Encryption systems typically rely on the distribution of cipher keys between terminals for scrambling and unscrambling transmitted messages. Elaborate security precautions are necessary to protect the cipher keys since a compromise of the key could result in a compromise of the transmission. There is disclosed a key distribution method and apparatus which uses a channel from identified terminals to a central key distribution center for the establishment, on a one-session basis, of the key which is to be used for the next session between those terminals. The key establishing link is itself encoded using a cipher key which changes after each usage. Provision is made to verify, for each new connection, that a compromise has not priorly occurred.