Looking at a GnuPG manual on openskills, I notice that the main key id GEBV933F is in a different format than the usual hexadecimal (G is no hexadecimal digit).

How is this done?

  • 1
    I suspect it's been Base64 encoded. Perhaps an attribute of the mail server the message was sent via. – Dan Jan 25 '16 at 21:18

tl;dr: these are made up key IDs of somebody trying to hide the actual information. They're not valid OpenPGP key IDs.

OpenPGP Key IDs

Following RFC 4880, OpenPGP, 3.3 Key IDs, a

Key ID is an eight-octet scalar that identifies a key.

12.2 Key IDs and Fingerprints further specifies the calculation, but again no representation of those lower 64 bits to be used. Often, 32 bit values ("short key IDs") are used in practice. An example describes pretty well how the key IDs are related:

fingerprint: 0D69 E11F 12BD BA07 7B37  26AB 4E1F 799A A4FF 2279 (160 bits)
long id:                                    4E1F 799A A4FF 2279  (64 bits)
short id:                                             A4FF 2279  (32 bits)

XAF476E9 and GEBV933F form weird key IDs. They can't be hexadecimal, which wouldn't allow X and G. They're probably using a digit range matching pretty much including all decimal digits plus letters up to X, which means eight digit numbers would allow to store about ld(36^8) ~= 41 bits -- not enough for a more compact representation of (long) key IDs.

Digging Deeper

Well, you don't really need to dig deep. Let's assume the documentation was written by somebody using real keys, who at the same time tries to hide his identity and either has a bad understanding of key IDs, or wants to reveal manipulation of the key IDs to the skilled eye.

The quoted manual also provides examples of encoded signatures. Let's have a look at those! A string This is some text. gets signed, probably using the author's key. And we also get the quoted result, which the author stored as test.txt.asc:

The signed version will look something like this:

Hash: SHA1

This is some text.

Version: GnuPG v1.2.1 (GNU/Linux)
Comment: 'Email me for my public key'


The output showing the weird key IDs actually verifies a signature of exactly this file:

[you@tiger]$ gpg --verify test.txt.asc 
gpg: Signature made Tue 20 May 2003 04:00:07 PM EST using DSA key ID GEBV933F
gpg: Good signature from "fbloggs@openskills.com"

Now, what happens if we run this on our own?

gpg: Signature made Tue May 20 08:00:07 2003 CEST
gpg:                using DSA key BEBB933F
gpg: Good signature from "[uid removed]"
gpg:                 aka "[uid removed]"
gpg: WARNING: This key is not certified with a trusted signature!
gpg:          There is no indication that the signature belongs to the owner.
Primary key fingerprint: 3318 D8EC 1EAD 3771 3B54  2893 175B 8FE1 BEBB 933F

I removed the user ID as the user might have tried to stay anonymous. I didn't care about his key ID/fingerprint, as he indeed posted it anyway and everybody can query the information if he wants.

Surprised about a close-match of the key IDs?

   real key ID: BEBB933F
claimed key ID: GEBV933F

Obviously, the two non-hexadecimal digits have been scrambled. Now, what about XAF476E9?

$ gpg --list-keys BEBB933F
pub   1024D/BEBB933F 2003-04-09
uid                            [uid removed]
uid                            [uid removed]
sub   1024g/CAC476E9 2003-04-09

A new subkey! Again comparing the keys:

   real key ID: CAC476E9
claimed key ID: XAF476E9

Again, two digits differ.

  • Ok, very interesting. I asked because of the tweet snowden made about the fake ISIS encrypted message. I noticed the key id contained an O and a H. I'm going write an article about this, and will drop a link to your answer. All we can assume from here is that the publisher of the image has purposely created a fake key? Although for what purpose because the message was already decrypted. – BugHunterUK Jan 25 '16 at 22:43
  • You can't say whether he created a fake key or not, but you can say somebody faked GnuPG's output. Just out of curiosity: did anybody send the text in the video through some OCR software and have a look at what's in there? ;) – Jens Erat Jan 25 '16 at 22:53
  • Searching for the first few characters, you can find a dump of questionable quality. After fixing some obvious problems, one can actually print the OpenPGP headers through pgpdump (and other people also did that already). I don't provide links here as I didn't further verify those documents. – Jens Erat Jan 25 '16 at 23:02
  • 1
    Pretty much at the same time you posted, another similar question specific to the (proclaimed) ISIS video was posted: security.stackexchange.com/q/111698/19837 -- I added some more thoughts on the video over there. – Jens Erat Jan 25 '16 at 23:16
  • Awesome stuff. Your answers helped me understand so much. I am going to play about with sending the video through OCR software as it sounds very interesting and something I've never done before. – BugHunterUK Jan 26 '16 at 12:55

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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