[botan-devel] Tmp dir used as an entropy source

Jack Lloyd lloyd at randombit.net
Wed Sep 4 07:54:10 EDT 2013

Hi Rickard,

Well, there are two issues potentially involved - that a local attacker
can manipulate the input, and that a local attacker can see /tmp.

With regards to input manipulation - the PRNG design is explicitly
intended to process arbitrary attacker chosen inputs; as long as the
min-entropy of the entire set of sampled data is sufficiently high,
there should not be a problem. There is substantial justification for
this in the paper on which the RNG is designed
(http://webee.technion.ac.il/~hugo/kdf/kdf.pdf). It is worth
considering that a local attacker can also manipulate inputs via other
approaches (process names in ps output, filenames in lsof and netstat
output, etc).

However in terms of entropy provided, keep in mind that for a local
attacker, Unix_EntropySource provides very little conditional entropy
anyway, as the entire point of it is that it is querying information
which is publically available to users of the local machine, and a
local attacker could easily sample the same set of sources. So the
entropy gathered (conditioned on the attackers knowledge of what he
sampled, potentially at a high resolution) would be quite small in any

The problem of gathering large amounts of entropy on a system without
a kernel provided/protected PRNG and a local attacker is not a
satisfactorily solved one to my knowledge. There is simply not that
much variability to sample from in that situation; the only approach
I'm aware of that might work is timing jitter ala truerand, which
essentially is trying to sample from the hidden states of clocks
(drifting characteristics) and the scheduler. I've done experiments
with some approaches along this line in the past, but not nearly
enough to convince myself that it can be done in a way that behaves
securely, especially across a range of hardware and kernels.

All that said, I am not particularly tied to ls /tmp as a source so if
for whatever reason this particular one is of great concern to your
users it can be removed without issue, but I hope I've made it clear
how that is a very small part of a larger issue surrounding entropy
collection. Also, if earlier polls (eg /dev/random or EGD) succeed,
then we will never query these sources at all, as spawning off all
these processes is quite slow, so we avoid it except in cases where it
is necessary due to lack of other options.

Hope this makes sense, let me know if you have any other questions.


On Tue, Sep 03, 2013 at 10:23:16AM +0000, Rickard Bellgrim wrote:
> Hi
> Our OpenDNSSEC/SoftHSM users are concered that "ls -alni /tmp" is used as an entropy source in Unix_EntropySource in Botan. Users can manipulate the contents of that directory and is thus not a good source for entropy. The global RNG in Botan will use other entropy sources first (e.g. /dev/random) and will most likely not use this low priority command when polling for entropy. However, the concensus is that it may be better to just remove it from the list of commands.
> An alternative for SoftHSM would also be to declare a similar RNG as the global RNG, but without adding the Unix_EntropySource. In most cases, Botan will use the RNG provided by the application. But when it comes to the RSA blinder, it still uses the global RNG. So you can thus not completly disable the usage of Unix_EntropySource.
> I would appreciate any feedback on this topic.
> Thanks
> // Rickard
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