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TextSecure - Provisioning a new Secondary Device


To provide a method to securely copy a user's identity key from a master device to a newly-provisioned secondary device. Note that we do not cover copying an identity key from an existing secondary device to another secondary device.


The process, in general, works as follows:

  1. The user opens a registration screen on the secondary device which they wish to register, causing it to request a temporary messaging channel from the server.
  2. The new secondary device displays a QR code for the master device to scan which contains the messaging channel UID from the server, and a curve25519 public key.
  3. The user selects "provision a new device" on their master device and scans the QR code. The master device requests a new device registration code from the server.
  4. The master device encrypts its identity key using a shared key derived from the scanned key and one of its own chosing and sends the message to the secondary device (using the destination provided in the scanned QR code).
  5. The secondary device registers itself with the server using the provided registration code and identity key.
  6. Becasue an attacker who is standing behind the secondary device during registration could register the device on their own number, the secondary device must confirm the phone number provided by the master device.
  7. The secondary device opens a new channel for DeviceControl messages with the master device and all other existing devices.
  8. The devices continue to use this session to exchange control messages, including sharing sent messages and providing the secondary device(s) with messages received over the SMS channel (either encrypted or unencrypted).

New and Existing APIs

  1. GET /v1/temp_websocket is added for this purpose. On connect as a websocket client, the server immidiately posts a message in the form '{uuid: "{socket_uuid}"}' and keeps the socket open. This UUID/websocket can be used to receive a single message (in the form '{message: "{message}"}', without an id field as the server does not wait for an ACK from the client), at which time it is automatically closed, and may not be used for any other purpose. The secondary device should open a listening websocket before proceeding to step 2.

  2. The QR code should contain a link to textsecure-device-init:/?channel_uuid={setup_code UUID}&channel_server={server the secondary device is registered on}&publicKey={ephemeral curve25519 public key}.

  3. GET /v1/devices/provisioning_code already exists for this purpose (and may be extended to use codes longer than 6 digits).

  4. The master device creates a new ephemeral curve25519 key and calculates a shared secret (using ECDH) between it and the scanned key. It then calculates an AES and MAC key by using the standard TextSecure HKDF function with the shared secret as the input, the master device's public key as the salt, and the info string set to 'WhisperDeviceInit'. It uses these keys to encrypt an IdentityKey message (using AES-CBC, in the same way as attachments) and sends it, prepended with the constant version byte (3 << 4) | 3, the AES IV, and appending a full 32-byte HMAC256(version byte + IV + encrypted data), as the identityKeyMessage field in a DeviceInit message (below). The message is sent using a standard send message, with the destination set to the UUID provided in the channel_uuid field and the relay set to the channel_server in step 2.

    message DeviceInit {
      required bytes masterEphemeralPubKey = 1;
      required bytes identityKeyMessage    = 2; // contains an IdentityKey
    message IdentityKey {
      required bytes   identityKey       = 1;
      required string  phoneNumber       = 2;
      required string  server            = 3;
      required boolean masterSupportsSms = 4; // XXX: boolean is a protobuf type?
      required uint32  provisioningCode  = 5;
  5. PUT /v1/devices/{provisioning_code}, and PUT /v1/keys already exist for this purpose. Note that these calls should be made to the server specified in the IdentityKey.server field, after the client has verified that the given server is one of a whitelist of acceptable/semi-trusted servers.

  6. The secondary device should ask the user to verify the phone number and simply restart the process if it does not match, similarly if the master device fails to send its message, it should alert the user that they need to restart the process, and should NOT continue blindly, despite secondary device claims to the contrary.

    1. GET /v1/keys/{number}/* should return the keys required (the implementor may wish to make this call before the PUT /v1/keys in step 5 to avoid retreiving their own key).
    2. PUT /v1/messages/{destination} is changed to allow a message to be sent to a specific device (ie it will never return 409) if the sender is on the same account.
    3. New messages can be sent between devices with IncomingPushMessageSignal.Type (and the equivalent message type in /v1/messages/) set to PREKEY_BUNDLE_DEVICE_CONTROL = 5 indicating a standard PreKeyWhisperMessage containing a WhisperMessage with the ciphertext set to an encrypted copy of a DeviceControl message of type NEW_DEVICE_REGISTERED (below).
  7. IncomingPushMessageSignal.Type (and the equivalent message type in /v1/messages/) may also be set to DEVICE_CONTROL = 6 indicating a WhisperMessage with a ciphertext set to an encrypted copy of a DeviceControl message (below). This allows the devices to send the following messages:

    1. SENT_MESSAGE may be sent from any device and must be sent to all other devices. It indicates the successful sending of a message over the specified channel.
    2. NEW_DEVICE_REGISTERED is sent in step 5.3.
message DeviceControl {
  enum Type {
    UNKNOWN                            = 0;
    NEW_DEVICE_REGISTERED              = 1; // Requries only newDeviceId
    SENT_MESSAGE                       = 2; // Requires only message
  message MessageSent {
    required string otherNumber = 1; // The destination account (ie phone #), not device
    required uint64 timestamp   = 2;
    required bytes  message     = 3; // PushMessageContent
  required Type        type        = 1;
  optional uint32      newDeviceId = 2;
  optional MessageSent message     = 3;


An alternative to section 8 and the DeviceControl proto can be found at

The relay stuff is gross, but its easy to implemnt here (keep a static list of only one server option and fail if its different), and its nice for upgrade-ability.

Note that the DEVICE_CONTROL message contents do not leak information as the server can already assume messages between devices on the same account are DEVICE_CONTROL messages.

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Master for the purpose of this is the first device to register (ie the device with the phone number).

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moxie0 commented May 21, 2014

I prefer the ACK after setup to deal with the message-lost case. ie think about the UI flow that looks similar to the original registration UI, I'd like to only close that window after we are actually sure of the success, which means sending an ACK. That said, of course, the server is pretty reliable anyway, so if you dont want it it can pretty easily be dropped.

I hear that, but by that logic don't we then need an ACK for the ACK? =) I'd like to see if we can design an appropriate UI without one first. I think @mcginty can probably make it happen.

I see no reason to tear down the one-off session. After the ACK we've already stepped the ratchet so there is almost no difference between keeping it there and tearing it down, aside from needing yet more random bytes to create new keys.

Because it's not a real session. There's no registration id, for instance. As we move more things into the session, I don't want to have to also transmit them via QR code.

We can do that, but I like the n-to-n communication where each device communicates with each other device using its own session. In this case, you need to be able to send to only the one device you want. If you want more consistency, we can just change from messages to devices or so?

I'd like to eliminate the need for devices to communicate without sending a message to all other devices. It does seem as if the master will need to deliver a single unicast message to the device being provisioned, so we can special case that for devices which are "in-progress."

Note that because I prefer to use a different protobuf for the DeviceControl stuff we would need a different IncomingPushMessage type here. Note, however, that I kinda broke the above rule with the new move-everything-into-DeviceControl changes, but I prefer that. If you do really want to stick with PREKEY_BUNDLEs and CIPHERTEXT messages, we'd need to add a type field to WhisperMessage to indicate the presence of a DeviceControl.

DeviceControl looks way too complicated to me. I think we can get away with adding a single flag to MessageContent which indicates that the body is an identity key. I think we can do away with all other control messages, once a device is provisioned (a single message) there shouldn't be any need to unicast to that device again.

We can leave SMS out if you like, but I put it in for a few reasons:

My gut instinct is no and hell no. SMS/MMS is a huge fucking pain, and we would be much better off today if we didn't support it anywhere. I'd like to start migrating away from encrypted SMS support, and maybe eventually (baruch hashem) remove SMS support from the Android client all together.

I think what you're describing is definitely a neat feature, but my sense is that we would be absolutely eaten alive by the complexity. This is already an entire product (Mighty Text), which I'm sure is a lot of work for them.

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midi commented Jun 2, 2014

i'll let you guys do what you do, building a superb communication channel.

i for one would really appreciate sms support, having synced sms on devices and the ability to send from internet only devices by using the phone, like the mentioned mightytext would be a superb feature.
even just keeping the current sms support on android, really helps me to gently introduce people to textsecure, through a trojan horse like mode, except in a good way.

being able to show them a new sleek client for sms, that additionally also supports "super secure" conversations and also allows them to get in contact with me is much easier than having to introduce yet another messenger, even though this my exclusive messenger.
i can see how this will be even harder for people who aren't as exclusive as i am, with their messenger accounts. of course for iOS this is not valid.

excited for the upcoming features!

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