[Standards] XMPP and W3C Digital Signature Specification

David Waite dwaite at gmail.com
Mon Apr 7 02:33:00 UTC 2008

On Fri, Apr 4, 2008 at 9:50 PM, Peter Saint-Andre <stpeter at stpeter.im>
> Who is "we"? Do you have multiple implementations in different
> codebases? One of the major concerns I have heard with XML dsig is
> interoperability (e.g., I have heard reports about serious interop
> problems with SAML). In particular, I have heard that canonicalization
> ("c14n") has caused interop problems, since different people interpret
> c14n differently (and there are 3 or 4 different c14n methods!).

XML dsig generally has interoperability issues on usage, not in
implementations. That said, its a brutally complex specification to
implement and there are only four software implementations I can think of
off-hand (apache's java and C++ impls, Microsoft's C# implementation, and

The more significant issue is that there is no guarantee that even modern
Jabber protocol and XMPP implementations will not mess up XML in a way that
breaks canonicalization. Server to Server traffic will munge up the
namespace of the stanzas (from jabber:client to jabber:server), technically
breaking a signature over any element in the jabber:client namespace, albeit

If an implementation reduces a stanza to a representation that isn't an
infoset-compatible DOM its likely that it will reassemble the XML after
routing in a way that would break signatures that aren't in the precise
order given. Also note that every server implementation that supports S2S,
for the changing namespace reason, would require some custom DOM or custom
XML serialization engine that goes outside of what has been standardized by
the W3C.

>From the point of view of someone who has implemented XML dsig-based
protocols in the past, Signing XML as XML rather than as opaque data is a
pain in the neck and should be avoided. XML encryption is easier precisely
because you have to encrypt the XML as data, not via some flexible ruleset
against some mungable object structure.

> It might well be. I haven't heard much interest in digital signatures
> for IM (heck, even email signing is not very popular, for example I'm
> one of the only people posting to this list who signs his email with an
> X.509 signature). I have heard some interest in end-to-end encryption,
> but it's difficult even to get people interested in encryption.

The security systems are themselves a network effect; I can't really care
until I'm sure its available for everyone I communicate with. For the types
of communication I typically have over IM, I would rather send the message
unsigned/unencrypted than not send it. If communications were encrypted, I
would probably put more high-value communications over IM.

Signatures have little value for me on their own however. In an IM context,
if a message has enough value to be signed to prevent forgery, it better
also be encrypted to prevent someone else from reading it.

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