JEP 452: Key Encapsulation Mechanism API

OwnerWeijun Wang
StatusClosed / Delivered
Componentsecurity-libs / javax.crypto
Discussionsecurity dash dev at openjdk dot org
Reviewed byAlan Bateman, Sean Mullan
Endorsed bySean Mullan
Created2023/01/25 03:48
Updated2024/04/23 15:08


Introduce an API for key encapsulation mechanisms (KEMs), an encryption technique for securing symmetric keys using public key cryptography.




Key encapsulation is a modern cryptographic technique that secures symmetric keys using asymmetric or public key cryptography. The traditional technique for doing so is to encrypt a randomly generated symmetric key with a public key, but that requires padding and can be difficult to prove secure. A key encapsulation mechanism (KEM) instead uses properties of the public key to derive a related symmetric key, which requires no padding.

The concept of a KEM was introduced by Crammer and Shoup in §7.1 of Design and Analysis of Practical Public-Key Encryption Schemes Secure against Adaptive Chosen Ciphertext Attack. Shoup later proposed it as an ISO standard in §3.1 of A Proposal for an ISO Standard for Public Key Encryption. It was accepted as ISO 18033-2 and published in May 2006.

KEMs are a building block of Hybrid Public Key Encryption (HPKE). The NIST Post-Quantum Cryptography (PQC) standardization process explicitly calls for KEMs and digital signature algorithms to be evaluated as candidates for the next generation of standard public key cryptography algorithms. The Diffie-Hellman key exchange step in TLS 1.3 can also be modeled as a KEM.

KEMs will be an important tool for defending against quantum attacks. None of the existing cryptographic APIs in the Java Platform is capable of representing KEMs in a natural way (see below). Implementors of third-party security providers have already expressed a need for a standard KEM API. It is time to add one to the Java Platform.


A KEM consists of three functions:

The key pair generation function is covered by the existing KeyPairGenerator API. We define a new class, KEM, for the encapsulation and decapsulation functions:

package javax.crypto;

public class DecapsulateException extends GeneralSecurityException;

public final class KEM {

    public static KEM getInstance(String alg)
        throws NoSuchAlgorithmException;
    public static KEM getInstance(String alg, Provider p)
        throws NoSuchAlgorithmException;
    public static KEM getInstance(String alg, String p)
        throws NoSuchAlgorithmException, NoSuchProviderException;

    public static final class Encapsulated {
        public Encapsulated(SecretKey key, byte[] encapsulation, byte[] params);
        public SecretKey key();
        public byte[] encapsulation();
        public byte[] params();

    public static final class Encapsulator {
        String providerName();
        int secretSize();           // Size of the shared secret
        int encapsulationSize();    // Size of the key encapsulation message
        Encapsulated encapsulate();
        Encapsulated encapsulate(int from, int to, String algorithm);

    public Encapsulator newEncapsulator(PublicKey pk)
            throws InvalidKeyException;
    public Encapsulator newEncapsulator(PublicKey pk, SecureRandom sr)
            throws InvalidKeyException;
    public Encapsulator newEncapsulator(PublicKey pk, AlgorithmParameterSpec spec,
                                        SecureRandom sr)
            throws InvalidAlgorithmParameterException, InvalidKeyException;

    public static final class Decapsulator {
        String providerName();
        int secretSize();           // Size of the shared secret
        int encapsulationSize();    // Size of the key encapsulation message
        SecretKey decapsulate(byte[] encapsulation) throws DecapsulateException;
        SecretKey decapsulate(byte[] encapsulation, int from, int to,
                              String algorithm)
                throws DecapsulateException;

    public Decapsulator newDecapsulator(PrivateKey sk)
            throws InvalidKeyException;
    public Decapsulator newDecapsulator(PrivateKey sk, AlgorithmParameterSpec spec)
            throws InvalidAlgorithmParameterException, InvalidKeyException;


The getInstance methods create a new KEM object that implements the specified algorithm.

The sender calls one of the newEncapsulator methods. These methods take the receiver's public key and return an Encapsulator object. The sender can then call one of that object's two encapsulate methods to get an Encapsulated object, which contains a SecretKey and a key encapsulation message. The encapsulate() method returns a key containing the full shared secret, with an algorithm name of "Generic". This key is usually passed to a key derivation function. The encapsulate(from, to, algorithm) method returns a key whose key material is a sub-array of the shared secret, with the given algorithm name.

The receiver calls one of the newDecapsulator methods. These methods take the receiver's private key and return a Decapsulator object. The receiver can then call one of that object's two decapsulate methods, which take the received key encapsulation message and return the shared secret. The decapsulate(encapsulation) method returns the full shared secret with a "Generic" algorithm, while the decapsulate(encapsulation, from, to, algorithm) method returns a key with the user-specified key material and algorithm.

A KEM algorithm can define an AlgorithmParameterSpec subclass to provide additional information to the full newEncapsulator method. This is especially useful if the same key can be used to derive shared secrets in different ways. Instances of an AlgorithmParameterSpec subclass should be immutable. If any of the information inside an AlgorithmParameterSpec object needs to be transmitted along with the key encapsulation message so that the receiver is able to create a matching decapsulator then it will be included as a byte array in the params field inside the Encapsulated result. In that case, the security provider should provide an AlgorithmParameters implementation using the same algorithm name as the KEM. The receiver can initiate such an AlgorithmParameters instance with the received params byte array and recover an AlgorithmParameterSpec object to be used when it calls the newDecapsulator method.

Multiple concurrent invocations of the encapsulate or decapsulate methods of a particular Encapsulator or Decapsulator object, respectively, should be safe. Each invocation of an encapsulate method should generate a new shared secret and encapsulation.

Here is an example using a hypothetical "ABC" KEM. Before the key encapsulation and decapsulation, the receiver generates an "ABC" key pair and publishes the public key.

// Receiver side
KeyPairGenerator g = KeyPairGenerator.getInstance("ABC");
KeyPair kp = g.generateKeyPair();

// Sender side
KEM kemS = KEM.getInstance("ABC-KEM");
PublicKey pkR = retrieveKey();
ABCKEMParameterSpec specS = new ABCKEMParameterSpec(...);
KEM.Encapsulator e = kemS.newEncapsulator(pkR, specS, null);
KEM.Encapsulated enc = e.encapsulate();
SecretKey secS = enc.key();

// Receiver side
byte[] em = receiveBytes();
byte[] params = receiveBytes();
KEM kemR = KEM.getInstance("ABC-KEM");
AlgorithmParameters algParams = AlgorithmParameters.getInstance("ABC-KEM");
ABCKEMParameterSpec specR = algParams.getParameterSpec(ABCKEMParameterSpec.class);
KEM.Decapsulator d = kemR.newDecapsulator(kp.getPrivate(), specR);
SecretKey secR = d.decapsulate(em);

// secS and secR will be identical

KEM configurations

A single KEM algorithm can have multiple configurations. Each configuration can accept different types of public or private keys, use different methods to derive the shared secrets, and emit different key encapsulation messages. Each configuration should map to a specific algorithm that creates a fixed size shared secret and a fixed size key encapsulation message. The configuration should be unambiguously determined by three pieces of information:

For example, the Kyber family of KEMs could have a single algorithm named "Kyber", but the implementation could support different configurations based on key types, e.g., Kyber-512, Kyber-768, and Kyber-1024.

Another example is the RSA-KEM family of KEMs. The algorithm name could simply be "RSA-KEM", but the implementation could support different configurations based on different RSA key sizes and different key derivation function (KDF) settings. The different KDF settings could be conveyed via an RSAKEMParameterSpec object.

In both cases, the configuration can only be determined after one of the newEncapsulator or newDecapsulator methods is called.

Delayed provider selection

The provider chosen for a given KEM algorithm can depend not only upon the name of the algorithm passed to a getInstance method but also upon the key passed to a newEncapsulator or newDecapsulator method. The selection of the provider is thus delayed until one of those methods is called, just as in other cryptographic APIs such as Cipher and KeyAgreement.

Each call of a newEncapsulator or newDecapsulator method can select a different provider. You can discover which provider is selected via the providerName() methods of the Encapsulator and Decapsulator classes.

The encapsulationSize() methods

Some higher-level protocols concatenate key encapsulation messages with other data directly, without providing any length information. For example, Hybrid TLS Key Exchange concatenates two key encapsulation messages into a single key_exchange field, and RSA-KEM concatenates the key encapsulation message with the wrapped keying data. These protocols assume that the length of the key encapsulation message is fixed and well-known once the KEM configuration is fixed. We provide the encapsulationSize() methods to retrieve the size of the key encapsulation message in case an application needs to extract the key encapsulation message from such concatenated data.

Shared secrets might not be extractable

All existing KEM implementations return shared secrets in a byte array. However, a Java security provider might be backed by a native-code implementation and the shared secret might not be extractable. Therefore it is not always possible to return the shared secret in a byte array. For that reason, the encapsulate and decapsulate methods always return the shared secret in a SecretKey object.

If the key is extractable, the format of the key must be "RAW" and its getEncoded() method must return either the full shared secret or the slice of the shared secret specified by the from and to parameters of an extended encapsulate or decapsulate method.

If the key is not extractable, the key's getFormat() and getEncoded() methods must return null even though internally the key material is either the full shared secret or a slice of the shared secret.

The KEM service provider interface (SPI)

A KEM implementation must implement the KEMSpi interface:

package javax.crypto;

public interface KEMSpi {

    interface EncapsulatorSpi {
        int engineSecretSize();
        int engineEncapsulationSize();
        KEM.Encapsulated engineEncapsulate(int from, int to, String algorithm);

    interface DecapsulatorSpi {
        int engineSecretSize();
        int engineEncapsulationSize();
        SecretKey engineDecapsulate(byte[] encapsulation, int from, int to,
                                    String algorithm)
                throws DecapsulateException;

    EncapsulatorSpi engineNewEncapsulator(PublicKey pk, AlgorithmParameterSpec spec,
                                          SecureRandom sr)
            throws InvalidAlgorithmParameterException, InvalidKeyException;
    DecapsulatorSpi engineNewDecapsulator(PrivateKey sk, AlgorithmParameterSpec spec)
            throws InvalidAlgorithmParameterException, InvalidKeyException;


An implementation must implement the EncapsulatorSpi and DecapsulatorSpi interfaces, and return objects of these types from the engineNewEncapsulator and engineNewDecapsulator methods of its KEMSpi implementation. Calls to the secretSize, encapsulationSize, encapsulate, and decapsulate methods of Encapsulator and Decapsulator objects are delegated to the engineSecretSize, engineEncapsulationSize, engineEncapsulate, and engineDecapsulate methods in the EncapsulatorSpi and DecapsulatorSpi implementations.

An implementation of the engineEncapsulate and engineDecapsulate methods must be able to encapsulate or decapsulate keys with a "Generic" algorithm, a from value of 0, and a to value of the shared secret’s length. Otherwise, it can throw an UnsupportedOperationException if the combination of arguments is not supported because, e.g., the algorithm name cannot be mapped to an internal key type, the size of the key does not match the algorithm, or the implementation does not support slicing the shared secret freely.

Future Work

Encryption options

ISO 18033-2 defines an encryption option for the encapsulate function because some asymmetric ciphers allow scheme-specific options to be passed to the encryption algorithm. However, this option is not mentioned in either RFC 9180 or NIST's PQC KEM API Notes, so we do not include it here. If a compelling case for an algorithm that requires this option arises then a future enhancement could introduce another overload of the encapsulate method that allows the inclusion of algorithm-specific parameters.

AuthEncap and AuthDecap functions

RFC 9180 defines two optional KEM functions, AuthEncap and AuthDecap, which allow the sender to provide its own private key during the encapsulation process so that the receiver can be assured that the shared secret was generated by the holder of that private key. However, these two functions do not appear in any other KEM definitions, so we do not include them here. Support for these functions could be added in a future enhancement.


Use existing APIs

We considered using the existing KeyGenerator, KeyAgreement, and Cipher APIs to represent KEMs, but each of them has significant issues. Either they don't support the required feature set, or the API does not match the KEM functions.

In short, each of these alternatives would be a hack to work around an API that was not designed to represent a KEM. Extra classes and methods would be required, and the implementations would be complex and fragile. Without a standard KEM API, security providers are likely to implement KEMs in inconsistent and awkward ways which will be difficult for developers to use.

Include a key pair generation function

All KEM definitions contain a key pair generation function. We could have included such a function in the KEM API, but we chose not to do so since the existing KeyPairGenerator API was specifically designed for this purpose. Including an identical function in the KEM API could lead to confusion for provider implementors and for developers.


We will add conformance tests on input, output, and exceptions, and the DHKEM known-answer tests from RFC 9180.