Re: /dev/random on Linux

From: Theodore Tso
Date: Wed May 17 2006 - 17:32:57 EST

Upon re-reading my response, I found a number of typo's that may have
obscured the meaning of my message:

On Tue, May 16, 2006 at 04:17:49PM -0400, Theodore Tso wrote:
> On Tue, May 16, 2006 at 04:54:00PM +0300, Zvi Gutterman wrote:
> >
> > I did not get any answer from Matt and was sure that it was of no interest.
> > This was my mistake, sorry for not sending it earlier to more people.
> Note that Matt toke over maintainance from me, but I was the original
> designer of most of the /dev/random algorithms (with much help from
> Colin Plumb). I haven't had time to do a full analysis of the paper,
> but let me give a couple comments to set the context.
> First of all, the Linux /dev/random generator has been around for a
> long time; I did the original implementation back in 1994, back when
> the crypto iron curtain was still being maintained by the US
> Government. (As far as I know, the Linux /dev/random driver was the
> first OS-based RNG and predates efforts present in other systems such
> as OpenBSD, et. al. Not being an academic trying to get tenure, I
> never bothered to write a paper back in '94, so I guess that means I
> don't get any credit, which is probably fair if you're playing the
> academic game. Publish or perish, after all. :-) In any case,
> because of the U.S. export controls on cryptographic algorithms at
> that time, in particular anything relating to encryption algorithms, I
> chose to use cryptogaphic hashes as its primary non-linear component,
> since these were not problematic from an export control perspective.
> In addition, the design philosophy is somewhat different from what has
> been considered the general wisdom at least in academic circles.
> First of all, as noted above, export controls were a major issue. In
> addition, in that time period, flaws in MD4 and MD5 were coming to
> light, and it was clear that some cryptographic algorithms provided by
> the US government (in particular, DSA) were deliberately designed to
> prevent their usefulness in anything other than their released context
> (i.e., There are many who believe that one of the DSA primary design
> criteria was that it could only be used for digital signatures, and
> *not* provide encryption functionality). So one of the key design
> criteria was that /dev/random use its cryptographic primitives in ways
> that were non-brittle --- that is, even if the primary use of that
> cryptographic primitive were compromised (e.g., the recent collision
> attacks against SHA-1), the security of the system would not be
> compromised.
> One of the reasons why I did not choose a construction such as Bruce
> Schneier's Yarrow, which encrypts an incrementing counter as its
> output stage, is that repeated encryptions of plaintexts that have
> differ from each other by a small hamming distance is one of the
> things that cryptographers look for when attacking a cipher. Maybe
> modern encryption systems are so good that we don't have to worry
> about such things any more (and certainly most academic papers ignore
> such engineering considerations), but I like to take a much more
> humble attitude towards making such assumptions, since I *know* the
> cryptographers at the NSA know more than I do, and underestimating
> them or any other state-sponsored cryptoanalytic organization is
> generally not a good idea. In any case, while if AES is perfect, yes,
> using a key to encrypt a counter might be probably good enough --- but
> I'm not sure I want to make that assumption.
> Secondly, attacks that assume that the attacker can obtain the
> contents of the pool were not a major consideration, mainly because
> practically speaking, if an attacker can obtain the contents of the
> internal state of the RNG, the attacker generally has enough
> privileges that the entire system has been compromised, meaning that
> the system can be rooted to a fare-thee-well --- all future session
> keys and data to be encrypted can then be collected, etc. So attacks
> of the form, "assume that the attack gains access to the pool, but has
> no other illicit access to the system" are particularly practical in
are NOT particularly
> the real world, and are mostly of concern to academics.
> This is particularly tree of the criteria put forward by the designers
> of the Yarrow RNG, where they were concerned about how quickly the RNG
> could recover after the pool state got compromised. My argument was
> always that if an attacker had enough privileges to compromise the
> internal state of the RNG, in the real world, recovery would require
> re-installing from trusted media.
> The desire for forward security is different, admittedly; here the
> concern is that if the system has already been compromised, you don't
> want to make it easy the attacker to find previously generated session
> keys or even long-term keys. However, it should be noted that it
> takes O(2**64) operations to go back a single turn of the crank--- but
> that only helps you get the last 10 bytes (80 bits) that were last
> generated. In order to get the next 80 bits, you have to do another
> O(2**64) amount of work, and sooner or later (within 18 turns of the
> crank, best case) you will run into one of the "unlucky" indexes where
> it will take you at least O(2**96) of work effort. To put this in
> perspective, generating a 1024 bit RSA key will require approximately
> 14 turns of the crank, so if you are lucky with the positioning of the
> index *and* you penetrate the machine and capture the state of the
> pool (which as I mentioned, probably means you've rooted the box and
> the system will probably have to be reinstalled from trusted media
> anyway), *and* a 1024-bit RSA key had just been generated, you would
> be able to determine that 1024-bit RSA key with a work factor of
> approximately O(2**68) if you are lucky (probability 1 in 8), and
> O(2**96) if you are not. Should we try do better, sure, but this is
> not the sort of thing where you have to keep a secret and only talk to
> the official maintainer about it.
> I would also note that one of the things Matt did after he took over
> maintainership from me is that he took out a call to
> add_timer_randomness() from the extract entropy code. This bit of
> code would have also significantly complicated practical attacks on
> backtracking attacks, since it mixes in the TSC cycle counter at the
> time of the entropy extraction into the pool. So even if you capture
> the state of the pool, unless you know exactly *when* each of the
> various entropy extractions took place, you wouldn't be able to easily
> calculate the various candidate pools.
> More critically, the paper is seriously flawed in its analysis of
> reversing the primary pool. The only reason why the generic attack
> takes only 2**96 when the secondary and urandom pools are only 32
> words long, is that the entropy extraction routine is only calls
> add_entropy_words ceil(n/32)+1 times. However, the primary entropy
ceil(n/16)+1 times, where n is the number of words
in the pool.
> pool is 128 words long, which means that add_entropy_words() is called
> 9 times. The paper recognizes this in Appendix B, which shows that j,
> j-1, j-2, ... j-8 is modiified when extracting entropy from the
> primary pool. This makes the generic attack take work factor
> O(2**288), and the optimized attack also has to be seriously reworked
> before it can be carried out on the primary pool. This also points
> out that the simple expedient of doubling the size of the secondary
> and urandom pool would effectively eliminate the practicality of
> carrying out an forward attack.
> In section 3.4, a comment is made about guessable passwords to seed
> the entropy pool, and a recommendation was made to remove the value of
> the keyboard from the input to the pool. I would reject that
> recommendation, since the entropy estimated is calulated based only on
> the timing of the key, and the inter-key timing values is mixed into
> *in* *addition* *to* the value of the keys typed. If the user types a
> known or guessable password, the yes, the value of what is typed is no
> help in adding entropy to the pool --- but it doesn't hurt, either. I
> have no argument with the observation that main source of entropy
> added is the inter-key arrival time, and even there we are extremely
> conservative on estimating the amount of entropy found since obviously
> the "fist" of a typist could be analyzed and used to provide some
> information about inter-key arrival times, particularly if a
> high-resolution time source is not available.
> Speaking generally about usage scenarios such as the OpenWRT Linux
> distribution, if there is no hard disk and relatively little user
> input, the amount of entropy that can be gathered will suffer. That
> however isn't the fault of the /dev/random driver, but how it is put
> to use. One of the things which I would strongly recommend to
> security applications, such as those found in the OpenWRT Linux
> distribution, is to calculate the cryptographic hash of data which is
> to be sent out encrypted, and write that into /dev/random, thus mixing
> that hash into the entropy pool. This will not provide any entropy
> credits (since at least one entity would have knowledge of the value
> of the hash). However, to attackers that do *not* have access to the
> plaintext of the encrypted communications sent out by the application,
> this unknown data will significantly complicate the life of attackers
> attempting to analyze the state of the random number generator. In
> the absence of hard drive-generated entropy or human-generated timing
> data from a keyboard or pointing device, it's certainly better than
> nothing, and in practice is quite effective.
> All of this being said, I think the paper does make a number of good
> points, and I would recommend making the following changes to Linux's
> /dev/random:
> 1) Restore the add_timer_randomess() call to the entropy extraction
> function. This prevents the forward security attack unless the
> attacker can know the exact time when each of the entropy extractions
> took place, which in general is going to be quite impractical.
> 2) Double the size of the secondary and urandom pools from 128 to 256
> bytes.
> 3) Investigate the possibility of adding quotas to /dev/random. This
> is actually much more trickier that the paper suggests, since you want
> to allow the user to be able to extract enough entropy to create a
> 2048 bit (or at least a 1024-bit) RSA key. The problem is that's a
> lot of entropy! Maybe it would be OK to only allow a 1024-bit RSA key
> to be generated every 12 or 24 hours, but suppose someone is
> experimenting with GPG and screws up (say they forget their
> passphrase); do you tell them that sorry, you can't generating another
> key until tomorrow? So now we have to have an interface so the root
> user can reset the user's entropy quota.... And even with a 24-hour
> limit, on a diskless system, you don't get a lot of entropy, so even a
> 1024-bit RSA key could seriously deplete your supply of entropy.
> This last point is a good example of the concerns one faces when
> trying to design a working system in the real word, as opposed to the
> concerns of academicians, where the presence or lack of forward
> security in the event of a pool compromise is issue of massive urgency
> and oh-my-goodness-we-can-only-tell-the-maintainer-because-it's-such-a-
> critical-security-hole attitude. Where as my attitude is, "yeah, we
> should fix it, but I doubt anyone has actually been harmed by this in
> real life", which puts it in a different category than a buffer
> overrun attack which is accessible from a publically available network
> service.
> - Ted
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