# 4 Protocol Security

Stratum V2 employs a type of encryption scheme called AEAD (authenticated encryption with associated data) to address the security aspects of all communication that occurs between clients and servers. This provides both confidentiality and integrity for the ciphertexts (i.e. encrypted data) being transferred, as well as providing integrity for associated data which is not encrypted. Prior to opening any Stratum V2 channels for mining, clients MUST first initiate the cryptographic session state that is used to encrypt all messages sent between themselves and servers. Thus, the cryptographic session state is independent of V2 messaging conventions.

At the same time, this specification proposes optional use of a particular handshake protocol based on the Noise Protocol framework (opens new window). The client and server establish secure communication using Diffie-Hellman (DH) key agreement, as described in greater detail in the Authenticated Key Agreement Handshake section below.

Using the handshake protocol to establish secured communication is optional on the local network (e.g. local mining devices talking to a local mining proxy). However, it is mandatory for remote access to the upstream nodes, whether they be pool mining services, job declarating services or template distributors.

# 4.1 Motivation for Authenticated Encryption with Associated Data

Data transferred by the mining protocol MUST not provide adversary information that they can use to estimate the performance of any particular miner. Any intelligence about submitted shares can be directly converted to estimations of a miner’s earnings and can be associated with a particular username. This is unacceptable privacy leakage that needs to be addressed.

# 4.2 Motivation for Using the Noise Protocol Framework

The reasons why Noise Protocol Framework has been chosen are listed below:

  • The Framework provides a formalism to describe the handshake protocol that can be verified.
  • A custom certificate scheme is now possible (no need to use x509 certificates).

# 4.3 Choice of cryptographic primitives

Noise encrypted session requires Elliptic Curve (EC), Hash function (HASH()) and cipher function that supports AEAD mode1.

This specification describes mandatory cryptographic primitives that each implementation needs to support. These primitives are chosen so that Noise Encryption layer for Stratum V2 can be implemented using primitives already present in Bitcoin Core project at the time of writing this spec.

# 4.3.1 Elliptic Curve

  • Bitcoin's secp256k1 curve2 is used
  • Schnorr signature scheme is used as described in BIP3403

# EC point encoding remarks

Secp256k1 curve points, which includes Public Keys and ECDH results, are points with of X- and Y-coordinate, 32-bytes each. There are several possibilities how to serialize them:

  1. 64-byte full X- and Y-coordinate serialization for public keys (and ECDH results) and 96 bytes for signatures.
  2. 33-byte X-coordinate with 1 parity bit serialization for public keys and similarly 65-byte for signatures.
  3. 32-byte X-coordinate only with implicit Y-coordinate for public keys and 64-byte for signatures.

We choose the 32-byte serialization for public key and 64-byte for signatures with implicit Y-coordinate.

The parity of Y-coordinate is always assumed to be even.

Key generation algorithm:

  1. generate random 32-byte secret key sk
  2. let d' = int(sk)
  3. fail if d = 0 or d' > n where n is group order of secp256k1 curve
  4. compute P as d'⋅G
  5. drop the Y coordinate and output keypair (sk, bytes(P.x))

Such system has the following properties:

  • for each keypair (sk, bytes(P.x)) there is another keypair (n - sk, bytes(P.x)), where n is group order of secp256k1 curve
  • Each result of ECDH(sk, Q) is equal to ECDH(n - sk, Q) for some EC point Q where n is group order of secp256k1 curve

These properties don't reduce security.

For more information refer to BIP3403

# 4.3.2 Hash function

  • SHA-256() is used as a HASH()

# 4.3.3 Cipher function for authenticated encryption

  • Cipher has methods for encryption and decryption for key k, nonce n, associated_data ad, plaintext pt and ciphertext ct
    • ENCRYPT(k, n, ad, pt)
    • DECRYPT(k, n, ad, ct)
  • ChaCha20 and Poly1305 in AEAD mode4 (ChaChaPoly) is used as a default AEAD cipher

# 4.4 Cryptographic operations

# 4.4.1 CipherState object

Object that encapsulates encryption and decryption operations with underlying AEAD mode cipher functions using 32-byte encryption key k and 8-byte nonce n. CipherState has the following interface:

  • InitializeKey(key):
    • Sets k = key, n = 0
  • EncryptWithAd(ad, plaintext)
    • If k is non-empty, performs ENCRYPT(k, n++, ad, plaintext) on the underlying cipher function, otherwise returns plaintext
    • Where ENCRYPT is an evaluation of ChaCha20-Poly1305 (IETF variant) or AES-GCM with the passed arguments, with nonce n encoded as 32 zero bits, followed by a little-endian 64-bit value. Note: this follows the Noise Protocol convention, rather than our normal endian.
  • DecryptWithAd(ad, ciphertext)
    • If k is non-empty performs DECRYPT(k, n++, ad, plaintext) on the underlying cipher function, otherwise returns ciphertext. If an authentication failure occurs in DECRYPT() then n is not incremented and an error is signaled to the caller.
    • Where DECRYPT is an evaluation of ChaCha20-Poly1305 (IETF variant) or AES-GCM with the passed arguments, with nonce n encoded as 32 zero bits, followed by a little-endian 64-bit value.

# 4.4.2 Handshake Operation

Throughout the handshake process, each side maintains these variables:

  • ck: chaining key. Accumulated hash of all previous ECDH outputs. At the end of the handshake ck is used to derive encryption key k.
  • h: handshake hash. Accumulated hash of all handshake data that has been sent and received so far during the handshake process
  • e, re ephemeral keys. Ephemeral key and remote party's ephemeral key, respectively.
  • s, rs static keys. Static key and remote party's static key, respectively.

The following functions will also be referenced:

  • generateKey(): generates and returns a fresh secp256k1 keypair

    • Where the object returned by generateKey has two attributes:
      • .public_key, which returns an abstract object representing the public key
      • .private_key, which represents the private key used to generate the public key
    • Where the object also has a single method:
      • .serializeImplicit() that outputs a 32-byte serialization of the X-coordinate of EC point (implicit Y-coordinate)
  • a || b denotes the concatenation of two byte strings a and b

  • HMAC-HASH(key, data)

    • Applies HMAC defined in RFC 21045
    • In our case where the key is always 32 bytes, this reduces down to:
      • pad the key with zero bytes to fill the hash block (block length is 64 bytes in case of SHA-256): k' = k || <zero-bytes>
      • calculate temp = SHA-256((k' XOR ipad) || data) where ipad is repeated 0x36 byte
      • output SHA-256((k' XOR opad) || temp) where opad is repeated 0x5c byte
  • HKDF(chaining_key, input_key_material, num_output): a function defined in RFC 58696, evaluated with a zero-length info field:

    • Sets temp_key = HMAC-HASH(chaining_key, input_key_material)
    • Sets output1 = HMAC-HASH(temp_key, byte(0x01))
    • Sets output2 = HMAC-HASH(temp_key, output1 || byte(0x02))
    • If num_outputs == 2 then returns the pair (output1, output2)
    • Sets output3 = HMAC-HASH(temp_key, output2 || byte(0x03))
    • Returns the triple (output1, output2, output3)
  • MixKey(input_key_material): Executes the following steps:

    • sets (ck, temp_k) = HKDF(ck, input_key_material, 2)
    • calls InitializeKey(temp_k)
  • MixHash(data): Sets h = HASH(h || data)

  • EncryptAndHash(plaintext):

    • If k is non-empty sets ciphertext = EncryptWithAd(h, plaintext), otherwise ciphertext = plaintext
    • Calls MixHash(ciphertext)
    • returns ciphertext
  • DecryptAndHash(ciphertext):

    • If k is non-empty sets plaintext = DecryptWithAd(h, ciphertext), otherwise plaintext = ciphertext
    • Calls MixHash(ciphertext)
    • returns plaintext
  • ECDH(k, rk): performs an Elliptic-Curve Diffie-Hellman operation using k, which is a valid secp256k1 private key, and rk, which is a valid public key

    • The output is X-coordinate of the resulting EC point

# 4.5 Authenticated Key Agreement Handshake

The handshake chosen for the authenticated key exchange is an Noise_NX augmented by algorithm negotiation prior to handshake itself and server authentication with simple 2 level public key infrastructure.

The complete authenticated key agreement (Noise NX) is performed in five distinct steps (acts).

  1. NX-handshake part 1: -> e
  2. NX-handshake part 2: <- e, ee, s, es, SIGNATURE_NOISE_MESSAGE
  3. Server authentication: Initiator validates authenticity of server using from SIGNATURE_NOISE_MESSAGE
  4. Cipher upgrade part 1: Initiator provides list of alternative aead-ciphers that it supports
  5. Cipher upgrade part 2: Responder confirms or dismisses upgrade to a different aead-cipher

Should the decryption (i.e. authentication code validation) fail at any point, the session must be terminated.

# 4.5.1 Handshake Act 1: NX-handshake part 1 -> e

Prior to starting first round of NX-handshake, both initiator and responder initializes handshake variables h (hash output), ck (chaining key) and k (encryption key):

  1. hash output h = protocolName || <zero-padding> or h = HASH(protocolName)
  • If protocolName is less than or equal to 32 bytes in length, use protocolName with zero bytes appended to make 32 bytes. Otherwise, apply HASH to it.
  • protocolName is official noise protocol name such as Noise_NX_secp256k1_ChaChaPoly_SHA256 encoded as an ASCII string
  1. chaining key ck = h
  2. hash output h = HASH(h)
  3. encryption key k empty

# Initiator

Initiator generates ephemeral keypair and sends the public key to the responder:

  1. initializes empty output buffer
  2. generates ephemeral keypair e, appends e.public_key to the buffer (32 bytes plaintext public key)
  3. calls MixHash(e.public_key)
  4. calls EncryptAndHash() with empty payload and appends the ciphertext to the buffer (note that k is empty at this point, so this effectively reduces down to MixHash() on empty data)
  5. submits the buffer for sending to the responder in the following format
# Ephemeral public key message:
Field name Description
PUBKEY Initiator's ephemeral public key

Message length: 32 bytes

# Responder

  1. receives ephemeral public key message (32 bytes plaintext public key)
  2. parses received public key as re.public_key
  3. calls MixHash(re.public_key)
  4. calls DecryptAndHash() on remaining bytes (i.e. on empty data with empty k, thus effectively only calls MixHash() on empty data)

# 4.5.2 Handshake Act 2: NX-handshake part 2 <- e, ee, s, es, SIGNATURE_NOISE_MESSAGE

Responder provides its ephemeral, encrypted static public keys and encrypted SIGNATURE_NOISE_MESSAGE to the initiator, performs Elliptic-Curve Diffie-Hellman operations.

Field Name Data Type Description
version U16 Version of the certificate format
valid_from U32 Validity start time (unix timestamp)
not_valid_after U32 Signature is invalid after this point in time (unix timestamp)
signature SIGNATURE Certificate signature

Length: 74 bytes

# Responder

  1. initializes empty output buffer
  2. generates ephemeral keypair e, appends e.public_key to the buffer (32 bytes plaintext public key)
  3. calls MixHash(e.public_key)
  4. calls MixKey(ECDH(e.private_key, re.public_key))
  5. appends EncryptAndHash(s.public_key) (32 bytes encrypted public key, 16 bytes MAC)
  6. calls MixKey(ECDH(s.private_key, re.public_key))
  7. appends EncryptAndHash(SIGNATURE_NOISE_MESSAGE) to the buffer
  8. submits the buffer for sending to the initiator
  9. return pair of CipherState objects, the first for encrypting transport messages from initiator to responder, and the second for messages in the other direction:
    1. sets temp_k1, temp_k2 = HKDF(ck, zerolen, 2)
    2. creates two new CipherState objects c1 and c2
    3. calls c1.InitializeKey(temp_k1) and c2.InitializeKey(temp_k2)
    4. returns the pair (c1, c2)
# Message format of NX-handshake part 2
Field name Description
PUBKEY Responder's plaintext ephemeral public key
PUBKEY Responder's encrypted static public key
MAC Message authentication code for responder's static public key
SIGNATURE_NOISE_MESSAGE Signed message containing Responder's static key. Signature is issued by authority that is generally known to operate the server acting as the noise responder
MAC Message authentication code for SIGNATURE_NOISE_MESSAGE

Message length: 170 bytes

# Initiator

  1. receives NX-handshake part 2 message
  2. interprets first 32 bytes as re.public_key
  3. calls MixHash(re.public_key)
  4. calls MixKey(ECDH(e.private_key, re.public_key))
  5. decrypts next 48 bytes with DecryptAndHash() and stores the results as rs.public_key which is server's static public key (note that 32 bytes is the public key and 16 bytes is MAC)
  6. calls MixKey(ECDH(e.private_key, rs.public_key)
  7. decrypts next 90 bytes with DecryptAndHash() and deserialize plaintext into SIGNATURE_NOISE_MESSAGE (74 bytes data + 16 bytes MAC)
  8. return pair of CipherState objects, the first for encrypting transport messages from initiator to responder, and the second for messages in the other direction:
    1. sets temp_k1, temp_k2 = HKDF(ck, zerolen, 2)
    2. creates two new CipherState objects c1 and c2
    3. calls c1.InitializeKey(temp_k1) and c2.InitializeKey(temp_k2)
    4. returns the pair (c1, c2)

# 4.5.3 Server authentication

During the handshake, initiator receives SIGNATURE_NOISE_MESSAGE and server's static public key. These parts make up a CERTIFICATE signed by an authority whose public key is generally known (for example from pool's website). Initiator confirms the identity of the server by verifying the signature in the certificate.

Field Name Data Type Description Signed field
version U16 Version of the certificate format YES
valid_from U32 Validity start time (unix timestamp) YES
not_valid_after U32 Signature is invalid after this point in time (unix timestamp) YES
server_public_key PUBKEY Server's static public key that was used during NX handshake YES
authority_public_key PUBKEY Certificate authority's public key that signed this message NO
signature SIGNATURE Signature over the serialized fields marked for signing NO

This message is not sent directly. Instead, it is constructed from SIGNATURE_NOISE_MESSAGE and server's static public key that are sent during the handshake process

# Signature structure

Schnorr signature with key prefixing is used3

signature is constructed for

  • message m, where m is HASH of the serialized fields of the CERTIFICATE that are marked for signing, i.e. m = SHA-256(version || valid_from || not_valid_after || server_public_key)
  • public key P that is Certificate Authority

Signature itself is concatenation of an EC point R and an integer s (note that each item is serialized as 32 bytes array) for which identity s⋅G = R + HASH(R || P || m)⋅P holds.

# 4.5.4 Cipher upgrade part 1: -> AEAD_CIPHERS

Initiator provides list of AEAD ciphers other than ChaChaPoly that it supports

Field name Description
SEQ0_32[u32] List of AEAD cipher functions other than ChaChaPoly that the client supports

Message length: 1 + n * 4 bytes, where n is the length byte of the SEQ0_32 field, at most 129

possible cipher codes:

cipher code Cipher description
0x47534541 (b"AESG") AES-256 with with GCM from [7]

[7] - Recommendation for Block Cipher Modes of Operation: Galois/Counter Mode (GCM) and GMAC

# 4.5.5 Cipher upgrade part 2: <- CIPHER_CHOICE

Responder acknowledges receiving AEAD_CIPHERS message with CIPHER_CHOICE. There are two possible cases

  1. CIPHER_CHOICE is empty: In this case continue using current established encrypted session
  2. CIPHER_CHOICE is non-empty - Restart encrypted session using the new AEAD-cipher
Field name Description
OPTION[u32] Request to upgrade to a given AEAD-cipher

Message length: 1 or 5 bytes

# Upgrade to a new AEAD-cipher

If the server provides a non-empty CIPHER_CHOICE:

  1. Both initiator and responder create a new pair of CipherState objects with the negotiated cipher for encrypting transport messages from initiator to responder and in the other direction respectively
  2. New keys key_new are derived from the original CipherState keys key_orig by taking the first 32 bytes from ENCRYPT(key_orig, maxnonce, zero_len, zeros) using the negotiated cipher function where maxnonce is 264 - 1, zerolen is a zero-length byte sequence, and zeros is a sequence of 32 bytes filled with zeros. (see Rekey(k) function8)
  3. New CipherState objects are reinitialized: InitializeKey(key_new).

# 4.6 Encrypted stratum message framing

After handshake process is finished, both initiator and responder have CipherState objects for encryption and decryption and after initiator validated server's identity, any subsequent traffic is encrypted and decrypted with EncryptWithAd() and DecryptWithAd() methods of the respective CipherState objects with zero-length associated data.

Maximum transport message length (ciphertext) is for noise protocol message 65535 bytes.

Since Stratum Message Frame consists of

  • fixed length message header: 6 bytes
  • variable length serialized stratum message

Stratum Message header and stratum message payload are processed separately.

# Encrypting stratum message

  1. serialize stratum message into a plaintext binary string (payload)
  2. prepare frame header for the stratum message with message_length being length of payload ciphertext*
  3. Encrypt and concatenate serialized header and payload: 4. EncryptWithAd([], header) - 22 bytes 5. EncryptWithAd([], payload) - variable length encrypted message
  4. concatenate resulting header and payload ciphertext

*converting plaintext length to ciphertext length:

#define MAX_CT_LEN 65535
#define MAC_LEN 16

uint pt_len_to_ct_len(uint pt_len) {
        uint remainder;
        remainder = pt_len % MAX_PT_LEN;
        if (remainder > 0) {
                remainder += MAC_LEN;
        return pt_len / MAX_PT_LEN * MAX_CT_LEN + remainder;

# Decrypting stratum message

  1. read exactly 22 bytes and decrypt into stratum frame or fail
  2. read frame.message_length number of bytes and decrypt into plaintext payload or fail
  3. deserialize plaintext payload into stratum message given by frame.extension_type and frame.message_type or fail

# Encrypted stratum message frame layout

| Extended noise header                            | Encrypted stratum-message payload                                 |
| Header AEAD ciphertext                           | Noise block 1     | Noise block 2     | Last Noise block          |
| 22 Bytes                                         | 65535 Bytes       | 65535 Bytes       | 17 - 65535 Bytes          |
| Encrypted Stratum message Header       | MAC     | ct_pld_1  | MAC_1 | ct_pld_2  | MAC_2 | ct_pld_rest   | MAC_rest  |
| 6 Bytes                                | 16 B    | 65519 B   | 16 B  | 65519 B   | 16 B  | 1 - 65519 B   | 16 Bytes  |
| extension_type | msg_type | pld_length | <padd   | pt_pld_1  | <padd | pt_pld_2  | <padd | pt_pld_rest   | <padding> |
| U16            | U8       | U24        |   ing>  | 65519 B   |  ing> | 65519 B   |  ing> | 1 - 65519 B   |           |

Serialized stratum-v2 body (payload) is split into 65519-byte chunks and encrypted to form 65535-bytes AEAD ciphertexts,
where `ct_pld_N` is the N-th ciphertext block of payload and `pt_pld_N` is the N-th plaintext block of payload.

# 4.7 URL Scheme and Pool Authority Key

Downstream nodes that want to use the above outlined security scheme need to have configured the Pool Authority Public Key of the pool that they intend to connect to. It is provided by the target pool and communicated to its users via a trusted channel. At least, it can be published on the pool's public website.

The key can be embedded into the mining URL as part of the path.

Authority Public key is base58-check (opens new window) encoded 32-byte secp256k1 public key (with implicit Y coordinate) prefixed with a LE u16 version prefix, currently [1, 0]:

[1, 0] 2 bytes prefix
PUBKEY 32 bytes authority public key

URL example:


# 4.7.1 Test vector:

raw_ca_public_key = [118, 99, 112, 0, 151, 156, 28, 17, 175, 12, 48, 11, 205, 140, 127, 228, 134, 16, 252, 233, 185, 193, 30, 61, 174, 227, 90, 224, 176, 138, 116, 85]
prefixed_base58check = "9bXiEd8boQVhq7WddEcERUL5tyyJVFYdU8th3HfbNXK3Yw6GRXh"

# 4.8 References

  1. https://web.cs.ucdavis.edu/~rogaway/papers/ad.pdf
  2. https://www.secg.org/sec2-v2.pdf
  3. https://github.com/bitcoin/bips/blob/master/bip-0340.mediawiki
  4. https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc8439
  5. https://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2104.txt
  6. https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc5869
  7. https://nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/Legacy/SP/nistspecialpublication800-38d.pdf
  8. https://noiseprotocol.org/noise.html#cipher-functions