Your company here — click to reach over 10,000 unique daily visitors

apt-secure - Man Page

Archive authentication support for APT


Starting with version 0.6, APT contains code that does signature checking of the Release file for all repositories. This ensures that data like packages in the archive can't be modified by people who have no access to the Release file signing key. Starting with version 1.1 APT requires repositories to provide recent authentication information for unimpeded usage of the repository. Since version 1.5 changes in the information contained in the Release file about the repository need to be confirmed before APT continues to apply updates from this repository.

Note: All APT-based package management front-ends like apt-get(8), aptitude(8) and synaptic(8) support this authentication feature, so this manpage uses APT to refer to them all for simplicity only.

Unsigned Repositories

If an archive has an unsigned Release file or no Release file at all current APT versions will refuse to download data from them by default in update operations and even if forced to download front-ends like apt-get(8) will require explicit confirmation if an installation request includes a package from such an unauthenticated archive.

You can force all APT clients to raise only warnings by setting the configuration option Acquire::AllowInsecureRepositories to true. Individual repositories can also be allowed to be insecure via the sources.list(5) option allow-insecure=yes. Note that insecure repositories are strongly discouraged and all options to force apt to continue supporting them will eventually be removed. Users also have the Trusted option available to disable even the warnings, but be sure to understand the implications as detailed in sources.list(5).

A repository which previously was authenticated but would loose this state in an update operation raises an error in all APT clients irrespective of the option to allow or forbid usage of insecure repositories. The error can be overcome by additionally setting Acquire::AllowDowngradeToInsecureRepositories to true or for Individual repositories with the sources.list(5) option allow-downgrade-to-insecure=yes.

Signed Repositories

The chain of trust from an APT archive to the end user is made up of several steps. apt-secure is the last step in this chain; trusting an archive does not mean that you trust its packages not to contain malicious code, but means that you trust the archive maintainer. It's the archive maintainer's responsibility to ensure that the archive's integrity is preserved.

apt-secure does not review signatures at a package level. If you require tools to do this you should look at debsig-verify and debsign (provided in the debsig-verify and devscripts packages respectively).

The chain of trust in Debian starts (e.g.) when a maintainer uploads a new package or a new version of a package to the Debian archive. In order to become effective, this upload needs to be signed by a key contained in one of the Debian package maintainer keyrings (available in the debian-keyring package). Maintainers' keys are signed by other maintainers following pre-established procedures to ensure the identity of the key holder. Similar procedures exist in all Debian-based distributions.

Once the uploaded package is verified and included in the archive, the maintainer signature is stripped off, and checksums of the package are computed and put in the Packages file. The checksums of all of the Packages files are then computed and put into the Release file. The Release file is then signed by the archive key for this Debian release, and distributed alongside the packages and the Packages files on Debian mirrors. The keys are in the Debian archive keyring available in the debian-archive-keyring package.

End users can check the signature of the Release file, extract a checksum of a package from it and compare it with the checksum of the package they downloaded by hand - or rely on APT doing this automatically.

Notice that this is distinct from checking signatures on a per package basis. It is designed to prevent two possible attacks:

However, it does not defend against a compromise of the master server itself (which signs the packages) or against a compromise of the key used to sign the Release files. In any case, this mechanism can complement a per-package signature.

Information Changes

A Release file contains beside the checksums for the files in the repository also general information about the repository like the origin, codename or version number of the release.

This information is shown in various places so a repository owner should always ensure correctness. Further more user configuration like apt_preferences(5) can depend and make use of this information. Since version 1.5 the user must therefore explicitly confirm changes to signal that the user is sufficiently prepared e.g. for the new major release of the distribution shipped in the repository (as e.g. indicated by the codename).

User Configuration

apt-key is the program that manages the list of keys used by APT to trust repositories. It can be used to add or remove keys as well as list the trusted keys. Limiting which key(s) are able to sign which archive is possible via the Signed-By in sources.list(5).

Note that a default installation already contains all keys to securely acquire packages from the default repositories, so fiddling with apt-key is only needed if third-party repositories are added.

In order to add a new key you need to first download it (you should make sure you are using a trusted communication channel when retrieving it), add it with apt-key and then run apt-get update so that apt can download and verify the InRelease or Release.gpg files from the archives you have configured.

Repository Configuration

If you want to provide archive signatures in an archive under your maintenance you have to:

Whenever the contents of the archive change (new packages are added or removed) the archive maintainer has to follow the first two steps outlined above.

See Also

apt.conf(5), apt-get(8), sources.list(5), apt-key(8), apt-ftparchive(1), debsign(1), debsig-verify(1), gpg(1)

For more background information you might want to review the Debian Security Infrastructure[1] chapter of the Securing Debian Manual (also available in the harden-doc package) and the Strong Distribution HOWTO[2] by V. Alex Brennen.


APT bug page[3]. If you wish to report a bug in APT, please see /usr/share/doc/debian/bug-reporting.txt or the reportbug(1) command.


APT was written by the APT team <apt@packages.debian.org>.

Manpage Authors

This man-page is based on the work of Javier Fernández-Sanguino Peña, Isaac Jones, Colin Walters, Florian Weimer and Michael Vogt.


Jason Gunthorpe

APT team


  1. Debian Security Infrastructure
  2. Strong Distribution HOWTO
  3. APT bug page

Referenced By

apt-cache(8), apt.conf(5), apt-get(8), apt-key(8), apt-transport-http(1), sources.list(5).

06 August 2016 APT 2.9.2