In public-key cryptography and computer security, a root key ceremony is a procedure where a unique pair of public and private root keys is generated. Depending on the certificate policy, the generation of the root keys may require notarization, legal representation, witnesses and "key holders" to be present, as the information on the system is a responsibility of the parties. A commonly recognized best practice is to follow the SAS 70 standard for root key ceremonies.

At the heart of every certificate authority (CA) is at least one root key or root certificate and usually at least one intermediate root certificate. A root key is a term for a unique passcode that must be generated for secure server interaction with a protective network, usually called the root zone. Prompts for information from this zone can be done through a server. The keys and certificates mentioned are the credentials and safe guards for the system. These digital certificates are made from a public and a private key.


Example A: These passcodes are used for Strong identification and non-repudiation for email and web access

Unless the information being accessed or transmitted is valued in terms of millions of dollars, it is probably sufficient that the root key ceremony be conducted within the security of the vendor's laboratory. The customer may opt to have the root key stored in a hardware security module, but in most cases, the safe storage of the root Key on a CD or hard disk is sufficient. The root key is never stored on the CA server.

Example B: Machine Readable Travel Document [MRTD] ID Card or e Passport

This type of environment requires much higher security. When conducting the root key ceremony, the government or organization will require rigorous security checks to be conducted on all personnel in attendance. Those that are normally required to attend the key ceremony will include a minimum of two administrators from the organization, two signatories from the organization, one lawyer, a notary, and two video camera operators, in addition to the CA software vendor's own technical team.

Example A and B are at opposite ends of the security spectrum and no two environments are the same. Depending on the level of protection required, different levels of security will be used.


The actual root key-pair generation is normally conducted in a secure vault that has no communication or contact with the outside world other than a single telephone line or intercom. Once the vault is secured, all personnel present must prove their identity using at least two legally recognized forms of identification. Every person present, every transaction and every event is logged by the lawyer in a root key ceremony log book and each page is notarized by the notary. From the moment the vault door is closed until it is re-opened, everything is also video recorded. The lawyer and the organization's two signatories must sign the recording and it too is then notarized.

Finally, as part of the above process, the root key is broken into as many as twenty-one parts and each individual part is secured in its own safe for which there is a key and a numerical lock. The keys are distributed to as many as twenty-one people and the numerical code is distributed to another twenty-one people.


The CA vendors and organisations that would implement projects of this nature where conducting a root key ceremony would be a central component of their service would be organisations like, for example; RSA, VeriSign and Digi-Sign.

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