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3/WHISPER-USAGE

Version: 0.3

Status: Draft

Authors: Adam Babik [email protected], Andrea Maria Piana [email protected], Corey Petty [email protected], Oskar Thorén [email protected] (alphabetical order)

Abstract

Status uses Whisper to provide privacy-preserving routing and messaging on top of devP2P. Whisper uses topics to partition its messages, and these are leveraged for all chat capabilities. In the case of public chats, the channel name maps directly to its Whisper topic. This allows anyone to listen on a single channel.

Additionally, since anyone can receive Whisper envelopes, it relies on the ability to decrypt messages to decide who is the correct recipient. Status nodes do not rely upon this property, and implement another secure transport layer on top of Whisper.

Finally, using an extension of Whisper provides the ability to do offline messaging.

Reason

Provide routing, metadata protection, topic-based multicasting and basic encryption properties to support asynchronous chat.

Terminology

  • Whisper node: an Ethereum node with Whisper V6 enabled (in the case of geth, it’s --shh option)
  • Whisper network: a group of Whisper nodes connected together through the internet connection and forming a graph
  • Message: a decrypted Whisper message
  • Offline message: an archived envelope
  • Envelope: an encrypted message with metadata like topic and Time-To-Live

Whisper packets

Packet Name Code EIP-627 References
Status 0 Handshake
Messages 1 EIP-627
PoW Requirement 2 EIP-627
Bloom Filter 3 EIP-627
Batch Ack 11 𝘅 Undocumented
Message Response 12 𝘅 Undocumented
P2P Sync Request 123 𝘅 Undocumented
P2P Sync Response 124 𝘅 Undocumented
P2P Request Complete 125 𝘅 4/WHISPER-MAILSERVER
P2P Request 126 4/WHISPER-MAILSERVER
P2P Messages 127 ✔/𝘅 (EIP-627 supports only single envelope in a packet) 4/WHISPER-MAILSERVER

Whisper node configuration

A Whisper node must be properly configured to receive messages from Status clients.

Whisper’s Proof Of Work algorithm is used to deter denial of service and various spam/flood attacks against the Whisper network. The sender of a message must perform some work which in this case means processing time. Because Status’ main client is a mobile client, this easily leads to battery draining and poor performance of the app itself. Hence, all clients MUST use the following Whisper node settings:

  • proof-of-work requirement not larger than 0.00001
  • time-to-live not lower than 10 (in seconds)
  • any payload below 50000 bytes MUST be sent with a PoW Target of at least 0.002, in order to maintain backward compatibility with version 0.2 and Status app version 1.3 and below

Handshake

Handshake is a RLP-encoded packet sent to a newly connected peer. It MUST start with a Status Code (0x00) and follow up with items:

[ protocolVersion, PoW, bloom, isLightNode, confirmationsEnabled, rateLimits ]

protocolVersion: version of the Whisper protocol PoW: minimum PoW accepted by the peer bloom: bloom filter of Whisper topic accepted by the peer isLightNode: when true, the peer won’t forward messages confirmationsEnabled: when true, the peer will send message confirmations rateLimits: is [ RateLimitIP, RateLimitPeerID, RateLimitTopic ] where each values is an integer with a number of accepted packets per second per IP, Peer ID, and Topic respectively

bloom, isLightNode, confirmationsEnabled, and rateLimits are all optional arguments in the handshake. However, if an optional field is specified, all optional fields preceding it MUST also be specified in order to be unambiguous.

Rate limiting

In order to provide an optional very basic Denial-of-Service attack protection, each node SHOULD define its own rate limits. The rate limits SHOULD be applied on IPs, peer IDs, and envelope topics.

Each node MAY decide to whitelist, i.e. do not rate limit, selected IPs or peer IDs.

If a peer exceeds node’s rate limits, the connection between them MAY be dropped.

Each node SHOULD broadcast its rate limits to its peers using rate limits packet code (0x14). The rate limits is RLP-encoded information:

[ IP limits, PeerID limits, Topic limits ]

IP limits: 4-byte wide unsigned integer PeerID limits: 4-byte wide unsigned integer Topic limits: 4-byte wide unsigned integer

The rate limits MAY also be sent as an optional parameter in the handshake.

Each node SHOULD respect rate limits advertised by its peers. The number of packets SHOULD be throttled in order not to exceed peer’s rate limits. If the limit gets exceeded, the connection MAY be dropped by the peer.

Keys management

The protocol requires a key (symmetric or asymmetric) for the following actions:

  • signing & verifying messages (asymmetric key)
  • encrypting & decrypting messages (asymmetric or symmetric key).

As nodes require asymmetric keys and symmetric keys to process incoming messages, they must be available all the time and are stored in memory.

Keys management for PFS is described in 5/SECURE-TRANSPORT.

The Status protocols uses a few particular Whisper topics to achieve its goals.

Contact code topic

Nodes use the contact code topic to facilitate the discovery of X3DH bundles so that the first message can be PFS-encrypted.

Each user publishes periodically to this topic. If user A wants to contact user B, she SHOULD look for their bundle on this contact code topic.

Contact code topic MUST be created following the algorithm below:

contactCode := "0x" + hexEncode(activePublicKey) + "-contact-code"

var hash []byte = keccak256(name)
var topicLen int = 4

if len(hash) < topicLen {
    topicLen = len(hash)
}

var topic [4]byte
for i = 0; i < topicLen; i++ {
    topic[i] = hash[i]
}

Partitioned topic

Whisper is broadcast-based protocol. In theory, everyone could communicate using a single topic but that would be extremely inefficient. Opposite would be using a unique topic for each conversation, however, this brings privacy concerns because it would be much easier to detect whether and when two parties have an active conversation.

Nodes use partitioned topics to broadcast private messages efficiently. By selecting a number of topic, it is possible to balance efficiency and privacy.

Currently, nodes set the number of partitioned topics to 5000. Partitioned topics MUST be generated following the algorithm below:

var partitionsNum *big.Int = big.NewInt(5000)
var partition *big.Int = big.NewInt(0).Mod(publicKey.X, partitionsNum)

partitionTopic := "contact-discovery-" + strconv.FormatInt(partition.Int64(), 10)

var hash []byte = keccak256(partitionTopic)
var topicLen int = 4

if len(hash) < topicLen {
    topicLen = len(hash)
}

var topic [4]byte
for i = 0; i < topicLen; i++ {
    topic[i] = hash[i]
}

Public chats

A public chat MUST use a topic derived from a public chat name following the algorithm below:

var hash []byte
hash = keccak256(name)

topicLen = 4
if len(hash) < topicLen {
    topicLen = len(hash)
}

var topic [4]byte
for i = 0; i < topicLen; i++ {
    topic[i] = hash[i]
}

Group chat topic

Group chats does not have a dedicated topic. All group chat messages (including membership updates) are sent as one-to-one messages to multiple recipients.

Negotiated topic

When a client sends a one to one message to another client, it MUST listen to their negotiated topic. This is computed by generating a diffie-hellman key exchange between two members and taking the first four bytes of the SHA3-256 of the key generated.


sharedKey, err := ecies.ImportECDSA(myPrivateKey).GenerateShared(
      ecies.ImportECDSAPublic(theirPublicKey),
      16,
      16,
)


hexEncodedKey := hex.EncodeToString(sharedKey)

var hash []byte = keccak256(hexEncodedKey)
var topicLen int = 4

if len(hash) < topicLen {
    topicLen = len(hash)
}

var topic [4]byte
for i = 0; i < topicLen; i++ {
    topic[i] = hash[i]
}

A client SHOULD send to the negotiated topic only if it has received a message from all the devices included in the conversation.

Flow

To exchange messages with client B, a client A SHOULD:

  • Listen to client’s B Contact Code Topic to retrieve their bundle information, including a list of active devices
  • Send a message on client’s B partitioned topic
  • Listen to the Negotiated Topic between A & B
  • Once client A receives a message from B, the Negotiated Topic SHOULD be used

Message encryption

Even though, the protocol specifies an encryption layer that encrypts messages before passing them to the transport layer, Whisper protocol requires each Whisper message to be encrypted anyway.

The node encrypts public and group messages using symmetric encryption, and creates the key from a channel name string. The implementation is available in shh_generateSymKeyFromPassword JSON-RPC method of go-ethereum Whisper implementation.

The node encrypts one-to-one messages using asymmetric encryption.

Message confirmations

Sending a message is a complex process where many things can go wrong. Message confirmations tell a node that a message originating from it has been seen by its direct peers.

A node MAY send a message confirmation for any batch of messages received in a packet Messages Code (0x01).

A node sends a message confirmation using Batch Acknowledge packet (0x0b) or Message Response packet (0x0c).

The Batch Acknowledge packet is followed by a keccak256 hash of the envelopes batch data (raw bytes).

The Message Response packet is more complex and is followed by a Versioned Message Response:

[ Version, Response]

Version: a version of the Message Response, equal to 1, Response: [ Hash, Errors ] where Hash is a keccak256 hash of the envelopes batch data (raw bytes) for which the confirmation is sent and Errors is a list of envelope errors when processing the batch. A single error contains [ Hash, Code, Description ] where Hash is a hash of the processed envelope, Code is an error code and Description is a descriptive error message.

The supported codes: 1: means time sync error which happens when an envelope is too old or created in the future (the root cause is no time sync between nodes).

The drawback of sending message confirmations is that it increases the noise in the network because for each sent message, one or more peers broadcast a corresponding confirmation. To limit that, both Batch Acknowledge packet (0x0b) and Message Response packet (0x0c) are not broadcast to peers of the peers, i.e. they do not follow epidemic spread.

In the current Status network setup, only Mailservers support message confirmations. A client posting a message to the network and after receiving a confirmation can be sure that the message got processed by the Mailserver. If additionally, sending a message is limited to non-Mailserver peers, it also guarantees that the message got broadcast through the network and it reached the selected Mailserver.

Whisper V6 extensions

Request historic messages

Sends a request for historic messages to a Mailserver. The Mailserver node MUST be a direct peer and MUST be marked as trusted (using shh_markTrustedPeer).

The request does not wait for the response. It merely sends a peer-to-peer message to the Mailserver and it’s up to Mailserver to process it and start sending historic messages.

The drawback of this approach is that it is impossible to tell which historic messages are the result of which request.

It’s recommended to return messages from newest to oldest. To move further back in time, use cursor and limit.

shhext_requestMessages

Parameters:

  1. Object - The message request object:
    • mailServerPeer - String: Mailserver’s enode address.
    • from - Number (optional): Lower bound of time range as unix timestamp, default is 24 hours back from now.
    • to - Number (optional): Upper bound of time range as unix timestamp, default is now.
    • limit - Number (optional): Limit the number of messages sent back, default is no limit.
    • cursor - String (optional): Used for paginated requests.
    • topics - Array: hex-encoded message topics.
    • symKeyID - String: an ID of a symmetric key to authenticate to Mailserver, derived from Mailserver password.

Returns: Boolean - returns true if the request was sent.

The above topics is then converted into a bloom filter and then and sent to the Mailserver.

Changelog

0.3

  • Updated minimum PoW to 0.00001

    0.2

  • Document created

Copyright and related rights waived via CC0.