Information Security Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for information security professionals. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I'm new to infosec and doing some reading. Not surprisingly one starting point was wikipedia. In this article, authenticity and non-repudiation are listed as 2 separate 'Basic concepts'. My understanding is that you cannot achieve non-repudiation by not knowing which parties are involved, which requires authenticity to be in place. In that sense, I see authenticity as a sub component of non-repudiation.

Have you got examples backing up the approach that these 2 concepts are fundamentally separate?

share|improve this question
up vote 11 down vote accepted

Authentication and non-repudiation are two different sorts of concepts.

  • Authentication is a technical concept: e.g., it can be solved through cryptography.

  • Non-repudiation is a legal concept: e.g., it can only be solved through legal and social processes (possibly aided by technology).

Some people have been taught that non-repudiation can be provided through crypto-mathematics alone. However, that is not correct.

share|improve this answer
non-repudiation is routinely used in an infosec context, and means a technical proof of authorship. – Tom Mar 3 at 12:48
@Tom, you might want to read the link at the end of the answer. – D.W. Mar 3 at 18:40
I did, and I disagree. Maybe if you end up in a criminal court with the death penalty at stake, the difference between a legally sufficient proof and a technical proof is important. In most circumstances, however, a technical proof is quite sufficient. – Tom Mar 8 at 12:53

Authenticity is about one party (say, Alice) interacting with another (Bob) to convince Bob that some data really comes from Alice.

Non-repudiation is about Alice showing to Bob a proof that some data really comes from Alice, such that not only Bob is convinced, but Bob also gets the assurance that he could show the same proof to Charlie, and Charlie would be convinced, too, even if Charlie does not trust Bob.

Therefore, a protocol which provides non-repudiation necessarily provides authenticity as a byproduct; in a way, authenticity is a sub-concept of non-repudiation. However, there are ways to provide authenticity (only) which are vastly more efficient than known methods to achieve signatures (authenticity can be obtained with a Message Authentication Code whereas non-repudiation requires a Digital Signature with much more involved mathematics). For this reason, it makes sense to use "authenticity" as a separate concept.

SSL/TLS is a tunneling protocol which provides authenticity (the client is sure to talk to the intended server) but not non-repudiation (the client cannot record the session and show it as proof, in case of a legal dispute with the server, because it would be easy to build a totally fake session record).

share|improve this answer
I guess the bottom line is: you can do authenticity only, but you can't do non-repudiation without authenticity. – Max Aug 31 '11 at 11:26
Another example: OTR ( is designed specifically to provide authentication but no repudiation -- deniability is an explicit design goal. – Misha Aug 31 '11 at 11:42
Contrary to the claims in this answer (and to widespread beliefs of many others as well), digital signatures do not provide non-repudiation in practice. Non-repudiation is a legal problem, not one that can be solved through crypto-mathematics alone. – D.W. Sep 1 '11 at 20:08

Why would you want authentication?

To know that an e-mail, piece of software, web site, or other item originated from a specific person, computer system, or company. Generally you are using the identity of origin as part of a decision about trust.

If an e-mail comes from your bank and you authenticate the e-mail, you place a certain amount of trust in the contents. If an e-mail comes from an adversary, but claims to come from your back, and you are unable to authenticate the e-mail, you distrust the contents of the e-mail.

Authentication is used to verify identity. Identity is the claim that an individual is a specific person. Authentication is an attempt to verify a claim about identity. I can claim to be Margaret Thatcher, but since I am not Margaret Thatcher I should not be able to authenticate my claim.

Why would you want non-repudiation?

To prove that a person said a particular sentence, typed a specific phrase, or performed a specific action. To repudiate is to claim that whatever was said, typed, communicated, or performed was not done by you (or the person in question).

If someone claims that George Carlin used swear words, and George Carlin attempts to repudiate the claim, it is easy to prove that he has used swear words. There is evidence that George Carlin has used swear words. If George Carlin cannot repudiate the claim about swear words, the evidence provides non-repudiation.

Non-repudiation is an active attempt to creat artifacts which may be used against an identified person who is denying that they are the origin of a communication or action. The artifacts are identity, authentication of the identity, and something connecting a communication or action to the identity.

In the George Carlin example there are legal documents that record the testomy of many witnesses who identifed and authenticated George Carlin and witnessesed him using swear words. This is a passive and accidental production of artifacts connecting an action to an identity.

In security we want active purposeful production of artifacts that may assist in a non-repudiation argument. In order to do that we must identify an entity, authenticate the identity and connect the identified entity to a specific action or communication.

Some people use public/private key certificates to sign their email. By using their e-mail address they are providing identification. Their use of a private key (to sign the e-mail) provides authentication as long as the private key is known only by the individual. When they sign an e-mail with their digital signature they are connecting the content of the e-mail to the identity authenticated by the certificate. These artifacts may assist in preventing an individual from repudiating the contents of the e-mail; "I never sent that e-mail." However, to repudiate the e-mail a sender may claim that their private key was stolen (known by another party) and the thief sent the e-mail.

share|improve this answer
Contrary to the claims in this answer (and to widespread beliefs of many others as well), public-key cryptography does not provide non-repudiation in practice. Non-repudiation is a legal problem, not one that can be solved through crypto-mathematics alone. – D.W. Sep 1 '11 at 20:07
Ok, I made some slight adjustments. I did try to provide human examples to illustrate repudiation and non-repudiation, but I suppose that was not quite clear enough. – this.josh Sep 1 '11 at 22:42

The X.800 Recommendation clearly defines both autentication and non-repudiation as security services, as you can read in paragraph 5.2 of the following document:

Security services are the basic requirements in security and are implemented using security mechanisms.

So, both authentication and non-repudiation are the same kind of concept and the difference between the two is clearly explained in the document cited above.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.