Keybase + PGP + YubiKey

October 18, 2017

EDIT 2022-11-27: This is dreadful advice that only ever applied to the specific batches of YubiKeys affected by the Infineon bug. If you’re looking to use a YubiKey for SSH authentication, use OpenSSH’s new built-in FIDO2 support. If you’re looking to use a YubiKey for GPG, you should consider not using GPG at all (see the age project for a purpose-built file encryption tool). I’ll keep the rest of the post up for posterity, but it is probably not the right advice for you.

I wanted to document the way I most recently generated PGP keys to live on my YubiKey. My previous PGP keys expired and my current YubiKey is affected by the Infineon RSA bug, so my goal was to have keys generated on my laptop that live entirely on my YubiKey and that play nicely with Keybase.

This is not the most secure way to do this, but it works adequately for my purposes (in which I am more likely to be using PGP to enable YubiKey-based SSH login, not communicating national secrets). Ideally you would generate a master key on an airgapped computer and generate your subkeys on the YubiKey itself. The fact that your secret key material will be on your hard drive temporarily may not be acceptable depending on your threat model.

Generate your master key

Keybase has sane defaults (RSA 4096) and makes the PGP key generation process easy, so I just ran a keybase pgp gen and entered my information. I chose not to upload my private key to Keybase.

This generates a master key with Signing and Authentication capabilities, as well as a subkey with Encryption capabilities. To offload your keys to your YubiKey, you’ll likely want subkeys for encryption, signing, and authentication, so you’re already 1/3 of the way there with the Keybase defaults.

Generate subkeys

Run a gpg --list-keys to get your key fingerprint, then run gpg --expert --edit-key <yourfingerprint>.

You’ll need to issue two addkey commands. Generate one subkey as “RSA (sign only)", and another with only authentication privileges using the “RSA (set your own capabilities)” option. My session looked like the following. Note that I used 16y as the key expiry parameter – you can use whatever expiry timing you want. I just stuck to Keybase’ default of 16 years because I’m likely going to be “revoking” my PGP keys by removing them from my Keybase account rather than by issuing proper GPG revocations. In other words, in the worst case, a key is compromised and doesn’t expire for a long time, but my Keybase account shows that I no have asserted that I no longer control that key.

Move your subkeys to your YubiKey

In the same key editing session, we’re going to select each key and move it to the YubiKey.

  1. Select the first subkey with key 1
  2. keytocard to move the key to the YubiKey
  3. Deselect the subkey with key 1 again (as you can only select one subkey at a time when issuing a keytocard)
  4. Repeat the process with key 2 and key 3

Hooray! You’ve moved your subkeys to the YubiKey.

Back up your master secret key

Issue a gpg -a --export-secret-key <yourkeyid> > backup_secret.asc. Ideally backup_secret.asc lives on a thumb drive you keep in a hole in your back yard or something.

Now delete your secret key from your computer, as you don’t need it any more – the keys you’ll be using live on the YubiKey. You can do this with gpg --delete-secret-key <yourkeyid>.

Update Keybase with your new subkeys

Run a keybase pgp update to push your updated public key to Keybase. Your master key hasn’t changed, but your public key now reflects that you’ve authorized two additional subkeys.

You’re done!

That’s it! Note that you will still be able to run gpg --export-secret-key and get some output. This confused me for a little while until I learned that only secret key stubs are being exported. You can inspect the output of the export command by running gpg -a --export-secret-key <yourkeyid> | gpg --list-packets --verbose. You should see “pkey” entries, but no “skey” entries.

From now on, when you attempt to perform an operation that requires the use of your PGP keys, you should be prompted to insert the YubiKey and then enter the PIN.