Cryptographic Deniability: A Multi-perspective Study of User Perceptions and Expectations


Tarun Kumar Yadav, Brigham Young University; Devashish Gosain, KU Leuven; Kent Seamons, Brigham Young University


Cryptographic deniability allows a sender to deny authoring a message. However, it requires social and legal acceptance to be effective. Although popular secure messaging apps support deniability, security experts are divided on whether it should be the default property for these applications. This paper presents a multi-perspective, multi-methods study of user perceptions and expectations of deniability. The methodology includes (1) qualitative analysis of expert opinions obtained from a public forum on deniability, (2) qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews of US participants, (3) quantitative analysis of a survey (n=664) of US participants, and (4) qualitative and quantitative analysis of US court cases with help from a legal expert to understand the legal standpoint of deniability. The results show that deniability is not socially accepted, and most users prefer non-repudiation. We found no US court cases involving WhatApp that consider deniability. Significant human-centered research is needed before deniability can adequately protect vulnerable users.

Open Access Media

USENIX is committed to Open Access to the research presented at our events. Papers and proceedings are freely available to everyone once the event begins. Any video, audio, and/or slides that are posted after the event are also free and open to everyone. Support USENIX and our commitment to Open Access.

@inproceedings {291229,
author = {Tarun Kumar Yadav and Devashish Gosain and Kent Seamons},
title = {Cryptographic Deniability: A Multi-perspective Study of User Perceptions and Expectations},
booktitle = {32nd USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 23)},
year = {2023},
isbn = {978-1-939133-37-3},
address = {Anaheim, CA},
pages = {3637--3654},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug

Presentation Video