Internet-Draft ML-KEM IKEv2 November 2023
Kampanakis & Ravago Expires 23 May 2024 [Page]
Intended Status:
Standards Track
P. Kampanakis
Amazon Web Services
G. Ravago
Amazon Web Services

Post-quantum Hybrid Key Exchange with ML-KEM in the Internet Key Exchange Protocol Version 2 (IKEv2)


[EDNOTE: The intention of this draft is to get IANA KE codepoints for ML-KEM. It could be a standards track draft given that ML-KEM will see a lot of adoption, an AD sponsored draft, or even an individual stable draft which gets codepoints from Expert Review. The approach is to be decided by the IPSECME WG. ]

NIST recently standardized ML-KEM, a new key encapsulation mechanism, which can be used for quantum-resistant key establishment. This draft specifies how to use ML-KEM as an additionall key exchange mechanism in IKEv2 along with traditional (Elliptic Curve) Diffie-Hellman. This hybrid approach allows for negotiating IKE and Child SA keys which are safe against cryptanalytically-relevant quantum computers and theoretical weaknesses in ML-KEM as it is relatively new.

Status of This Memo

This Internet-Draft is submitted in full conformance with the provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

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This Internet-Draft will expire on 23 May 2024.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

A Cryptanalytically-relevant Quantum Computer (CRQC), if it became a reality, could threaten public key encryption algorithms used today for key exhange. Someone storing encrypted communications which use (Elliptic Curve) Diffie-Hellman ((EC)DH) to negotiate keys could decrypt these communications in the future after a CRQC was available. This could include Internet Key Exchange Protocol Version 2 (IKEv2)/IPsec tunnels which negotiate IKE and Child SA keys by using ECDH key exchange in their IKE_SA_INIT messages.

To address this concern, [RFC8784] introduced Post-quantum Preshared Keys as a temporary option for stirring a pre-shared key of adequate entropy in the derived Child SA encryption keys in order to provide quantum-resistance. Since then, [RFC9242] defined how to do additional large message exchanges by using a new IKE_INTERMEDIATE message. As post-quantum keys are usualy larger than common network Maximum Transport Units (MTU), IKE_INTERMEDIATE messages can be fragmented which could allow for the peers to do post-quantum key exchanges without IP fragmentation. [RFC9370] defined how to do up to seven additional key exchanges by using IKE_INTERMEDIATE messages and derive new SKEYSEED and KEYMAT key materials. This allows for new post-quantum key exchanges to be used in the derived IKE and Child SA keys and provide quantum resistance.

NIST has been working on a public project [NIST-PQ] for standardizing quantum-safe algorithms which include key ensapsulation and signatures. At the end of Round 3, they picked Kyber as the first Key Encapsulation Mechanism (KEM) for standardization [I-D.draft-cfrg-schwabe-kyber-03]. Kyber was then standardized as Module-Lattice-based Key-Encapsulation Mechanism (ML-KEM) in [FIPS203-ipd]. ML-KEM was standardized in 2024 [FIPS203]. [ EDNOTE: Reference normatively the ratified version [I-D.draft-cfrg-schwabe-kyber-03] if it is ever ratified. Otherwise keep a normative reference of [FIPS203]. And remove the reference to [FIPS203-ipd]. ]

This document describes how ML-KEM can be used as the quantum-safe KEM in IKEv2 by using one additional IKE_INTERMEDIATE key exchange after the classical (EC)DH exchange in IKE_SA_INIT. This approach is commonly called post-quantum hybrid key exchange and combines the security of well-established (EC)DH with relatively new quantum-safe algorithms which could theoretically have uknown issues. The result is a new Child SA key or an IKE or Child SA rekey with keying material which is safe against a CRQC. This specification is a profile of [RFC9370] and registers new algorithm identifiers for ML-KEM key exchanges in IKEv2.

1.1. KEMs

In the context of the NIST Post-Quantum Cryptography Standardization Project [NIST-PQ], key exchange algorithms are formulated as KEMs, which consist of three steps:

  • 'KeyGen() -> (pk, sk)': A probabilistic key generation algorithm, which generates a public key 'pk' and a secret key 'sk'.

  • 'Encaps(pk) -> (ct, ss)': A probabilistic encapsulation algorithm, which takes as input a public key 'pk' and outputs a ciphertext 'ct' and shared secret 'ss'.

  • 'Decaps(sk, ct) -> ss': A decapsulation algorithm, which takes as input a secret key 'sk' and ciphertext 'ct' and outputs a shared secret 'ss', or in some cases a distinguished error value.

The main security property for KEMs standardized by NIST is indistinguishability under adaptive chosen ciphertext attacks (IND-CCA2), which means that shared secret values should be indistinguishable from random strings even given the ability to have arbitrary ciphertexts decapsulated. IND-CCA2 corresponds to security against an active attacker, and the public key / secret key pair can be treated as a long-term key or reused. A weaker security notion is indistinguishability under chosen plaintext attacks (IND-CPA), which means that the shared secret values should be indistinguishable from random strings given a copy of the public key. IND-CPA roughly corresponds to security against a passive attacker, and sometimes corresponds to one-time key exchange.

1.2. ML-KEM

ML-KEM is a recently standardized lattice-based key encapsulation mechanism [FIPS203]. [ EDNOTE: Reference normatively the ratified version [I-D.draft-cfrg-schwabe-kyber-03] if it is ever ratified. Otherwise keep a normative reference of [FIPS203]. ]

ML-KEM is using Module Learning with Errors as its underlying primitive which is a structured lattices variant that offers good performance and relatively small and balanced key and ciphertext sizes. ML-KEM was standardized with three parameters, ML-KEM-512, ML-KEM-768, and ML-KEM-1024. These were mapped by NIST to the three security levels defined in the NIST PQC Project, Level 1, 3, and 5. These levels correspond to the hardness of breaking AES-128, AES-192 and AES-256 respectively.

This specification introduces ML-KEM-768 and ML-KEM-1024 to IKEv2 key exchanges as conservative security level parameters which will not have material performance impact on IKEv2/IPsec tunnels which usually stay up for long periods of time. Since the ML-KEM-768 and ML-KEM-1024 public key and ciphertext sizes can exceed the typical network MTU, these key exchanges will usually require two or three network IP packets from both the initiator and the responder.

1.3. 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.

2. ML-KEM in IKEv2

2.1. ML-KEM in IKE_INTERMEDIATE messages

ML-KEM key exchanges can be negotiated in IKE_INTERMEDIATE messages as defined in [RFC9370]. Section 2.2.2 of [RFC9370] specifies that KEi(0), KEr(0) are regular (EC)DH key exchange messages in the first IKE_SA_INIT exchange which end up generating a first set of keying material, SK_d, SK_a[i/r], and SK_e[i/r].

The peers then perform an IKE_INTERMEDIATE exchange, carrying new Key Exchange payloads. These are protected with the SK_e[i/r] and SK_a[i/r] keys which were derived from the IKE_SA_INIT as per Section 3.3.1 of [RFC9242]. KEi(1) and KEr(1) are the subsequent key exchange messages which carry the ML-KEM public key of a keypair (sk, pk) generated by the initiators with ML-KEM KeyGen() and the 256-bit ML-KEM shared secret ss encapsulated by the responder to a ciphertext ct by using Encaps(pk) respectively. The public key and the ciphertext are encoded as raw bytes in little-endian encoding. [ EDNOTE: Confirm this makes sense. ] Then the initiator decapsulates the 256-bit ML-KEM shared secret ss from the ciphertext ct by using its private key sk in Decaps(sk, ct). Both peers have now reached a common ss at the end of this KE(1) key exchange.

The ML-KEM shared secret is stirred into new keying material SK_d, SK_a[i/r], and SK_e[i/r] as defined in Section 2.2.2 of [RFC9370].

Afterwards the peers continue to the IKE_AUTH exchange phase as defined in Section 3.3.2 of [RFC9242].

ML-KEM can be used in a post-quantum hybrid exchange to create or rekey a Child SA or rekey the IKE SA. The IKE or Child SA can be rekeyed by stirring the new shared secret in SKEYSEED and KEYMAT as specified in Section 2.2.4 of [RFC9370].

IKE_INTERMEDIATE messages carrying ML-KEM public keys and ciphertexts, can be fragmented as per [RFC7383] since the ML-KEM-768 and ML-KEM-1024 public keys and ciphertexts can exceed typical network MTUs. Although, this document focuses on using ML-KEM as the second key exchange in a post-quantum hybrid key exchange scenario, ML-KEM-768 Key Exchange Method identifier TBD35 MAY be used in IKE_SA_INIT as a quantum-safe-only key exchange because the payloads can fit in typical network MTUs. [EDNOTE: Confirm it fits the MTU with captures.] ML-KEM-1024 Key Exchange Method identifier TBD36 SHOULD only be used in IKE_INTERMEDIATE exchanges. It SHOULD NOT be used in IKE_SA_INIT because they could often be introducing IP fragmentation which is not possible in IKE_SA_INIT exchanges.

2.2. Key Exchange Payload

HDR, the IKE header, of the IKE_INTERMEDIATE messages carrying the ML-KEM key exchange has a Next Payload value of 34 (Key Exchange), Exchange Type of 43 (IKE_INTERMEDIATE) and Message ID of 1 assuming this is the first additional key exchange (ADDKE1).

The IKE_INTERMEDIATE payload which is protected with SK_e[i/r] and SK_a[i/r] keys from the IKE_SA_INIT ML-KEM key exchange is shown below as defined in Section 3.4 of [RFC7296]:

                     1                   2                   3
 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1
| Next Payload  |C|  RESERVED   |         Payload Length        |
|   Key Exchange Method Num    |           RESERVED             |
|                                                               |
~                       Key Exchange Data                       ~
|                                                               |
  • Payload Length: The ML-KEM-768 public key is 1184 bytes, so the Payload Length field included in the payload of the IKE_INTERMEDIATE message from the initiator is 1192. The ML-KEM-768 ciphertext is 1088 bytes, so the Payload Length of IKE_INTERMEDIATE message from the responder is 1096. The ML-KEM-1024 public key is 1568 bytes, so the Payload Length field included in the payload of the IKE_INTERMEDIATE from the initiator is 1576. The ML-KEM-1024 ciphertext is 1568 bytes, so the Payload Length of IKE_INTERMEDIATE from the responder is 1576.

  • The Key Exchange Method Num identifier is TBD35 for ML-KEM-768 or TBD36 for ML-KEM-1024.

  • The Key Exchange Data is the 1184 or 1568 octets of the ML-KEM-768 or ML-KEM-1024 public key respectively for the IKE_INTERMEDIATE message from the initiator. The response from the responder is 1088 or 1568 octets as the size of the ML-KEM-768 or ML-KEM-1024 ciphertexts respectively.

2.3. Recipient Tests

Receiving and handling of malformed ML-KEM public key or ciphertext MUST follow the input validation described in [FIPS203]. [ EDNOTE: Reference normatively the ratified version [I-D.draft-cfrg-schwabe-kyber-03] if it is ever ratified. Otherwise keep a normative reference of [FIPS203]. ] In particular, entities receiving the ML-KEM public key to encapsulate to MUST perform the type and modulus checks in Sections 6.1 of [FIPS203] and reject the ML-KEM public key, if malformed. Entities receiving an ML-KEM ciphertext for decapsulation MUST perform the ciphertext and decapsulation key type checks in Section 6.2 of [FIPS203] and reject the ciphertext or key, if malformed. [ EDNOTE: Reference normatively the ratified version [I-D.draft-cfrg-schwabe-kyber-03] if it is ever ratified. Otherwise keep a normative reference of [FIPS203]. ] These checks could be performed separately before performing the encapsulation or decapsulation steps or be part of them.

Note that during decapsulation, ML-KEM uses implicit rejection which leads the decapsulating entity to implicitly reject the decapsulated shared secret by setting it to a hash of the ciphertext together with a random value stored in the ML-KEM secret when the re-encrypted shared secret does not match the original one. [ EDNOTE: Confirm implicit rejection is still used after [FIPS203] is ratified or change this paragraph. ]

3. Security Considerations

All security considerations from [RFC9242] and [RFC9370] apply to the ML-KEM exchanges described in this specification.

4. IANA Considerations

IANA is requested to assign two values for the names "mlkem-768" and "mlkem-1024" in the IKEv2 "Transform Type 4 - Key Exchange Method Transform IDs" and has listed this document as the reference. The Recipient Tests field should also point to this document:

Table 1: Updates to the IANA "Transform Type 4 - Key Exchange Method Transform IDs" table
Number Name Status Recipient Tests Reference
TBD35 mlkem-768   [TBD, this draft, Section 2.3], [TBD, this draft]
TBD36 mlkem-1024   [TBD, this draft, Section 2.3], [TBD, this draft]
37-1023 Unassigned      

5. References

5.1. Normative References

Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, , <>.
Kaufman, C., Hoffman, P., Nir, Y., Eronen, P., and T. Kivinen, "Internet Key Exchange Protocol Version 2 (IKEv2)", STD 79, RFC 7296, DOI 10.17487/RFC7296, , <>.
Leiba, B., "Ambiguity of Uppercase vs Lowercase in RFC 2119 Key Words", BCP 14, RFC 8174, DOI 10.17487/RFC8174, , <>.
Smyslov, V., "Intermediate Exchange in the Internet Key Exchange Protocol Version 2 (IKEv2)", RFC 9242, DOI 10.17487/RFC9242, , <>.
Tjhai, CJ., Tomlinson, M., Bartlett, G., Fluhrer, S., Van Geest, D., Garcia-Morchon, O., and V. Smyslov, "Multiple Key Exchanges in the Internet Key Exchange Protocol Version 2 (IKEv2)", RFC 9370, DOI 10.17487/RFC9370, , <>.

5.2. Informative References

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), "Module-Lattice-based Key-Encapsulation Mechanism Standard", NIST Federal Information Processing Standards, , <>.
Schwabe, P. and B. Westerbaan, "Kyber Post-Quantum KEM", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-cfrg-schwabe-kyber-03, , <>.
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), "Post-Quantum Cryptography", .
Smyslov, V., "Internet Key Exchange Protocol Version 2 (IKEv2) Message Fragmentation", RFC 7383, DOI 10.17487/RFC7383, , <>.
Fluhrer, S., Kampanakis, P., McGrew, D., and V. Smyslov, "Mixing Preshared Keys in the Internet Key Exchange Protocol Version 2 (IKEv2) for Post-quantum Security", RFC 8784, DOI 10.17487/RFC8784, , <>.


The authors would like to thank Valery Smyslov for his valuable contributions to the document.

Authors' Addresses

Panos Kampanakis
Amazon Web Services
Gerardo Ravago
Amazon Web Services