Encrypted Web Documents

There are many options these days for securely sharing sensitive data, but they typically require some kind of shared infrastructure. Sometimes all you can rely on is the web.

Say you’ve acquired an almanac from the future and want to share it with a select group of people. You could use a secure messenger or S/MIME e-mail, perhaps employ a cloud service or write your own CGI script, or just create an encrypted file archive (careful though).

However, all of that requires some kinda setup and agreement among trustees. Web browsers, on the other hand, can often be considered ubiquitous – so let’s apply what we’ve learned about web crypto and DOM manipulation to create a self-contained alternative:

This example is just a single HTML file, containing two distinct documents: The “Document Vault” decryption interface – a small client-side form accompanied by CSS and JavaScript – as well as our secret almanac. The latter is encrypted and resides within a <template>, thus starting out inert; the decryption interface’s job is to decrypt and display that embedded document.

(I use a command-line script for generating such vaults.)


All the security caveats from Client-Side Secrets with Web Crypto apply here just the same. There’s no protection against brute-force attacks either.

<form method="dialog">
        <input type="password" name="password" required>


Let’s hook into the submit event to trigger decryption:

let SRC = document.querySelector("template").content.textContent.trim();

document.querySelector("form").addEventListener("submit", async ev => {
    let form = ev.target;
    let msg = form.querySelector("output");
    msg.innerHTML = ""; // reset previous error, if any

    let password = new FormData(form).get("password");
    try {
        var html = await decrypt(SRC, password);
    } catch(err) {
        msg.innerHTML = `
<p class="error">Decryption failed; password might be incorrect?</p>

    // replace current document; cf. <https://prepitaph.org/articles/html2dom/>
    let doc = new DOMParser().parseFromString(html, "text/html");
    document.documentElement.innerHTML = doc.documentElement.innerHTML;
    for(let el of document.querySelectorAll("script")) { // evaluate
        let frag = document.createRange().

I’ve omitted the decrypt implementation here; it’s essentially identical to the web-crypto demo’s. View source for details.

One might also consider using <iframe> or <dialog> instead of replacing the host document, but this proved to be the most straightforward approach.

Of course you’d still need a way to transmit both the HTML file and the corresponding password to your trustees, ideally via separate and secure channels. But apart from that, here we have a web-native document that only requires recipients to have a reasonably modern, JavaScript-enabled browser.