ZKlaims: Privacy-preserving Attribute-based Credentials using Non-interactive Zero-knowledge Techniques

by   Martin Schanzenbach, et al.

In this paper we present ZKlaims: a system that allows users to present attribute-based credentials in a privacy-preserving way. We achieve a zero-knowledge property on the basis of Succinct Non-interactive Arguments of Knowledge (SNARKs). ZKlaims allow users to prove statements on credentials issued by trusted third parties. The credential contents are never revealed to the verifier as part of the proving process. Further, ZKlaims can be presented non-interactively, mitigating the need for interactive proofs between the user and the verifier. This allows ZKlaims to be exchanged via fully decentralized services and storages such as traditional peer-to-peer networks based on distributed hash tables (DHTs) or even blockchains. To show this, we include a performance evaluation of ZKlaims and show how it can be integrated in decentralized identity provider services.



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1 Introduction

Recent events surrounding the (ab)use of personal identity information from social networks once again rejuvenated the raison d’être of privacy-preserving identity management [Confessore, 2018]. Classical attribute-based credential (ABC) systems such as X.509 certificates raise privacy concerns as they reveal potentially sensitive attribute values such as name, age, or social relationships to the credential verifier. In order to alleviate this issue, privacy-preserving attribute-based credential (PP-ABC) systems have been proposed in the past [Paquin, 2011, Camenisch and Van Herreweghen, 2002]. PP-ABCs rely on zero-knowledge protocols to prove statements over attributes, rather than revealing the attribute values themselves. Some systems require that prover and verifier must engage in an interactive proving protocol which implies that prover and verifier must be online whenever a credential verification is performed. Other approaches remedy this issue by requiring that proofs of statements are predefined by the credential issuer. This inevitably requires the prover to interact with the issuer or verifier whenever a genuinely new statement is required. Both properties are particularly problematic in decentralized identity management systems where centralized identity services are replaced by peer-to-peer attribute provisioning.

Recent advancements in the area of non-interactive verifiable computation schemes and the emergence of novel decentralized architectures such as blockchains have paved the way for a new generation of decentralized, privacy-preserving identity and access management [Kraft, 2017, Schanzenbach and Banse, 2016, Schanzenbach et al., 2018, Friebe et al., 2018]. A common component in such systems is a decentralized directory service used to provision user attributes and credentials. Such services are realized as a secure, shared storage medium such as a blockchain or secure name system. In order to fully leverage PP-ABCs, users must be able to present them non-interactively over the shared medium. Hence, to combine the privacy benefits of PP-ABCs with the privacy advantages of decentralized identity management, non-interactive PP-ABCs are necessary.

Figure 1: Actors and protocol primitives in a ZKlaims use case.

Our contribution is ZKlaims, a design and implementation for non-interactive, privacy-preserving credentials through the use of zero-knowledge proofs. ZKlaims allows users to act as provers and create proofs for any self-chosen statement over a credential issued to them without having to interact with another party. This allows us to integrate ZKlaims into a fully decentralized architecture where non-interactive PP-ABCs are provisioned in a resilient, decentralized delivery mechanism. The core building blocks of our design are zero-knowledge succinct non-interactive arguments of knowledge (zkSNARKs). We present an evaluation of our implementation discussing the space and time tradeoffs of such a system. To illustrate the use of ZKlaims, we show how it can be integrated into a decentralized personal data sharing system.

2 Background

zkSNARKs are a theoretical class of proofs which satisfy a specific set of formal properties in order to realize a non-interactive zero-knowledge (NIZK) proof [Ben-Sasson et al., 2013]. Its origin lies in the area of verifiable computation (VC) schemes. There are two actors in VC: The prover and the validator. Respective schemes allow to prove the correct evaluation of a function given a set of inputs. This is commonly advantageous in use cases where computation is offloaded onto a third party because the actual computation is resource-intensive. In this context, verifiable computation schemes are usually engineered to provide an efficient way to verify computation results and put less emphasis on the efficiency on the evaluation and proving processes. In zkSNARKs, the idea is that such schemes can easily be extended to add a zero-knowledge aspect to the computation: The verifier of the computation must be able to verify the proof (i.e. the result of the computation) without a private “witness” input. The “witness” is only known to the prover, which is the entity that performs the computation. Popular verifiable computation schemes which allow to build zkSNARK proofs include Pinocchio and a scheme by Groth et al. [Parno et al., 2013, Groth, 2016]. The idea behind both approaches is that the verification of a result does not require the function input. Hence, the verifier is able to verify a computation result without knowledge of what was actually the subject of the computation.

In the following, we define the functions and objects of a NIZK system, consisting of a setup, credentials definition, circuit construction, proof generation, verification, and a delivery mechanism. We generalize the following high-level primitives of a zkSNARKs scheme:


Initially, we must establish a “constraint system” . A constraint system is a set of linear constraints which are internally translated into circuits by the zkSNARK scheme. The constraint system is a blueprint that allows us to define ground truths and derive the proving key and verification key using a procedure. The constraint system – and consequently both and – are public information and are meant to be known by prover and verifier, respectively. For a constraint system to be useful in our design, it must be constructed in a way that supports proofs on credentials. In order to achieve this, we define the setup and constraint system construction in the design section of this paper.

In order to generate a proof

, the prover must supply the proof input vectors

and as well as the proving key . While is a public parameter, is private and only known to the prover. To validate the proof , a verifier uses the verification key and the public input vector as inputs to the validation procedure. The verification result is either valid (TRUE) or invalid (FALSE).

In the following, we use the above definitions of a zkSNARK scheme in order to formalize the non-interactive credential system ZKlaims.

3 Design

Figure 2: ZKlaims constraint system .

In the following, we present our design of ZKlaims which satisfies the following three requirements:

Statements on credentials: ZKlaims must allow users to generate proofs on third party issued credentials. The user must be allowed to freely choose the statement. The verifier must be able to verify that the statement is true with respect to the third party issued credential without the knowledge of the actual credential value.

Non-interactive presentation: ZKlaims must allow verifiers to prove the correctness of a statement non-interactively, e.g. without online interaction with the user or the credential issuer.

Selective disclosure: The user should have the option to selectively disclose credential values if necessary.

First, in addition to the prover and verifier we define a third actor: The credential issuer. The issuer is a trusted third party that is issuing attribute-based credentials (ABCs) to users which take the role of provers. The credential contents are private and represent the private input vector of the proving procedure. The prover is able to make any statement regarding its issued credentials and create a proof which asserts that the statement is valid. The verifier is an entity which requires the prover to prove the validity of a certain statement. In our use case, this statement is based on a specific attribute-based credential. The proof is zero-knowledge in that the verifier only learns whether or not the statement on a credential is valid. The contents of the credential are not disclosed to the verifier. Figure 1 illustrates our scenario including the generation of the keys, a proof and its verification. We use this illustration in the following sections to explain the design and usage of ZKlaims.

3.1 Attributes and Credentials

First, we define a ZKlaims credential . We define the input vectors and as bit vectors:


is the first and static part of the public input vector . The other part of the input vector is variable and may be chosen by the user as part of the proving process. It is comprised of issuer-asserted user identity attributes such as date of birth or email address. is a signature over and is created by the issuer. The signature is created through traditional public-key cryptography. This allows a verifier to establish trust from their set of trusted, third party credential issuers to the credential and verify its authenticity.

We note that contains elements but there are only attributes while the last element is reserved. This is a design choice for the following reason: We define the last element to be a unique identifier of the credential. It is a random nonce generated by the credential issuer when the credential is issued. The nonce ensures that the credential is unique across subjects even if their attributes are the same.

We expect an issuer to provide a mechanism that allows the user to retrieve credentials through a secure communication channel. This transfer is out of scope of this work, but for web-based use cases it can be realized through a traditional TLS channel in combination with password-based user authentication. Then, the transfer of the credential from the issuer to the user can be performed through a simple download procedure. The user then stores the credential in a wallet on a local storage under their control.

3.2 Constraint System and Keys

As discussed in the background section, we must define a “constraint system” . The entity responsible for creating the constraint system is the credential issuer because it is the entity which is authoritative over what kinds of attribute credentials it plans to issue to its users. A ZKlaims constraint system must be setup so that it enables a prover to prove statements on credentials in the form .

Figure 2 illustrates our circuit construction.

Constraint systems process input variables in an algebraic circuit and output a boolean return value. Hence, it is possible to combine multiple constraint systems into one new constraint system. In our design, we define the linear constraint system as a combination of sub constraint systems:


The constraint allows the prover to verify that the user provided private input vector matches the credential contents. The second class of constraint systems are used to model, prove and verify comparative statements on the private input . For this the issuer must pre-determine the number of attributes that may contain as it determines the upper bound of sub constraint systems of type . As illustrated in Figure 2, each constraint takes exactly one as input whereas the constraint system takes the whole input vector . As constraint systems are rigid in this regard, a change in the number of attributes requires a regeneration of the constraint system .

Figure 3: Left: time required to derive verification key & proving key from the constraint system .
Right: time required to create proof depending on the number of attribute payloads.

3.3 Proving

Using any entity is able to generate the public proving key and verification key using the respective procedure of the zkSNARKs scheme. The key is used by the user in order to prove the validity of statements on their attribute credentials. Each may be used by the prover to impose a predicate with respect to a reference value . The hashed attribute references in are combined with the above into the public proof input vector :


By default, each is initialized as a no-op dummy operation which always evaluates to true. In order to create a statement on an attribute , the user sets the predicate to any combination of , and or their respective complements . This predicate is used in combination with a reference value which contains a value that the corresponding attribute is to be checked against with the predicate . As an example, to create a proof input which is supposed to verify that a user is born before a certain data, the reference value for the “data of birth” attribute would be set to a certain timestamp in the past which reflects the age barrier. The position of the reference value is defined by issuer through the constraint system. The predicate is set to . Such a proof input allows users to prove that they are over a certain age.

In general, can be chosen arbitrarily by a prover. However, is used to import the requirement that any prover must be able to provide a witness in the form of a pre-image to , namely . As already mentioned above, – and in particular – serves as a secret that the prover must present in the proving process as part of a witness to the constraint. Hence, only the subject which is in possession of a credential from the issuer is able to satisfy the constraint system.

In order to validate a proof , the prover must apply the public proof input , the proving key as well as the private input vector to satisfy the constraint system and generate a proof . The user generates a proof as follows:


The user is able to provide the hashes in and the pre-image from the credential to satisfy the constraint system. The public input vector is built using , the predicate inputs vector and the reference value vector which represent the statements made by the user on the attributes in . We expect that the predicates are defined a priori, for example, through a negotiation between the verifier and the user. The verifier can request from the user to provide a specific proof including certain predicates and thus defines the respective predicate variables and .

After the user calculates the proof , it can be presented to a verifier along with . We define a ZKlaims context which – due to the non-interactive nature of the proof – can be persisted by the user and non-interactively retrieved and verified by a verifier.

3.4 Verification

It is not necessary for a verifier to directly interact with the prover to verify a proof . However, upon retrieving the ZKlaims context and before the verification of , the verifier must verify the signature over . Using this information, the prover proceeds to retrieve the correct proving key from the trusted issuer and uses it to verify the proof :


The verification function yields if the user was able to provide inputs to that satisfy the underlying constraint systems. It is essential that verifiers check that the predicate inputs and reference vectors and , which are provided by the user as part of the ZKlaims context, are semantically what they expect them to be. Especially if the verifier specifically requested a predicate to be proven, such as “”, the respective predicate (greater or equal) as well as input variable to check against must be correctly set.

4 Implementation and Evaluation

Our reference implementation111https://gitlab.com/kiliant/zklaim, accessed 2019/01/08 is built on top of the libsnark222https://github.com/scipr-lab/libsnark, accessed 2019/01/08 library. zkSNARKs are based on verifiable computation schemes. While libsnark supports a variety of different schemes including Pinocchio [Parno et al., 2013] we use the scheme of Groth [Groth, 2016] which is also readily available. We settled on Groth because it exhibits better performance than the other schemes available in libsnark.

Figure 4: ZKlaims integration with the reclaimID identity provider.

4.1 Performance and Evaluation

We evaluated the performance of ZKlaims for issuing, proving and verification with respect to the number of attributes in a single credential. Due to technical limitations imposed by the underlying constraint system we must use fixed size inputs to the constraint system. We define a collection of attributes that fits into a single input as a payload. In our implementation, a single payload can hold up to five attributes. Our test setup consisted of an Intel Core i7 7500U 3.2 GHz with 16 GB of RAM. In Figure 3 we can see that the time it takes to construct the issuer constrain system increases linearly with the number of attribute payloads in our credential. It takes roughly 2.5 seconds to build a constraint system that supports five attributes in a single payload and increases by the same amount for every additional set. The time it takes a prover to construct a proof depending on the amount of payloads defined by the issuer constraint system can be found in Figure 3. We can see that just like the initial construction of the constraint system, proof construction time also increases linearly with the number of payloads. Creating a proof in the case of a single payload takes roughly 2.4 seconds and increases by the same amount for every additional set.

While we evaluated the time it takes the verifier to validate proofs, the results suggest that the impact is negligible: In ZKlaims, proof verification is simply a matter of evaluating a polynomial function, measured times range below 10 milliseconds. The issuer constraint system needs to be created only once at the beginning. Proofs need to be constructed every time a verifier has a new request regarding the predicates it needs proven. Once a proof for a combination of predicates exists, it can be stored and presented non-interactively to any concerned verifier. In addition to the evaluation of performance, we also assessed the size of proving and verification keys as well as proof size dependent on the number of payloads. The results can be found in Table 1, where we find that the minimum size of a proving key is roughly 8.65 MB. With every payload – i.e. every set of five attributes – supported by the issuer constraint system, the proving key increases in size by around 7 to 9 MB. At 20 payloads, this results in a 174.51 MB proving key. Due to this size constraint, issuers should either limit the number of supported attributes or bootstrap dedicated constraint systems so that a prover is only required to handle proving keys for attributes actually relevant to them. At the same time, the verification key takes a minimum of 784 bytes and increases by 150 to 200 bytes per payload.

In summary, the bulk of the space and time required in ZKlaims must be provided by the prover. Proofs itself are of constant size at 137 bytes which is good news with respect to the required storage footprint. We can safely consider that most decentralized storage systems are capable of accommodating ZKlaims proofs.

Payloads in MB in bytes Proof in bytes
1 8.65 784
5 43.15 1543
10 86.94 2493 137
15 133.37 3443
20 174.51 4436
Table 1: Key and proof sizes depending on the number of payloads.

4.2 Integration

We designed ZKlaims to specifically for decentralized identity provider services that require or support non-interactive presentation of identity attributes. To publish and propagate ZKlaims objects such as the issuer credential system, verification key and proofs, we propose the use of secure, decentralized identity provider systems based on name systems such as NameID [Kraft, 2017] and reclaimID [Schanzenbach et al., 2018].

NameID [Kraft, 2017], is a blockchain-based identity system that allows users to share identity attributes over the namecoin blockchain. It features a standards-compliant delivery mechanism – OpenID Connect [Sakimura et al., 2014] – but relies on a central rendezvous server. The nature of both the OpenID Connect and blockchain architecture requires that identity attributes can be presented without direct interaction between users and relying parties. This is partly due to the server-based architecture of OpenID Connect but also a technical caveat of distributed ledgers. In NameID, a central service in the form of an OpenID Connect server enforces access control decisions made by users.

An alternative to NameID is reclaimID [Schanzenbach et al., 2018], which uses the decentralized GNU Name System (GNS) [Wachs et al., 2014a, Wachs et al., 2014b]. reclaimID allows users to be completely sovereign over their own identities and selectively authorize access to identity attributes using attribute-based encryption (ABE). This approach mitigates the issue of public records in the blockchain that we find in NameID. reclaimID provides a fully decentralized storage and resolution mechanism for identity attributes. It enables relying parties, in our case represented by verifiers, to access identity attributes without interacting with a trusted third party or the user. Like NameID, reclaimID also features an OpenID Connect layer to allow standards-compliant integration into web services but does so without the use of a central server. Instead, client-side software is used to emulate the OpenID Connect service on top the decentralized service infrastructure.

We have decided to integrate ZKlaims into reclaimID due its more decentralized nature and some glaring shortcomings of NameID, such as public attribute records. Given the strict size constraints of proving and verification keys, due to technical constraints of name systems we assume that verification keys must be exchanged out-of-band. However, since the authority over the issuer constraint system – and with it the keys – is the issuer itself and keys can be presumed to rarely change, out-of-band distribution using traditional means such as web servers is feasible. On the other hand, distributing credentials and, more importantly, proofs using any of the above name system-based delivery systems is certainly possible. Users create proofs and authorize verifiers to retrieve and verify them from the name system in an efficient, completely decentralized fashion.

In our implementation, the issuer publishes the ZKlaims constraint system , the verification key and the proving key in GNS. This record is published in a namespace which is owned by the issuer. This allows any prover to retrieve the issuer’s constraint system and proving key and to verify its integrity and use it as inputs in proving and verification procedures. Figure 4 illustrates the integration of ZKlaims with the reclaimID identity provider. The prover shares the proving context including the proof , the proof input and the credential signature with the verifier over reclaimID. This is done by having the prover store the proving context as an attribute record in reclaimID. This attribute is shared with a verifier through an out-of-band authorization protocol such as OpenID Connect. Our reference implementation can be found online as part of the GNUnet peer-to-peer framework333https://gnunet.org/git/gnunet.git/tree/src/zklaim?h=zklaim, accessed 2019/02/13.

5 Related Work

U-Prove is a digital credential technology that allows a prover to selectively disclose claims issued by an issuer to a verifier [Paquin, 2011]. The prover can choose which claims to present to the verifier and which to withhold. Our approach differs from U-Prove in that it allows the prover to create a claim using a predicate without interaction with the issuer. For example, in U-Prove for provers to prove to an issuer that they are “over 18 years old”, they must request this statement as part of a U-Prove token from the issuer. In our design, the prover only requests the attribute – e.g. “is 24 years old” – as claim from the issuer. The prover can use this attribute to create arbitrary proofs using predicates based on this claim such as “is not 20 years old”, “is 24 years old” or “is over 18 years old”.

Identity Mixer (Idemix) is another sophisticated credential system that apart from PP-ABCs also provides anonymity [Camenisch and Van Herreweghen, 2002]. It is already quite mature in that it already includes features such as attribute predicates, revocation and selective disclose of attributes. Further, Idemix allows a verifier to request disclosure of an attribute from the issuer. What Idemix does not feature, is a non-interactivity property. As such, “offline” presentation of a credential to a verifier is not possible by design. What Idemix gains from this restriction, is that a presented proof cannot be re-used by the verifier to, e.g., impersonate the prover using the proof that was presented to them. This feature is only really relevant if the anonymity feature is also desired. Currently, our system does not feature anonymity, so interactive sessions between verifier and prover can be assumed to be authenticated. The prover authentication can then be bound to the credentials in question, for example through an attribute holding their public key.

The authors of UnlimitID, propose the use of algebraic MACs for privacy-preserving credentials [Isaakidis et al., 2016]. They propose a system which allows users to create pseudonyms in order to make it impossible for the IdP to track users across relying parties. UnlimitID supports the selective disclosure of user attributes. However, it does not allow the user to prove the correctness of statements on credentials without disclosing the credential value itself.

6 Summary and Future Work

In this paper we have presented ZKlaims, a design for non-interactive privacy-preserving credentials based on a non-interactive zero-knowledge protocol. We have shown how zkSNARKs can be leveraged for decentralized identity provider services. We conducted performance evaluations of ZKlaims to show that is can be used in practice and where integrators must accommodate for additional resources. Finally, we have integrated our ZKlaims implementation into the decentralized identity provider reclaimID. This means improved privacy for reclaimID users if they choose to share ZKlaims proofs as attributes while at the same time providing relying parties with strong assertions by trusted third parties.

As a next step, we plan to address shortcomings with current authorization protocols such as OpenID Connect with respect to complex credentials such as ZKlaims. OpenID Connect does not specify how relying parties can request special credential types such as certificates, ZKlaims or other third party asserted attributes. This is due to the fact that the protocol was not originally designed to be implemented on top of decentralized infrastructures. However, in the wake of self-sovereign identity systems [Kraft, 2017, Schanzenbach et al., 2018, Sovrin, 2018], this is a challenge in need of further research and development.

In future work we also plan to investigate how ZKlaims can be used in the Internet of Things. Specifically, we plan on investigating how device can disclose metadata such as firmware versions to requesting parties in a minimal way. This could allow services to query large fleets of devices for vulnerable firmware versions without having all devices explicitly disclose the exact versions they run on.


This work was partially funded by the Fraunhofer Cluster Cognitive Internet Technologies.


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