Round 2 post-quantum TLS is now supported in AWS KMS

AWS Key Management Service (AWS KMS) now supports three new hybrid post-quantum key exchange algorithms for the Transport Layer Security (TLS) 1.2 encryption protocol that’s used when connecting to AWS KMS API endpoints. These new hybrid post-quantum algorithms combine the proven security of a classical key exchange with the potential quantum-safe properties of new post-quantum key exchanges undergoing evaluation for standardization. The fastest of these algorithms adds approximately 0.3 milliseconds of overheard compared to a classical TLS handshake. The new post-quantum key exchange algorithms added are Round 2 versions of Kyber, Bit Flipping Key Encapsulation (BIKE), and Supersingular Isogeny Key Encapsulation (SIKE). Each organization has submitted their algorithms to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as part of NIST’s post-quantum cryptography standardization process. This process spans several rounds of evaluation over multiple years, and is likely to continue beyond 2021.

In our previous hybrid post-quantum TLS blog post, we announced that AWS KMS had launched hybrid post-quantum TLS 1.2 with Round 1 versions of BIKE and SIKE. The Round 1 post-quantum algorithms are still supported by AWS KMS, but at a lower priority than the Round 2 algorithms. You can choose to upgrade your client to enable negotiation of Round 2 algorithms.

Why post-quantum TLS is important

A large-scale quantum computer would be able to break the current public-key cryptography that’s used for key exchange in classical TLS connections. While a large-scale quantum computer isn’t available today, it’s still important to think about and plan for your long-term security needs. TLS traffic using classical algorithms recorded today could be decrypted by a large-scale quantum computer in the future. If you’re developing applications that rely on the long-term confidentiality of data passed over a TLS connection, you should consider a plan to migrate to post-quantum cryptography before the lifespan of the sensitivity of your data would be susceptible to an unauthorized user with a large-scale quantum computer. As an example, this means that if you believe that a large-scale quantum computer is 25 years away, and your data must be secure for 20 years, you should migrate to post-quantum schemes within the next 5 years. AWS is working to prepare for this future, and we want you to be prepared too.

We’re offering this feature now instead of waiting for standardization efforts to be complete so you have a way to measure the potential performance impact to your applications. Offering this feature now also gives you the protection afforded by the proposed post-quantum schemes today. While we believe that the use of this feature raises the already high security bar for connecting to AWS KMS endpoints, these new cipher suites will impact bandwidth utilization and latency. However, using these new algorithms could also create connection failures for intermediate systems that proxy TLS connections. We’d like to get feedback from you on the effectiveness of our implementation or any issues found so we can improve it over time.

Hybrid post-quantum TLS 1.2

Hybrid post-quantum TLS is a feature that provides the security protections of both the classical and post-quantum key exchange algorithms in a single TLS handshake. Figure 1 shows the differences in the connection secret derivation process between classical and hybrid post-quantum TLS 1.2. Hybrid post-quantum TLS 1.2 has three major differences from classical TLS 1.2:

  • The negotiated post-quantum key is appended to the ECDHE key before being used as the hash-based message authentication code (HMAC) key.
  • The text hybrid in its ASCII representation is prepended to the beginning of the HMAC message.
  • The entire client key exchange message from the TLS handshake is appended to the end of the HMAC message.
Figure 1: Differences in the connection secret derivation process between classical and hybrid post-quantum TLS 1.2

Figure 1: Differences in the connection secret derivation process between classical and hybrid post-quantum TLS 1.2

Some background on post-quantum TLS

Today, all requests to AWS KMS use TLS with key exchange algorithms that provide perfect forward secrecy and use one of the following classical schemes:

While existing FFDHE and ECDHE schemes use perfect forward secrecy to protect against the compromise of the server’s long-term secret key, these schemes don’t protect against large-scale quantum computers. In the future, a sufficiently capable large-scale quantum computer could run Shor’s Algorithm to recover the TLS session key of a recorded classical session, and thereby gain access to the data inside. Using a post-quantum key exchange algorithm during the TLS handshake protects against attacks from a large-scale quantum computer.

The possibility of large-scale quantum computing has spurred the development of new quantum-resistant cryptographic algorithms. NIST has started the process of standardizing post-quantum key encapsulation mechanisms (KEMs). A KEM is a type of key exchange that’s used to establish a shared symmetric key. AWS has chosen three NIST KEM submissions to adopt in our post-quantum efforts:

Hybrid mode ensures that the negotiated key is as strong as the weakest key agreement scheme. If one of the schemes is broken, the communications remain confidential. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) Hybrid Post-Quantum Key Encapsulation Methods for Transport Layer Security 1.2 draft describes how to combine post-quantum KEMs with ECDHE to create new cipher suites for TLS 1.2.

These cipher suites use a hybrid key exchange that performs two independent key exchanges during the TLS handshake. The key exchange then cryptographically combines the keys from each into a single TLS session key. This strategy combines the proven security of a classical key exchange with the potential quantum-safe properties of new post-quantum key exchanges being analyzed by NIST.

The effect of hybrid post-quantum TLS on performance

Post-quantum cipher suites have a different performance profile and bandwidth usage from traditional cipher suites. AWS has measured bandwidth and latency across 2,000 TLS handshakes between an Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) C5n.4xlarge client and the public AWS KMS endpoint, which were both in the us-west-2 Region. Your own performance characteristics might differ, and will depend on your environment, including your:

  • Hardware–CPU speed and number of cores.
  • Existing workloads–how often you call AWS KMS and what other work your application performs.
  • Network–location and capacity.

The following graphs and table show latency measurements performed by AWS for all newly supported Round 2 post-quantum algorithms, in addition to the classical ECDHE key exchange algorithm currently used by most customers.

Figure 2 shows the latency differences of all hybrid post-quantum algorithms compared with classical ECDHE alone, and shows that compared to ECDHE alone, SIKE adds approximately 101 milliseconds of overhead, BIKE adds approximately 9.5 milliseconds of overhead, and Kyber adds approximately 0.3 milliseconds of overhead.

Figure 2: TLS handshake latency at varying percentiles for four key exchange algorithms

Figure 2: TLS handshake latency at varying percentiles for four key exchange algorithms

Figure 3 shows the latency differences between ECDHE with Kyber, and ECDHE alone. The addition of Kyber adds approximately 0.3 milliseconds of overhead.

Figure 3: TLS handshake latency at varying percentiles, with only top two performing key exchange algorithms

Figure 3: TLS handshake latency at varying percentiles, with only top two performing key exchange algorithms

The following table shows the total amount of data (in bytes) needed to complete the TLS handshake for each cipher suite, the average latency, and latency at varying percentiles. All measurements were gathered from 2,000 TLS handshakes. The time was measured on the client from the start of the handshake until the handshake was completed, and includes all network transfer time. All connections used RSA authentication with a 2048-bit key, and ECDHE used the secp256r1 curve. All hybrid post-quantum tests used the NIST Round 2 versions. The Kyber test used the Kyber-512 parameter, the BIKE test used the BIKE-1 Level 1 parameter, and the SIKE test used the SIKEp434 parameter.

Item Bandwidth
ECDHE (classic) 3,574 2,000 3.08 2.07 3.02 3.95 4.71
ECDHE + Kyber R2 5,898 2,000 3.36 2.38 3.17 4.28 5.35
ECDHE + BIKE R2 12,456 2,000 14.91 11.59 14.16 18.27 23.58
ECDHE + SIKE R2 4,628 2,000 112.40 103.22 108.87 126.80 146.56

By default, the AWS SDK client performs a TLS handshake once to set up a new TLS connection, and then reuses that TLS connection for multiple requests. This means that the increased cost of a hybrid post-quantum TLS handshake is amortized over multiple requests sent over the TLS connection. You should take the amortization into account when evaluating the overall additional cost of using post-quantum algorithms; otherwise performance data could be skewed.

AWS KMS has chosen Kyber Round 2 to be KMS’s highest prioritized post-quantum algorithm, with BIKE Round 2, and SIKE Round 2 next in priority order for post-quantum algorithms. This is because Kyber’s performance is closest to the classical ECDHE performance that most AWS KMS customers are using today and are accustomed to.

How to use hybrid post-quantum cipher suites

To use the post-quantum cipher suites with AWS KMS, you need the preview release of the AWS Common Runtime (CRT) HTTP client for the AWS SDK for Java 2.x. Also, you will need to configure the AWS CRT HTTP client to use the s2n post-quantum hybrid cipher suites. Post-quantum TLS for AWS KMS is available in all AWS Regions except for AWS GovCloud (US-East), AWS GovCloud (US-West), AWS China (Beijing) Region operated by Beijing Sinnet Technology Co. Ltd (“Sinnet”), and AWS China (Ningxia) Region operated by Ningxia Western Cloud Data Technology Co. Ltd. (“NWCD”). Since NIST has not yet standardized post-quantum cryptography, connections that require Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) compliance cannot use the hybrid key exchange. For example, kms.<region> supports the use of post-quantum cipher suites, while kms-fips.<region> does not.

  1. If you’re using the AWS SDK for Java 2.x, you must add the preview release of the AWS Common Runtime client to your Maven dependencies.
    <dependency> <groupId></groupId> <artifactId>aws-crt-client</artifactId> <version>2.14.13-PREVIEW</version>

  2. You then must configure the new SDK and cipher suite in the existing initialization code of your application:
    if(!TLS_CIPHER_PREF_KMS_PQ_TLSv1_0_2020_07.isSupported()){ throw new RuntimeException("Post Quantum Ciphers not supported on this Platform");
    } SdkAsyncHttpClient awsCrtHttpClient = AwsCrtAsyncHttpClient.builder() .tlsCipherPreference(TLS_CIPHER_PREF_KMS_PQ_TLSv1_0_2020_07) .build(); KmsAsyncClient kms = KmsAsyncClient.builder() .httpClient(awsCrtHttpClient) .build(); ListKeysResponse response = kms.listKeys().get();

Now, all connections made to AWS KMS in supported Regions will use the new hybrid post-quantum cipher suites! To see a complete example of everything set up, check out the example application here.

Things to try

Here are some ideas about how to use this post-quantum-enabled client:

  • Run load tests and benchmarks. These new cipher suites perform differently than traditional key exchange algorithms. You might need to adjust your connection timeouts to allow for the longer handshake times or, if you’re running inside an AWS Lambda function, extend the execution timeout setting.
  • Try connecting from different locations. Depending on the network path your request takes, you might discover that intermediate hosts, proxies, or firewalls with deep packet inspection (DPI) block the request. This could be due to the new cipher suites in the ClientHello or the larger key exchange messages. If this is the case, you might need to work with your security team or IT administrators to update the relevant configuration to unblock the new TLS cipher suites. We’d like to hear from you about how your infrastructure interacts with this new variant of TLS traffic. If you have questions or feedback, please start a new thread on the AWS KMS discussion forum.


In this blog post, I announced support for Round 2 hybrid post-quantum algorithms in AWS KMS, and showed you how to begin experimenting with hybrid post-quantum key exchange algorithms for TLS when connecting to AWS KMS endpoints.

More info

If you’d like to learn more about post-quantum cryptography check out:

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Alex Weibel

Alex is a Senior Software Engineer on the AWS Crypto Algorithms team. He’s one of the maintainers for Amazon’s TLS Library s2n. Previously, Alex worked on TLS termination and request proxying for S3 and the Elastic Load Balancing Service developing new features for customers. Alex holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from the University of Texas at Austin.