column shows which of them are compatible with TLS 1.2, while the default scheme per key type is also shown in the last column.

Cipher suiteDescriptionTLSDefault for
Pure EdDSA using the ed25519 curve and SHA-512EdDSA represents the current state of the art in mainstream cryptography. It implements elliptic curve cryptography with deterministic signatures a fast implementation, explained constants, side channel resistance and many other desirable characteristics. However, it is relatively new and not widely supported, for example, you can’t use it in TLS yet (a draft RFC exists but is not standardised yet).NOnode identity / confidential identity / network map (dev)
ECDSA using the NIST P-256 curve (secp256r1) and SHA-256This is the default choice for most systems that support elliptic curve cryptography today and is recommended by NIST. It is also supported by the majority of the HSM vendors.YESroot network CA / doorman CA / node CA / tls network map (CN)
ECDSA using the Koblitz k1 curve (secp256k1) and SHA-256secp256k1 is the curve adopted by Bitcoin and as such there is a wealth of infrastructure, code and advanced algorithms designed for use with it. This curve is standardised by NIST as part of the “Suite B” cryptographic algorithms and as such is more widely supported than ed25519. By supporting it we gain access to the ecosystem of advanced cryptographic techniques and devices pioneered by the Bitcoin community.NO
RSA (3072bit) PKCS#1 and SHA-256RSA is well supported by any sort of hardware or software as a signature algorithm no matter how old, for example, legacy HSMs will support this along with obsolete operating systems. RSA is using bigger keys than ECDSA and thus it is recommended for inclusion only for its backwards compatibility properties, and only for usage where legacy constraints or government regulation forbids the usage of more modern approaches.YES
SPHINCS-256 and SHA-512 (experimental)SPHINCS-256 is a post-quantum secure algorithm that relies only on hash functions. It is included as a hedge against the possibility of a malicious adversary obtaining a quantum computer capable of running Shor’s algorithm in future. SPHINCS is based ultimately on a clever usage of Merkle hash trees. Hash functions are a very heavily studied and well understood area of cryptography. Thus, it is assumed that there is a much lower chance of breakthrough attacks on the underlying mathematical problems. However, SPHINCS uses relatively big public keys, it is slower and outputs bigger signatures than EdDSA, ECDSA and RSA algorithms.NO