Thoughts on Nostr key management


On Why I don’t like NIP-26 as a solution for key management I talked about multiple techniques that could be used to tackle the problem of key management on Nostr.

Here are some ideas that work in tandem:

  • NIP-41 (stateless key invalidation)
  • NIP-46 (Nostr Connect)
  • NIP-07 (signer browser extension)
  • Connected hardware signing devices
  • other things like musig or frostr keys used in conjunction with a semi-trusted server; or other kinds of trusted software, like a dedicated signer on a mobile device that can sign on behalf of other apps; or even a separate protocol that some people decide to use as the source of truth for their keys, and some clients might decide to use that automatically
  • there are probably many other ideas

Some premises I have in my mind (that may be flawed) that base my thoughts on these matters (and cause me to not worry too much) are that

  • For the vast majority of people, Nostr keys aren’t a target as valuable as Bitcoin keys, so they will probably be ok even without any solution;
  • Even when you lose everything, identity can be recovered – slowly and painfully, but still –, unlike money;
  • Nostr is not trying to replace all other forms of online communication (even though when I think about this I can’t imagine one thing that wouldn’t be nice to replace with Nostr) or of offline communication, so there will always be ways.
  • For the vast majority of people, losing keys and starting fresh isn’t a big deal. It is a big deal when you have followers and an online persona and your life depends on that, but how many people are like that? In the real world I see people deleting social media accounts all the time and creating new ones, people losing their phone numbers or other accounts associated with their phone numbers, and not caring very much – they just find a way to notify friends and family and move on.

We can probably come up with some specs to ease the “manual” recovery process, like social attestation and explicit signaling – i.e., Alice, Bob and Carol are friends; Alice loses her key; Bob sends a new Nostr event kind to the network saying what is Alice’s new key; depending on how much Carol trusts Bob, she can automatically start following that and remove the old key – or something like that.

One nice thing about some of these proposals, like NIP-41, or the social-recovery method, or the external-source-of-truth-method, is that they don’t have to be implemented in any client, they can live in standalone single-purpose microapps that users open or visit only every now and then, and these can then automatically update their follow lists with the latest news from keys that have changed according to multiple methods.

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