The Key Schedule in the TLS 1.3 RFC starts like this:

   PSK ->  HKDF-Extract = Early Secret
             +-----> Derive-Secret(., "ext binder" | "res binder", "")
             |                     = binder_key
             +-----> Derive-Secret(., "c e traffic", ClientHello)
             |                     = client_early_traffic_secret
             +-----> Derive-Secret(., "e exp master", ClientHello)
             |                     = early_exporter_master_secret

Later in Section 7.1, the RFC provides guidance on what to use as a substitute value for PSK if a Pre-Shared-Key is not actually used:

   If a given secret is not available, then the 0-value consisting of a
   string of Hash.length bytes set to zeros is used.  Note that this
   does not mean skipping rounds, so if PSK is not in use, Early Secret
   will still be HKDF-Extract(0, 0).

The client_early_traffic_secret and early_exporter_master_secret include a transcript hash of the Client Hello, which includes a Random Number generated by the client. So these two keys will be different for every SSL Session.

However, the binder_key does not include any transcript hash. Which means (by my interpretation), the only values feeding into the binder_key secret are both known by everyone and never change (0 as the starting value, 000...0 as the substitute for PSK, and the constant labels ext binder or res binder).

Am I interpreting that correctly? If so, how is this not a reduction in security that one of the output secret keys of the key schedule never changes?


1 Answer 1


The binder key is used only for the PSK binder, which

forms a binding between a PSK and the current handshake, as well as between the session where the PSK was established and the current session.

Without a previous session to establish a PSK, there's nothing to bind. There's no PSK to bind to the current handshake, and there's no previous session where the PSK was established. So the binder key is constant when not using a PSK, since it's only used to ensure that the client knows the same PSK that the server stored.


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