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Add Colors To Your ZSH Scripts

I was writing some scripts this morning to help me keep the Unix and Linux server I administer at work up to date with their NTP time synchronization. As I was going along, I thought to myself, "I'd like to see some color in the output." Thankfully, I already had the code in my ZSH prompt. All I needed to do was remove some sigils, and I was up and running. If you want to add color to the output of your ZSH scripts, here's what you need to add:

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autoload colors
if [[ "$terminfo[colors]" -gt 8 ]]; then
    colors
fi
for COLOR in RED GREEN YELLOW BLUE MAGENTA CYAN BLACK WHITE; do
    eval $COLOR='$fg_no_bold[${(L)COLOR}]'
    eval BOLD_$COLOR='$fg_bold[${(L)COLOR}]'
done
eval RESET='$reset_color'

You now have the following variables available in the shell script namepace: RED, GREEN, YELLOW, BLUE, MAGENTA, CYAN, BLACK, WHITE, BOLD_RED, BOLD_GREEN, BOLD_YELLOW, BOLD_BLUE, BOLD_MAGENTA, BOLD_CYAN, BOLD_BLACK, BOLD_WHITE, RESET. Using these variables, you can manipulate the output from "echo" and "printf" for your script. For example, here's a screenshot using "echo" to print red, green and blue text to the screen. Notice that I'm using the "RESET" variable after the blue text to reset my prompt text back to normal. This may or may not be necessary, depending on how you configured your prompt, but it's not a bad habit to get into.

Thought this might be helpful to the larger scripting community or for those sysadmins, such as myself, who would like a little variety added to their script output.

Groklaw Book Review on "The Debian System, Concepts and Techniques"

I was surprised today to see a book review on one of my favorite books, "The Debian System, Concepts and Techniques," by Martin Krafft. I have this book and I have to agree with Carla Schroder that there isn't anything about the book that I don't like either.

I have read it through a few times, and to me, the amazing aspect of Debian is the Debian Manifesto. Bascially, the manifesto called for a new Linux distribution that would be developed and maintained in an open manner similar to the Linux kernel itself. Other impressive docs, all of which are in the book in the appendices, are the Debian Social Contract and the Debian Free Software Guidelines. These documents really show the charater and substance of the Debian/GNU system. Heck, if I wasn't an Ubuntu user, I would be a Debian user. I heard this once in an IRC channel, and loved it: "Debian is a Linux distro for the passionate and the committed". I couldn't agree more.

Anyway, the book is phenomenal. I would recommend anyone reading it, even if you aren't using a Debian-based distro. If anything, it will help you see where the developers and maintainers of Debian stand in regards to Open Source. It will also show you the vast array of documentation that is available for that distribution.

Bash Scripting and Prompts

Bash. The superior Open Source shell. Every other shell comes last when it comes to features, speed and just sheer fun. Yet, there are a couple quirks that if you are not aware of, can get you caught in the crosshairs of frustration.

First, parent and child process releationships. When the shell is launched, a process begins. Anything executed in the shell, be it scripts, programs or executables, are all child processes to the shell. What does this mean? It means, for security reasons, that the execution does not have the ability to alter it's parent process. At least I can't think of any exceptions. So, what happens, for example, when you want to write a script that will put you in another working directory when the script exits? For example, consider the script changeme.sh:

#!/bin/bash
# changeme.sh to create a directory cd into it
cd ~
mkdir changeme
cd changeme

Make the script executable, and run it. Why are you still in the same directory you were before you ran the script? The new directiory 'changeme' exists, but you are not in it. The reason being the script creates a child process to it's parent, namely the shell that you are in. So, although the script is crude, how do you make it work? Easy, make it a function, and put it in a dot file that the Bash schell calls when executed. Now the function will have access to the parent process. Let's see how this works with our same example as above. I will be placing the funciton in my .bashrc file:

#.bashrc
changme2()
{
    cd ~
    mkdir changeme2
    cd changeme2
}

Exit your Bash shell and relaunch it. Now run the 'changeme2' script. Notice not only have you created the new directory 'changeme2', but you are also in it. Again, because you put the function in your .bashrc file, and the file was called when your Bash shell was launched, the function is now part of the parent process and has the ability to make calls to that PID. Easy work around.

Next, the Bash prompt variable PS1 (and PS2, etc.). Hopefully, you are aware that you can modify your Bash prompt to say and look as you please. Custom prompts really show the personalization of your Bash shell. For the longest time, my prompt said 'Yes, Master? '. I've played with differing sayings and such, always having fun with it. However, when I introduced color to my Bash shell, all of the sudden, I began running into a small problem. My text on the command line would began wrapping itself on the same line, thus overwriting what I had just typed. It would happen after so many characters. And it seemed that the more colors I introduced to the prompt, the worse it got. For example, here I am changing my prompt to red, again, in my .bashrc file:

#.bashrc
PS1="\e[1;31m\u@\h \w> \e[0;37m"

For a decent list of PS1 variables and control, see this page.

There, I am making the prompt bold red (\e[1;31m), then changing my typing text back to white (\e[0;37m) through ASCII escape sequences. Okay fine, but begin typing. Notice that your text wraps after about 60 characters or so. Talk about annoying. all because I introduced color to the prompt, my text wraps. Is this a bug, or am I overlooking something?

Well, actually, it isn't really a bug. I opened the sequence for the color using escape sequences, but I never closed the esapes. As such, if I understand it correctly, my typing is falling into the escapes themselves, thus creating a buffer in the PS1 variable. As such, the prompt wraps the text when the buffer overfills. Also, I am getting a little lazy with escaping the color too. Consider the alteration to the exact same prompt below:

#.bashrc
PS1="\[\033[1;31m\]\u@\h \w> \[\033[0;37m\]"

Now, instead of using '\e' to call the escape, I am using '

'. It's a little more cryptic, and harder to read, but it works flawlessly. Now type to your hearts content, and you will notice that your text is not wrapping until it hits the end of the screen. Also, when it wraps, it's on a new line like it should be.

Latin Squares, Mathematics, and Cryptography

Introduction

Recently, I've been studying Latin squares and their role in classical cryptography including the one-time pad. Latin squares are NxN squares where no element in a row is duplicated in that same row, and no element in a column is duplicated in that column. The popular Sudoku game is a puzzle that requires building a Latin square.

As I delved deeper and deeper into the subject, I realized that there is a rich history here that I would like to introduce you to. Granted, this post is not an expansive nor exhaustive discussion on Latin squares. Rather, it's meant to introduce you to the topic, so you can look into it on your own if this interests you.

In each of the sections below, the "A" and "N" characters are highlighted in the table image to demonstrate that the table is indeed a Latin square. Further, you can click on any table image to enlarge.

Tabula Recta

The Tabula Recta is the table probably most are familiar with, and recognize it as the Vigenère table. However, the table was first used by German author and monk Johannes Trithemius in 1508, which it was used in his Trithemius polyalphabetic cipher. This was a good 15 years before Blaise de Vigenère was even born, 43 years before Giovan Battista Bellaso wrote about his cipher using the table in his 1553 book "La cifra del. Sig. Giovan Battista Bellaso", and 78 years before Blaise de Vigenère improved upon Bellaso's cipher.

Today, we know it as either the "tabula recta" or the "Vigenère table". Regardless, each row shifts the alphabet one character to the left, creating a series of 26 Caesar cipher shifts. This property of the shifted alphabets turns out to be a weakness with the Vigenère cipher, in that if a key repeats, we can take advantage of the Caesar shifts to discover the key length, then the key, then finally breaking the ciphertext.

Jim Sandborn integrated a keyed tabula recta into his Kryptos sculpture in the 2nd and 4th panels. Even though the first 3 passages in the Kryptos sculpture have been cracked, the 4th passage remains a mystery.

Beaufort Table

More than 250 years later, Rear Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort modified the Vigenère cipher by using a reciprocal alphabet and changing the way messages were encrypted. Messages were still encrypted with a repeating key, similar to the Vigenère cipher, but plaintext character was located in the first column and the key in the first row. The intersection was the ciphertext. This became the Beaufort cipher.

His reasoning in why he used a different table and changed the enciphering process isn't clear. It may have been as simple as knowing concepts about the Vigenère cipher without knowing the specific details. He may have had other reasons.

One thing to note, however, is that Vigenère-encrypted ciphertexts cannot be decrypted with a Beaufort table and vice versa. Even though the Beaufort cipher suffers from the same cryptanalysis, the Caesar shifts are different, and the calculation if using numbers instead of letters is also different.

The Beaufort table was integrated into a hardware encryption machine called the Hagelin M-209. The M-209 was used by the United States military during WWII and through the Korean War. The machine itself was small, and compact, coming in about the size of a lunchbox and only weighing 6 pounds, which was remarkable for the time.

One thing to note, is that the Beaufort table has "Z" in the upper-left corner, with the reciprocal alphabet in the first row and first column, as shown in the image above. Any other table that is not exactly as shown above that claims to be the Beaufort table is not correct.

NSA's DIANA Reciprocal Table

Of course, the narcissistic NSA needs their own polyalphabetic table! We can't let everyone else be the only ones who have tables! I'm joking of course, as there is a strong argument for using this reciprocal table rather than the Beaufort.

Everyone is familiar with the one-time pad, a proven theoretically unbreakable cipher if used correctly. There are a few ways in which to use the one-time pad, such as using XOR or modular addition and subtraction. Another approach is to use a lookup table. The biggest problem with the tabula recta is when using the one-time pad by hand, it's easy to lookup the wrong row or column and introduce mistakes into the enciphering process.

However, due to the reciprocal properties of the "DIANA" table (don't you love all the NSA codenames?), encryption and decryption are identical, which means they only require only a single column. A key "row" is no longer needed, and the order of plain, key and cipher letter don't matter (Vigenère vs Beaufort) and may even differ for sender and receiver. Just like with Beaufort, this table is incompatible with Vigenère-encrypted ciphertexts. Further, it's also incompatible with Beaufort-encrypted ciphertexts, especially if it's a one-time pad. The Beaufort table shifts the alphabet to the right, while the DIANA table shifts the alphabet to the left. The tabula recta also shifts left.

Let's make one thing clear here- this table was created strictly for ease of use, not for increased security. When using the one-time pad, the key is at least the length of the message, which means it doesn't repeat. So it doesn't matter that the table is 26 Caesar-shifted alphabets. That property won't show itself in one-time pad ciphertexts.

E.J. Williams' Balanced Tables

Stepping away from cryptography for a moment, and entering the world of mathematics, and in this case, mathematical models applied to farming, we come across E.J. Williams' balanced tables. Note how the "A" and "N" characters are populated throughout the table compared to what we've seen previously.

The paper is modeling chemical treatments to crops over a span of time, and how to approach the most efficient means of applying those treatments. The effects of the previous treatment, called the "residual effect" is then analyzed. A method based on a "balanced" Latin square is discussed. It is then applied to multiple farming sites and analyzed.

Now, I know what you're thinking- "Let's use this for a cipher table!". Well, if you did, and your key repeated throughout the message, the ciphertext would not exhibit Caesar-shifted characteristics like Vigenère and Beaufort. However, the table is still deterministic, and as such, knowing how the table is built will give cryptanalysts the edge necessary to still break Williams-encrypted ciphertexts.

Michael Damm's Anti-Symmetric Quasigroups of Order 26

Also in the world of mathematics are quasigroups. These are group algebras that must be both totalitive and invertible, but not necessarily associative. Michael Damm researched quasigroups as the basis for an integrity checksum, such as in calculating the last digit of a credit card number. But, not only did he research quasigroups, but anti-symmetric quasigroups. Anti-symmetry is a set algebra concept. If "(c*x)*y = (c*y)*x", then this implies that "x = y", and thus the set is symmetric. An anti-symmetric set means "(c*x)*y != (c*y)*x", and as such, "x != y".

Michael Damm, while researching checksums, introduced us to anti-symmetric quasigroups. One property was required, and that was that the main diagonal was "0", or "A" in our case. The Damm algorithm creates a checksum, such that when verifying the check digit, the result places you on the main diagonal, and thus returns "0". Note that any quasigroup can be represented by a Latin square.

Due to the nature of the Damm algorithm as a checksum, this could be used to verify the integrity of a plaintext message before encrypting using a quasigroup of order 26, as shown above. The sender could calculate the checksum of his plaintext message, and append the final character to the plaintext before encrypting. The recipient, after decrypting the message, could then run the same Damm checksum algorithm against the full plaintext message. If the result is "A", the message wasn't modified.

Notice in my image above, that while "A" rests along the main diagonal, the rest of the alphabets are randomized, or at least shuffled. It really isn't important how the alphabets are created, so long as they meet the requirements of being an anti-symmetric quasigroup.

Random Tables

Finally, we have randomized Latin squares. These are still Latin squares, such that for any element in a row, it is not duplicated in that row, and for any element in a column, it is not duplicated in that column. Other than that, however, there is no relationship between rows, columns, or elements. Their use is interesting in a few areas.

First, suppose I give you a partially filled Latin square as a "public key", with instructions on how to encrypt with it. I could then use my fully filled Latin square "private key", of which the public is a subset of. Using this private key, with some other algorithm, I could then decrypt your message. It turns out, filling in a partially-filled Latin square is NP-complete, meaning that we don't know of any polynomial-time algorithm currently can can complete the task. As such, this builds a good foundation for public key cryptography, as briefly outlined here.

Further, because of the lack of any structure in a randomized Latin square, aside from the requirements of being a Latin square, these make good candidates for symmetric message authentication code (MAC) designs. For example, a question on the cryptography StackExchange asked if there was any humanly-verifiable way to add message authentication to the one-time pad. The best answer suggested using a circular buffer as a signature, which incorporates the key, the plaintext, modular addition, and the Latin square. By having a randomized Latin square as the foundation for a MAC tag, no structure is present in the authenticated signature itself. Note, the table can still be public.

Steve Gibson incorporated Latin squares into a deterministic password manager. Of course, as with all deterministic password managers, there are some fatal flaws in their design. Further, his approach, while "off the grid", is rather cumbersome in execution. But it is creative, and certainly worth mentioning here as a randomized Latin square.

Conclusion

Latin squares have fascinated mathematicians for centuries, and in this post, we have seen their use en cryptography, mathematical modeling, data integrity, message authentication, and even password generation. This only shows briefly their potential.

Do Not Use sha256crypt / sha512crypt - They're Dangerous

Introduction

I'd like to demonstrate why I think using sha256crypt or sha512crypt on current GNU/Linux operating systems is dangerous, and why I think the developers of GLIBC should move to scrypt or Argon2, or at least bcrypt or PBKDF2.

History and md5crypt

In 1994, Poul-Henning Kamp (PHK) added md5crypt to FreeBSD to address the weaknesses of DES-crypt that was common on the Unix and BSD systems of the early 1990s. DES-Crypt has a core flaw in that, not only DES reversible (which necessarily isn't a problem here), and incredibly fast, but it also limited password length to 8 characters (each of those limited to 7-bit ASCII to create a 56-bit DES key). When PHK created md5crypt, one of the things he made sure to implement as a feature was to support arbitrary-length passwords. In other words, unlike DES-Crypt, a user could have passwords greater than 9 or more characters.

This was "good enough" for 1994, but it had an interesting feature that I don't think PHK thought of at the time- md5crypt execution time is dependent on password length. To prove this, I wrote a simple Python script using passlib to hash passwords with md5crypt. I started with a single "a" character as my password, then increased the password length by appending more "a"s up until the password was 4,096 "a"s total.

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import time
from passlib.hash import md5_crypt

md5_results = [None] * 4096

for i in xrange(0, 4096):
    print i,
    pw = "a" * (i+1)
    start = time.clock()
    md5_crypt.hash(pw)
    end = time.clock()
    md5_results[i] = end - start

with open("md5crypt.txt", "w") as f:
    for i in xrange(0, 4096):
        f.write("{0} {1}\n".format(i+1, md5_results[i]))

Nothing fancy. Start the timer, hash one "a" with md5crypt, stop the timer, and record the results. Start the timer, hash two "a"s with md5crypt, stop the timer, and record the results. Wash, rinse, repeat, until the password is 4,096 "a"s in length.

What do the timing results look like? Below are scatter plots of timing md5crypt for passwords of 1-128, 1-512, and 1-4,096 characters in length:

Scatter plot showing execution timing of md5crypt up to 128 characters

md5crypt 1-128 characters

Scatter plot showing execution timing of md5crypt up to 512 characters

md5crypt 1-512 characters

Scatter plot showing execution timing of md5crypt up to 4,096 characters

md5crypt 1-4,096 characters

At first, you wouldn't think this is a big deal; in fact, you may even think you LIKE it (we're supposed to make things get slower, right? That's a good thing, right???). But, upon deeper inspection, this actually is a flaw in the algorithm's design for two reasons:

  • Long passwords can create a denial-of-service on the CPU (larger concern).
  • Passive observation of execution times can predict password length (smaller concern).

Now, to be fair, predicting password length based on execution time is ... meh. Let's be honest, the bulk of passwords will be between 7-10 characters. And because these algorithms operate in block sizes of 16, 32, or 64 bytes, an adversary learning "AHA! I know your password is between 1-16 characters" really isn't saying much. But, should this even exist in a cryptographic primitive? Probably not. Still, the larger concern would be users creating a DoS on the CPU, strictly by changing password length.

I know what you're thinking- it's 2018, so there should be no reason why any practical length password cannot be adequately hashed with md5crypt insanely quickly, and you're right. Except, md5crypt was invented in 1994, 24 years ago. According to PHK, he designed it to take about 36 milliseconds on the hardware he was testing, which would mean a speed about 28 per second. So, it doesn't take much to see that by increasing the password's length, you can increase execution time enough to affect a busy authentication server.

The question though, is why? Why is the execution time dependent on password length? This is because md5crypt processes the hash for every 16 bytes in the password. As a result, this creates the stepping behavior you see in the scatter plots above. A good password hashing design would not do this.

PHK eventually sunset md5crypt in 2012 with CVE-2012-3287. Jeremi Gosney, a professional password cracker, demonstrated with Hashcat and 8 clustered Nvidia GTX 1080Ti GPUS, that a password cracker could rip through 128.4 million md5crypt guesses per second.

You should no longer be implementing md5crypt for your password hashing.

sha2crypt and NIH syndrome

In 2007, Ulrich Drepper decided to improve things for GNU/Linux. He recognized the threat that GPU clusters, and even ASICs, posed on fast password cracking with md5crypt. One aspect of md5crypt was the hard-coded 1,000 iterations spent on the CPU, before the password hash was finalized. This cost was not configurable. Also, MD5 was already considered broken, with SHA-1 showing severe weaknesses, so he moved to SHA-2 for the core of his design.

The first thing addressed, was to make the cost configurable, so as hardware improved, you could increase the iteration count, thus keeping the cost for calculating the final hash expensive for password crackers. However, he also made a couple core changes to his design that differed from md5crypt, which ended up having some rather drastic effects on its execution.

Using code similar to above with Python's passlib, but rather using the sha256_crypt() and sha512_crypt() functions, we can create scatter plots of sha256crypt and sha512crypt for passwords up to 128-characters, 512-characters, and 4,096-characters total, just like we did weth md5crypt. How do they fall out? Take a look:

Scatter plot showing execution timing of sha256crypt up to 128 characters

sha256crypt 1-128 characters

Scatter plot showing execution timing of sha256crypt up to 128 characters

sha256crypt 1-512 characters

Scatter plot showing execution timing of sha256crypt up to 512 characters

sha256crypt 1-4,096 characters

Scatter plot showing execution timing of sha512crypt up to 128 characters

sha512crypt 1-128 characters

Scatter plot showing execution timing of sha512crypt up to 512 characters

sha512crypt 1-512 characters

Scatter plot showing execution timing of sha512crypt up to 4,096 characters

sha512crypt 1-4,096 characters

Curious. Not only do we see the same increasing execution time based on password length, but unlike md5crypt, that growth is polynomial. The changes Ulrich Drepper made from md5crypt are subtle, but critical. Essentially, not only do we process the hash for every character in the password per round, like md5crypt, but we process every character in the password three more times. First, we take the binary representation of each bit in the password length, and update the hash based on if we see a "1" or a "0". Second, for every character in the password, we update the hash. Finally, again, for every character in the password, we update the hash.

For those familiar with big-O notation, we end up with an execution run time of O(pw_length2 + pw_length*iterations). Now, while it is true that we want our password hashing functions to be slow, we also want the iterative cost to be the driving factor in that decision, but that isn't the case with md5crypt, and it's not the case with sha256crypt nor sha512crypt. In all three cases, the password length is the driving factor in the execution time, not the iteration count.

Again, why is this a problem? To remind you:

  • Long passwords can create a denial-of-service on the CPU (larger concern).
  • Passive observation of execution times can predict password length (smaller concern).

Now, granted, in practice, people aren't carrying around 4 kilobyte passwords. If you are a web service provider, you probably don't want people uploading 5 gigabyte "passwords" to your service, creating a network denial of service. So you would probably be interested in creating an adequate password maximum, such as what NIST recommends at 128 characters, to prevent that from occurring. However, if you have an adequate iterative cost (such as say, 640,000 rounds), then even moderately large passwords from staff, where such limits may not be imposed, could create a CPU denial of service on busy authentication servers.

As with md5crypt, we don't want this.

Now, here's what I find odd about Ulrich Drepper, and his design. In his post, he says about his specification (emphasis mine):

Well, there is a problem. I can already hear everybody complaining that I suffer from the NIH syndrome but this is not the reason. The same people who object to MD5 make their decisions on what to use also based on NIST guidelines. And Blowfish is not on the lists of the NIST. Therefore bcrypt() does not solve the problem.

What is on the list is AES and the various SHA hash functions. Both are viable options. The AES variant can be based upon bcrypt(), the SHA variant could be based on the MD5 variant currently implemented.

Since I had to solve the problem and I consider both solutions equally secure I went with the one which involves less code. The solution we use is based on SHA. More precisely, on SHA-256 and SHA-512.

PBKDF2 was standardized as an IETF standard in September 2000, a full 7 years before Ulrich Drepper created his password hashing functions. While PBKDF2 as a whole would not be blessed by NIST until 3 years later, in December 2010 in SP 800-132, PBKDF2 can be based on functions that, as he mentioned, were already in the NIST standards. So, just like his special design that is based on SHA-2, PBKDF2 can be based on SHA-2. Where he said "I went with the one which involves less code", he should have gone with PBKDF2, as code had already long since existed in all sorts of cryptographic software, including OpenSSL.

This seems to be a very clear case of NIH syndrome. Sure, I understand not wanting to go with bcrypt, as it's not part of the NIST standards . But don't roll your own crypto either, when algorithms already exist for this very purpose, that ARE based on designs that are part of NIST.

So, how does PBKDF2-HMAC-SHA512 perform? Using similar Python code with the passlib password hashing library, it was trivial to put together:

Scatter plot showing execution timing of PBKDF2-HMAC-SHA512 up to 128 characters

PBKDF2-HMAC-SHA512 1-128 characters

Scatter plot showing execution timing of PBKDF2-HMAC-SHA512 up to 512 characters

PBKDF2-HMAC-SHA512 1-512 characters

Scatter plot showing execution timing of PBKDF2-HMAC-SHA512 up to 4,096 characters

PBKDF2-HMAC-SHA512 1-4,096 characters

What this clearly demonstrates, is that the only factor driving execution time, is the number of iterations you apply to the password, before delivering the final password hash. This is what you want to achieve, not giving the opportunity for a user to create a denial-of-service based on password length, nor an adversary learn the length of the user's password based on execution time.

This is the sort of details that a cryptographer or cryptography expert would pay attention to, as opposed to an end-developer.

It's worth pointing out that PBKDF2-HMAC-SHA512 is the default password hashing function for Mac OS X, with a variable cost between 30,000 and 50,000 iterations (typical PBKDF2 default is 1,000).

OpenBSD, USENIX, and bcrypt

Because Ulrich Drepper brought up bcrypt, it's worth mentioning in this post. First off, let's get something straight- bcrypt IS NOT Blowfish. While it's true that bcrypt is based on Blowfish, they are two completely different cryptographic primitives. bcrypt is a one-way cryptographic password hashing function, where as Blowfish is a two-way 64-bit block symmetric cipher.

At the 1999 USENIX conference, Niels Provos and David Mazières, of OpenBSD, introduced bcrypt to the world (it was actually in OpenBSD 2.1, June 1, 1997). They were critical of md5crypt, stating the following (emphasis mine):

MD5 crypt hashes the password and salt in a number of different combinations to slow down the evaluation speed. Some steps in the algorithm make it doubtful that the scheme was designed from a cryptographic point of view--for instance, the binary representation of the password length at some point determines which data is hashed, for every zero bit the first byte of the password and for every set bit the first byte of a previous hash computation.

PHK was slightly offended by their off-handed remark that cryptography was not his core consideration when designing md5crypt. However, Niels Provos was a graduate student in the Computer Science PhD program at the University of Michigan at the time. By August 2003, he had earned his PhD. Since 1997, bcrypt has withstood the test of time, it has been considered "Best Practice" for hashing passwords, and is still well received today, even though better algorithms exist for hashing passwords.

bcrypt limits password input to 72 bytes. One way around the password limit is with pre-hashing. A common approach in pseudocode is to hash the password with SHA-256, encode the digest into base64, then feed the resulting ASCII string into bcrypt. In pseudocode:

pwhash = bcrypt(base64(sha-256(password)))

This results in a 44-byte password (including the "=" padding) that is within the bounds of the 72 byte bcrypt limitation. This prehashing allows users to have any length password, while only ever sending 44 bytes to bcrypt. My implementation in this benchmark uses the passlib.hash.bcrypt_sha256.hash() method. How does bcrypt compare to md5crypt, sha256crypt, and sha512crypt in execution time based on password length?

Scatter plot showing execution timing of bcrypt up to 128 characters

bcrypt 1-128 characters (prehashed)

Scatter plot showing execution timing of bcrypt up to 512 characters

bcrypt 1-512 characters (prehashed)

Scatter plot showing execution timing of bcrypt up to 4,096 characters

bcrypt 1-4,096 characters (prehashed)

Now, to be fair, bcrypt is only ever hashing 44 byte passwords in the above results, because of my prehashing. So of course it's running in constant time. So, how does it look with hashing 1 to 72 character passwords without prehashing?

Scatter plot showing execution timing of bcrypt up to 72 characters

bcrypt 1-72 characters (raw)

Again, we see consistent execution, driven entirely by iteration cost, not by password length.

Colin Percival, Tarsnap, and scrypt

In May 2009, mathematician Dr. Colin Percival presented to BSDCan'09 about a new adaptive password hashing function called scrypt, that was not only CPU expensive, but RAM expensive as well. The motivation was that even though bcrypt and PBKDF2 are CPU-intensive, FPGAs or ASICs could be built to work through the password hashes much more quickly, due to not requiring much RAM, around 4 KB. By adding a memory cost, in addition to a CPU cost to the password hashing function, we can now require the FPGA and ASIC designers to onboard a specific amount of RAM, thus financially increasing the cost of production. scrypt recommends a default RAM cost of at least 16 MB. I like to think of these expensive functions as "security by obesity".

scrypt was initially created as an expensive KDF for his backup service Tarsnap. Tarsnap generates client-side encryption keys, and encrypts your data on the client, before shipping the encrypted payload off to Tarsnap's servers. If at any event your client is lost or stolen, generating the encryption keys requires knowing the password that created them, and attempting to discover that password, just like typical password hashing functions, should be slow.

It's now been 9 years as of this post, since Dr. Percival introduced scrypt to the world, and like bcrypt, it has withstood the test of time. It has received, and continues to receive extensive cryptanalysis, is not showing any critical flaws or weaknesses, and as such is among the top choices as a recommendation from security professionals for password hashing and key derivation.

How does it fare with its execution time per password length?

Scatter plot showing execution timing of scrypt up to 128 characters

scrypt 1-128 characters

Scatter plot showing execution timing of scrypt up to 512 characters

scrypt 1-512 characters

Scatter plot showing execution timing of scrypt up to 4,096 characters

scrypt 1-4,096 characters

I'm seeing a trend here.

The Password Hashing Competition winner Argon2

In 2013, an open public competition, in the spirit of AES and SHA-3, was held to create a password hashing function that approached password security from what we knew with modern cryptography and password security. There were many interesting designs submitted, including a favorite of mine by Dr. Thomas Pornin of StackExchange fame and BearSSL, that used delegation to reduce the work load on the honest, while still making it expensive for the password cracker.

In July 2015, the Argon2 algorithm was chosen as the winner of the competition. It comes with a clean approach of CPU and memory hardness, making the parameters easy to tweak, test, and benchmark. Even though the algorithm is relatively new, it has seen at least 5 years of analysis, as of this writing, and has quickly become the "Gold Standard" for password hashing. I fully recommend it for production use.

Any bets on how it will execution times will be affected by password length? Let's look:

Scatter plot showing execution timing of Argon2 up to 128 characters

Argon2 1-128 characters

Scatter plot showing execution timing of Argon2 up to 512 characters

Argon2 1-512 characters

Scatter plot showing execution timing of Argon2 up to 4,096 characters

Argon2 1-4,096 characters

Execution time is not affected by password length. Imagine that. It's as if cryptographers know what they're doing when designing this stuff.

Conclusion

Ulrich Drepper tried creating something more secure than md5crypt, on par with bcrypt, and ended up creating something worse. Don't use sha256crypt or sha512crypt; they're dangerous.

For hashing passwords, in order of preference, use with an appropriate cost:

  1. Argon2 or scrypt (CPU and RAM hard)
  2. bcrypt or PBKDF2 (CPU hard only)

Avoid practically everything else:

  1. md5crypt, sha256crypt, and sha512crypt
  2. Any generic cryptographic hashing function (MD5, SHA-1, SHA-2, SHA-3, BLAKE2, etc.)
  3. Any complex homebrew iterative design (10,000 iterations of salted SHA-256, etc.)
  4. Any encryption design (AES, Blowfish (ugh), ChaCha20, etc.)

UPDATE: A note about PBKDF2 that was brought up in a Twitter thread from @solardiz. PBKDF2-HMAC-SHA512 isn't really an upgrade from sha512crypt (nor PBKDF2-HMAC-SHA256 an upgrade from sha256crypt), because PBKDF2 really isn't GPU resistant in the way bcrypt is. However, bcrypt can be implemented cheaply on ASICs with only 4 KB of memory.

If your choice of password hashing in constrained to NIST standards, which includes PBKDF2, then unfortunately, bcrypt, scrypt, and Argon2 are out of the question; just make sure to use it properly, which includes choosing a high iteration count based on your authentication load capacity. At that point, password storage is probably not the worst of your security concerns.

However, if you're not limited to NIST constraints, then use the others.

Acknowledgement

Thanks to Steve Thomas (@Sc00bzT) for our discussions on Twitter for helping me see this quirky behavior with sha256crypt and sha512crypt.

Use A Good Password Generator

Introduction

Screenshot of a Google Sheets spreadsheet showing my browser password generator audit.

For the past several months now, I have been auditing password generators for the web browser in Google Sheets. It started by looking for creative ideas I could borrow or extend upon for my online password generator. Sure enough, I found some, such as using mouse movements as a source of entropy to flashy animations of rolling dice for a Diceware generator. Some were deterministic, using strong password hashing or key derivation functions, and some had very complex interfaces, allowing you to control everything from letter case to pronounceable passwords and unambiguity.

However, the deeper I got, the more I realized some were doing their generation securely and others weren't. I soon realized that I wanted to grade these online generators and sift out the good from the bad. So, I created a spreadsheet to keep track of what I was auditing, and it quickly grew from "online generators" to "password generators and passphrase generators", to "web password, web passphrase, bookmarklet, chrome extensions, and firefox extenions".

When all was said and done, I had audited 300 total generators that can be used with the browser. Some were great while some were just downright horrible. So, what did I audit, why did I choose that criteria, and how did the generators fall out?

I audited:

  • Software license
  • Server vs. client generation
  • RNG security, bias, and entropy
  • Generation type
  • Network security
  • Mobile support
  • Ads or tracker scripts
  • Subresource integrity

No doubt this is a "version 1.0" of the spreadsheet. I'm sure those in the security community will mock me for my choices of audit categories and scoring. However, I wanted to be informed of how each generator was generating the passwords, so when I made recommendations about using a password generator, I had confidence that I was making a good recommendation.

Use A Password Manager

Before I go any further, the most important advice with passwords, is to use a password manager. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • They encourage unique passwords for each account.
  • They encourage passwords with sufficient entropy to withstand offline clustered attacks.
  • They allow storage of other types of data, such as SSNs or credit card numbers.
  • Many provide online synchronization support across devices, either internally or via Dropbox and Google Drive.
  • Many ship additional application support, such as browser extensions.
  • They ship password generators.

So before you go any further, the Best Practice for passwords is "Use A Password Manager". As members of the security community, this is the advice we should be giving to our clients, whether they are family, friends, coworkers, or professional customers. But, if they are already using a password manager, and discussions arise about password generation, then this audit is to inform members of the security community which generators are "great", which generators are "good", which generators are "okay", and finally, which generators are "bad".

So to be clear, I don't expect mom, dad, and Aunt Josephine to read this spreadsheet, so they make informed decisions about which password generator to use. I do hope however that security researchers, cryptographers, auditors, security contractors, and other members of the security community to take advantage of it.

So with that said, let me explain the audit categories and scoring.

Software License

In an ethical software development community, there is value granted when software is licensed under a permissive "copyleft" license. Not necessarily GPL, but any permissive license, from the 2-clause BSD to the GPL, from the Creative Commons to unlicensed public domain software. When the software is licensed liberally, it allows developers to extend, modify, and share the code with the larger community. There are a number of different generators I found in my audit where this happened; some making great changes in the behavior of the generator, others not-so-much.

License Open Source Proprietary

So when a liberal license was explicitly specified, I awarded one point for being "Open Source" and no points for being "Proprietary" when a license either was either not explicitly specified or was licensed under a EULA or "All Rights Reserved".

This is something to note- just because the code is on a public source code repository, does not mean the code is licensed under a permissive license. United States copyright law states that unless explicitly stated, all works fall under a proprietary "All Rights Reserved" copyright to the creator. So if you didn't specify a license in your Github repository, it got labeled as "Proprietary". It's unfortunate, because I think a lot of generators missed getting awarded that point for a simple oversight.

Server vs. Client Generation

Every generator should run in the browser client without any knowledge of the generation process by a different computer, even the web server. No one should have any knowledge whatsoever of what passwords were generated in the browser. Now, I recognize that this is a bit tricky. When you visit a password generator website such as my own, you are showing a level of trust that the JavaScript delivered to your browser is what you expect, and is not logging the generated passwords back to the server. Even with TLS, unless you're checking the source code on every page refresh and disconnecting your network, you just cannot guarantee that the web server did not deliver some sort of logging script.

Generator Client Server

With that said, you still should be able to check the source code on each page refresh, and check if it's being generated in the client or on the server. I awarded one point of being a "Client" generator and no points for being a "Server" generator. Interestingly enough, I thought I would just deal with this for the website generators, and wouldn't have to worry about this with bookmarklets or browser extensions. But I was wrong. I'll expand on this more in the "Network Security" category, but suffice it to say, this is still a problem.

Generation Type

I think deterministic password generators are fundamentally flawed. Fatally so, even. Tony Arcieri wrote a beautiful blog post on this matter, and it should be internalized across the security community. The "four fatal flaws" of deterministic password generators are:

  1. Deterministic password generators cannot accommodate varying password policies without keeping state.
  2. Deterministic password generators cannot handle revocation of exposed passwords without keeping state.
  3. Deterministic password managers can’t store existing secrets.
  4. Exposure of the master password alone exposes all of your site passwords.

Number 4 in that list is the most fatal. We all know the advice that accounts should have unrelated randomized unique passwords. When one account is compromised, the exposed password does not compromise any of the other accounts. This is not the case with deterministic password generators. Every account that uses a password from a deterministic generator shares a common thread via the master secret. When that master secret is exposed, all online accounts remain fatally vulnerable to compromise.

Proponents of deterministic generators will argue that discovery of the master password of an encrypted password manager database will also expose every online account to compromise. They're not wrong, but let's consider the attack scenarios. In the password manager scenario, a first compromise needs to happen in order to get access to the encrypted database file. Then a second compromise needs to happen in discovering the master password. But with deterministic generators, only one compromise needs to take place- that is using dictionary or brute force attacks to discover the master password that led to password for the online account.

With password managers, two compromises are necessary. With determenistic generators, only one compromise is necessary. As such, the generator was awardeded a point for being "Random" and no points for being "Deterministic".

Generator Random Unknown Deterministic

RNG Security

Getting random number generation is one of those least understood concepts in software development, but ironically, developers seem to think they have a firm grasp of the basic principles. When generating passwords, never at any point should a developer choose anything but a cryptographic random number generator. I awarded one point for using a CRNG, and no points otherwise. In some cases, the generation is done on the server, so I don't know or can't verify its security, and in some cases, the code is so difficult to analyze, that I cannot determine its security that way either.

CRNG Yes Maybe Unknown No

In JavaScript, using a CRNG primarily means using the Web Crypto API via "window.crypto.genRandomValues()", or "window.msCrypto.getRandomValues()" for Microsoft-based browsers. Never should I see "Math.random()". Even though it may be cryptographically secure in Opera, it likely isn't in any of the other browsers. Some developrs shipped the Stanford JavaScript Cryptographic Library. Others shipped a JavaScript implementation of ISAAC, and others yet shipped some AES-based CSPRNG. While these are "fine", you really should consider ditching those userspace scripts in favor of just calling "window.crypto.getRandomValues()". It's less software the user has to download, and as a developer, you are less likely to introduce a vulnerability.

Also, RC4 is not a CSPRNG, neither is ChaCha20, SHA-256, or any other hash function, stream cipher, or block cipher. So if you were using some JavaScript library that is using a vanilla hashing function, stream cipher, or block cipher as your RNG, then I did not consider it as secure generation. The reason being, is that even though ChaCha20 or SHA-256 may be prediction resistant, it is not backtracking resistant. To be a CRNG, the generator must be both prediction and backtracking resistant.

However, in deterministic password generators that are based on a master password, the "RNG" (using this term loosely here) should be a dedicated password hashing function or password-based key derivation function with an appropriate cost. This really means using only:

  • sha256crypt or sha512crypt with at least 5,000 rounds.
  • PBKDF2 with at least 1,000 rounds.
  • bcrypt with a cost of at least 5.
  • scrypt with a cost of at least 16 MiB of RAM and at least 0.5s execution.
  • Argon2 with sufficient cost of RAM and execution time.

Anything else, like hashing the master password or mouse entropy with MD5, SHA-1, SHA-2, or even SHA-3 will not suffice. The goal of those dedicated password generators or key derivation functions is to slow down an offline attempt at discovering the password. Likely the master password does not contain sufficient entropy, so it remains the weakest link in the generation process. By using a dedicated password hashing or key derivation function with an appropriate cost, we can guarantee a certain "speed limit" with offline clustered password attacks, making it difficult to reconstruct the password.

RNG Uniformity

Even though the developer may have chosen a CRNG, they may not be using the generator uniformly. This is probably the most difficult aspect of random number generation to grasp. It seems harmless enough to call "Math.floor(Math.random() * length)" or "window.crypto.getRandomValues(new UInt32Array(1))[0] % length". In both cases, unless "length" is a power of 2, the generator is biased. I awarded one point for being an unbiased generator, and zero points otherwise.

Uniform Yes Maybe Unknown No

To do random number generation in an unbiased manner, you need to find how many times the length divides the period of the generator, and note the remainder. For example, if using "window.crypto.getRandomValues(new UInt32Array(1))", then the generator has a period of 32-bits. If your length is "7,776", is in the case of Diceware, then 7,776 divides 232 552,336 times with a remainder of 2,560. This means that 7,776 divides values 0 through 232-2,561 evenly. So if your random number is between the range of 232-2,560 through 232-1, the value needs to be tossed out, and a new number generated.

Oddly enough, you could use a an insecure CRNG, such as SHA-256, but truncate the digest to a certain length. While the generator is not secure, the generator in this case is unbiased. More often than not actually, deterministic generators seem to fall in this category, where a poor hashing function was chosen, but the digest was truncated.

RNG Entropy

I've blogged about this a number of times, so I won't repeat myself here. Search by blog for password entropy, and get caught up with the details. I awarded one point for generators with at least 70 bits of entropy, 0.5 points for 55 through 69 bits of entropy, and no points for entropy less than 55 bits.

Entropy 70 69 55 54

I will mention however that I chose the default value that was presented to me when generating the password. Worse, if I was forced to chose my length, and I could chose a password of one character, then I awarded it as such. When you're presenting password generators to people like Aunt Josephine, they'll do anything they can do get away with as little as possible. History has shown this is 6-8 characters in length. This shouldn't be possible. A few Nvidia GTX960 GPUs can crack every 8 character ASCII password hashed with SHA-1 in under a week. There is no reason why the password generator should not present minimum defaults that are outside the scope of practical hobbyist brute force searching.

So while that may be harsh, if you developed one of the generators in my audit, and you were dinged for this- I'm calling you out. Stop it.

Network Security

When delivering the software for the password generation, it's critical that the software is delivered over TLS. There should be no room for a man-in-the-middle to inject malicious code to discover what passwords your generating, send you a determined list passwords, or any other sort of compromise. This means, however, that I expect a green lock in the browser's address or status bars. The certificate should not be self-signed, it should not be expired, it should not be missing intermediate certificates, it should not be generated for a different CN, or any other certificate problems. Further, the site should be HTTPS by default.

HTTPS Yes Not Default Expired No

I awarded one point for "Yes", serving the software over secure and problem-free HTTPS, and zero points otherwise.

Mobile View Support

For the most part, due to their ubiquity, developers are designing websites that support mobile devices with smaller screens and touch interfaces. It's as simple as adding a viewport in the HTML header, and as complex as customized CSS and JavaScript rules for screen widths, user agents, and other tests. Ultimately, when I'm recommending a password generator to Aunt Josephine while she's using her mobile phone, she shouldn't have to pinch-zoom, scroll, and other nuisances when generating and copying the password. As silly as that may sound, if the site doesn't support a mobile interface, then it wasn't awarded a point.

Mobile Yes No

Ads and Tracker Scripts

Screenshot showing the Lightbeam extension for Firefox after several days of use.

I get it. I know that as a developer, you want easy access to analytics about who is visiting your site. Having that data can help you learn what is driving traffic to your site, and how you can make adjustments as necessary to improve that traffic. But when it comes to password generators, no one other than me and the server that sent the code to my browser, should know that I'm about to generate passwords. I awarded a point for not shipping trackers, and zero points if the generator did.

Trackers No Yes

Google Analytics, social media scripts, ads, and other 3rd party browser scripts track me via fingerprinting, cookies, and other methods to learn more about who I am and what I visited. If you want to see how extensive this is, install the Lightbeam extension for Firefox. This shows the capability of companies to share data and learn more about who you are and where you've been on the web. Recently, Cambridge Analytica, a small unknown company, was able to mine data on millions of Facebook users, and the data mining exposed just how easy it was for Facebook to track your web behavior even when not on the site.

At first, I thought this would be just something with website generators, but when I started auditing browser extensions, I quickly saw that developers were shipping Google Analytics, and other tracking scripts in the bundled extension as well.

Offline

When I started auditing the bookmarklets and extensions, I pulled up my developer console, and watched for any network activity when generating the passwords or using the software. To my dismay, some do "call home" by either wrapping the generator around an <iframe> or requiring an account, such as in the case with password managers. I awarded one point for staying completely offline, zero points for any sort of network activity.

Offline Yes No

Now, you may be thinking that this isn't exactly fair for password generators or just <iframe>s, but the generation is still happening client-side and without trackers. For the most part, I agree, except, when installing browser extensions, the developer has the opportunity to make the password generation fully offline. That may sound a touch silly for a browser extension, but regardless, it removes the risk of a web server administrator from modifying the delivered JavaScript on every page load. The only times the JavaScript would be changed, is when the extension is updated. This behaves more like standard desktop software.

Subresource Integrity

Finally, the last category I audited was subresource integrity. SRI is this idea that a developer can add cryptographic integrity to <link> and <script< resources. The reason the W3C gives for the motivation of SRI is:

"Compromise of a third-party service should not automatically mean compromise of every site which includes its scripts. Content authors will have a mechanism by which they can specify expectations for content they load, meaning for example that they could load a specific script, and not any script that happens to have a particular URL."

So SRI guarantees that even though the data is delivered under TLS, if the cryptographic hashes are valid, then the data has not been compromised, even if the server has. More information about SRI can be found at the W3C Github page, and I encourage everyone to check out the links there.

I awarded one point if "Yes" or "N/A" (no resources called), and zero points for "No".

SRI Yes N/A No

Scoring

With all these audit categories taken into account, I gave a total score to see how generators ranked among others. Each generator has different auditing criteria, so the score varies from generator type to generator type. I treated the scoring like grade school- 100% is an "A", 99% to roughly 85% as "great", 84% to 51% is "okay", and 50% or less is failing. I translated that grade school score into the following:

Score Perfect Perfect - 1 Perfect - 2 51% 50%

When you look at the spreadsheet, you'll see that it is sorted first by score in descending order then alphabetically by "Name" in ascending order. It's sorted this way, so as a security consultant, you can quickly get a high-level overview of the "good" versus the "bad", and you should be able to find the generator you're looking for quickly. The names are just generic unique identifiers, and sometimes there are notes accompanying each generator when I found odd behavior, interesting generation templates, or other things that stood out.

Conclusion

This audit is for the security community, not for Aunt Josephine and friends or family. I don't expect you to share this with your dad or your spouse or your Facebook friends, and expect them to know what they're looking at, or why they should care. However, I recently took a poll on Twitter, asking the security community if they recommended password generators to family and friends. Only 90 votes came in, but 69% of you said that you did, with a few comments coming in saying that they would only recommend them if they shipped with a password manager (see the beginning of this post). I suspect that some of the 31% of the "No" votes are in this category.

Screenshot of a Twitter poll I took asking if people recommend password generators. 69% said yes, 31% said no.

So, of those 69% of you that said "Yes", I hope this audit will be of some value.

The Entropy of a Digital Camera CCD/CMOS Sensor

Recently, Vault12 released an app for iOS that uses the mobile device's camera as a source of randomness. Unfortunately, when putting the generated binary files through the Dieharder tests, it comes out pretty bad. I get 20 "PASSED", 13 "WEAK", and 81 "FAILED" results. For a TRNG, it should be doing much better than that. Now, to be clear, I'm not writing this post to shame Vault12. I actually really love the TrueEntropy app, and am eagerly waiting for it to hit Android, so I can carry around a TRNG in my pocket. However, things can get better, and that is what this post is hopefully addressing.

Using a camera as a TRNG is nothing new. SGI created a patent for pointing a webcam at a lava lamp, using the chaotic nature of the lava lamp itself as the source of entropy. Later, it was realized that this was unnecessary. The CCD/CMOS in the camera was experiencing enough noise from external events to be more than sufficient. This noise is shown in the photo itself, and is appropriately referred to as "image noise".

The primary sources of noise come from the following:

  • Thermal noise- Caused by temperature fluctuations due to electrons flowing across resistant mediums.
  • Photon noise- Caused by photons hitting the CCD/CMOS and releasing energy to neighboring electronics.
  • Shot noise- Caused by current flow across diodes and bipolar transistors.
  • Flicker noise- Caused by traps due to crystal defects and contaniments in the CCD/CMOS chip.
  • Radiation noise- Caused by alpha, beta, gamma, x-ray, and proton decay from radioactive sources (such as outer-space) interacting with the CCD/CMOS.

Some of these noise sources can be manipulated. For example, by cooling the camera, we can limit thermal noise. A camera at 0 degrees Celsius will experience less noise than one at 30 degrees Celsius. A camera in a dark room with less photons hitting the sensor will experience less noise than a bright room. Radiation noise can be limited by isolating the sensor in a radiation-protective barrier.

Let's put this to the test, and see if we can actually calculate the noise in a webcam. To do this, we'll look at a single frame with the lens cap covered, where the photo is taken in a dark room, and the web cam is further encompassed in a box. We'll take the photo at about 20 degrees Celsius (cool room temperature).

In order to get a basis for the noise in the frame, we'll use Shannon Entropy from information theory. Thankfully, understanding Shannon Entropy isn't that big of a deal. My frame will be taken with OpenCV from a PlayStation 3 Eye webcam, which means the frame itself is just a big multidimensional array of numbers between 0 and 255 (each pixel only provides 8 bits of color depth). So, to calculate the Shannon Entropy of a frame, we'll do the following:

  1. Place each number in its own unique bin of 0 through 255.
  2. Create an observed probability distribution (histogram) by counting the numbers in each bin.
  3. Normalize the distribution, creating 256 p-values (the sum of which should equal "1").
  4. For each of the 256 bins, calculate: -p_i*log_2(p_i).
  5. Sum the 256 values.

Thankfully, I don't have all of this by hand- numpy provides a function for me to call that does a lot of the heavy lifting for me.

So, without further ado, let's look at the code, then run it:

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#!/usr/bin/python

import cv2
import math
import numpy

def max_brightness(frame):
    hsv = cv2.cvtColor(frame, cv2.COLOR_BGR2HSV)
    h, s, v = cv2.split(hsv)
    v[v > 0] = 255
    v[v < = 0] += 255
    final_hsv = cv2.merge((h, s, v))
    frame = cv2.cvtColor(final_hsv, cv2.COLOR_HSV2BGR)
    return frame

def get_entropy(frame):
    histogram = numpy.histogram(frame, bins=256)[0]
    histogram_length = sum(histogram)
    samples_probability = [float(h) / histogram_length for h in histogram]
    entropy = -sum([p * math.log(p, 2) for p in samples_probability if p != 0])
    return entropy

cap = cv2.VideoCapture(0)
cap.set(3, 640)
cap.set(4, 480)

ret, frame1 = cap.read()
ret, frame2 = cap.read()
frame_diff = cv2.absdiff(frame1, frame2)

cv2.imwrite('/tmp/frame1.bmp', frame1)
cv2.imwrite('/tmp/frame2.bmp', frame2)
cv2.imwrite('/tmp/frame_diff.bmp', frame_diff)

frame1_max = max_brightness(frame1)
frame2_max = max_brightness(frame2)
frame_diff_max = max_brightness(frame_diff)

cv2.imwrite('/tmp/frame1_max.bmp', frame1_max)
cv2.imwrite('/tmp/frame2_max.bmp', frame2_max)
cv2.imwrite('/tmp/frame_diff_max.bmp', frame_diff_max)

print("Entropies:")
print("    frame1: {}".format(get_entropy(frame1)))
print("    frame2: {}".format(get_entropy(frame2)))
print("    frame_diff: {}".format(get_entropy(frame_diff)))
print("    frame1_max: {}".format(get_entropy(frame1_max)))
print("    frame2_max: {}".format(get_entropy(frame2_max)))
print("    frame_diff_max: {}".format(get_entropy(frame_diff_max)))

Let's look over the code before running it. First, I'm actually capturing two frames right next to each other, then taking their composite difference. We know that a photo consists of its signal (the data most people are generally interested in) and its noise (the data they're not). By taking the composite difference between the two, I'm attempting to remove the signal. Because the frames were taken in rapid succession, provided nothing was drastically changing between the frames, most of the data will be nearly identical. So the signal should disappear.

But what about the noise? Well, as discussed above, the noise is a bit unpredictable and slightly unmanageable. Unlike my signal, the noise will be drastically different between the two frames. So, rather than removing noise, I'll actually be adding noise in the difference.

The next thing you'll notice is that I'm either maximizing or completely removing the luminosity in an HSV color profile. This is done just as a visual demonstration of what the noise actually "looks like" in the frame. You can see this below (converted to PNG for space efficiency).

Frame 1

Frame 2

Difference of frames 1 & 2

Frame 1 maxed luminosity

Frame 2 maxed luminosity

Difference of frames 1 & 2 maxed luminosity


Running the Python script in my 20 degrees Celsius dark room with the lens cap on and all light removed as much as possible, I get:

$ python frame-entropy.py
Entropies:
    frame1: 0.0463253223509
    frame2: 0.0525489364555
    frame_diff: 0.0864590940377
    frame1_max: 0.0755975713815
    frame2_max: 0.0835428883103
    frame_diff_max: 0.134900632254

The "ent(1)" userspace utility confirms these findings when saving the frames as uncompressed bitmaps:

$ for I in frame*.bmp; do printf "$I: "; ent "$I" | grep '^Entropy'; done
frame1.bmp: Entropy = 0.046587 bits per byte.
frame1_max.bmp: Entropy = 0.076189 bits per byte.
frame2.bmp: Entropy = 0.052807 bits per byte.
frame2_max.bmp: Entropy = 0.084126 bits per byte.
frame_diff.bmp: Entropy = 0.086713 bits per byte.
frame_diff_max.bmp: Entropy = 0.135439 bits per byte.

It's always good to use an independent source to confirm your findings.

So, in the standard frames, I'm getting about 0.05 bits per byte of entropy. However, when taking the composite difference, that number almost doubles to about 0.09 bits per byte. This was expected, as you remember, we're essentially taking the noise from both frames, and composing them in the final frame. Thus, the noise is added in the final frame.

What was actually surprising to me were the entropy values after setting the extreme luminosity values. This may be due to the fact that there are larger deltas between adjacent pixels when creating our histogram. When taking the difference of the two adjusted frames, the entropy jumps up to about 0.13 bits per byte. So, we could safely say that a composed frame with maxed luminosity that is the difference of two frames has about 0.11 bits of entropy per byte, plus or minus 0.02 bits per byte.

What does this say about the frame as a whole though? In my case, my frame is 640x480 pixels. Knowing that each pixel in my PS3 Eye webcam only occupies 1 byte or 8 bits, we can calculate the entropy per frame:

(640*480) pixels/frame * 1 byte/pixel = 307200 bytes/frame
307200 bytes/frame * 0.11 entropy bits/byte = 33792 entropy bits/frame

Each frame in my 640x480 PS3 Eye webcame provides about 33,792 bits of entropy. For comparison SHA-256 theoretically provides a maximum of 256-bits of entropic security. Of course, we should run millions of trials, collecting the data, calculate the standard deviation, and determine a more true average entropy. But, this will suffice for this post.

So, now that we know this, what can we do with this data? Well, we can use it as a true random number generator, but we have to be careful. Unfortunately, as the frame is by itself, it's heavily biased. In the frame, there exists spatial correlation with adjacent pixels. In the frame difference, there exists both spatial and time correlations. This isn't sufficient as a secure true random number generator. As such, we need to remove the bias. There are a few ways of doing this, called "randomness extraction", "software whitening", "decorrelation", or "debiasing". Basically, we want to take a biased input, and remove any trace of bias in the output.

We could use John von Neumann decorrelation, where we look at two non-overlapping consecutive bits. If the two bits are identical, then both bits are discarded. If they are different, then the most significant bit is output, while the least significant bit is discarded. This means that at a best, you are discarding half of your data, but how much is discarded all depends on how badly biased the data is. We know that our frame is only providing 0.11 bits of entropy per 8 bits. So we're keeping 11 bits out of 800. That's a lot of data that is discarded. One drawback with this approach, however, is if one or more bits are "stuck", such is an a dead pixel. Of course, this will lower the overall entropy of the frame, but will also drastically impact the extractor.

A different approach would be to use chaos machines. This idea is relatively new and not thoroughly studied; at least I'm struggling to find good research papers on the topic. The idea is taking advantage of the chaotic behavior of certain dynamical systems, such as a double pendulum. Due to the nature of chaos, small fluctuations in initial conditions lead to large changes in the distant future. The trick here is selecting your variables, such as the time distance and chaotic process correctly. Unlike John von Neumann decorrelation, that automatically discovers the bias and discards it for you, care has to be taken to make sure that the resulting output is debiased.

A better approach is using cryptographic primitives like one-way hashing or encryption, sometimes called "Kaminsky debiasing". Because most modern crytographic primitives are designed to emulate theoretical uniform unbiased random noise, the security rests on whether or not that can be achieved. In our case, we could encrypt the frame with AES and feed the ciphertext as our TRNG output. Unfortunately, this means also managing a key, which doesn't necessarily have to be kept secret. A better idea would be to use cryptographic hashing functions, like SHA-2, or even better, extendable output functions (XOFs).

Obviously, it should go without stating, that encrypting or hashing your biased input isn't increasing the entropy. This means that we need to have a good handle on what our raw entropy looks like (as we did above) beforehand. We know in our case that we're getting about 35 kilobits of entropy per frame, so hashing with SHA-256 is perfectly acceptable, even if we're losing a great deal of entropy in the output. However, if we were only getting 200-bits of security in each frame, while SHA-256 is debiasing the data, we still only have 200-bits of entropy in the generated output.

Really though, the best approach is an XOF. We want to output as much of our raw entropy as we can. Thankfully, NIST has 2 XOFs standardized as part of the SHA-3: SHAKE128 and SHAKE256. An XOF allows you to output a digest of any length, where SHA-256 for example, only allows 256-bits of output. The security margin of the SHAKE128 XOF function is the minimum of half of the digest or 128-bits. If I have an entropy 35 kilobits, I would like to have all of that entropy available in the output. As such, I can output 4 KB in the digest knowing full well that's within my entropy margin. Even though I'm losing as much data as the John von Neumann extractor, I'm not vulnerable to "stuck pixels" being a problem manipulating the extractor.

When I put all this code together in Python:

  1. Take the difference of two consecutive overlapping frames.
  2. Maximize the luminosity of the new composed frame.
  3. Hash the frame with SHAKE128.
  4. Output 4 KB of data as our true random noise.

At 30 frames per second for a resolution of 640x480, outputting 4 KB per frame will provide 120 KBps of data per second, and this is exactly what I see when executing the Python script. The PS3 Eye camera also supports 60 fps at a lower resolution, so I could get 240 KBps if I can keep the same security margin of 4 KB per frame. I haven't tested this, but intuition tells me I'll have a lower security margin at the lower resolution.

Coming full circle, when we put our TRNG to the Dieharder test, things come out vastly different than Vault12's results:

  • Vault12 TrueEntropy:
    1. PASSED: 20
    2. WEAK: 13
    3. FAILED: 81
  • My webcam TRNG:
    1. PASSED: 72
    2. WEAK: 12
    3. FAILED: 30

Password Best Practices I - The Generator

This is the first in a series of posts about password best practices. The series will cover best practices from a few different angles- the generator targeted at developers creating those generators, the end user (you, mom, dad, etc.) as you select passwords for accounts from those generators, and the service provider storing passwords in the database for accounts that your users are signing up for.

Motivation

When end users are looking for passwords, they may turn to password generators, whether they be browser extensions, websites, or offline installable executables. Regardless, as a developer, you will need to ensure that the passwords you your providing for your users are secure. Unfortunately, that's a bit of a buzzword, and can be highly subjective. So, we'll motivate what it means to be "secure" here:

  • The generator is downloaded via HTTPS, whether it's a website, executable ZIP, or browser extension.
  • The generator uses a cryptographically secure random number generator.
  • The generator provides at least 70-bits of entropy behind the password.
  • The generator is open source.
  • The generator generates passwords client-side, not server-side.
  • The generator does not serve any ads or client-side tracking software.

I think most of us can agree on these points- the software should be downloaded over HTTPS to mitigate man-in-the-middle attacks. A cryptographically secure RNG should be used to ensure unpredictability in the generated password. In addition to that, the CRNG should also be uniformly distributed across the set, so no elements of the password are more likely to appear than any other. Creating an open source password generator ensures that the software can be audited for correctness and instills trust in the application. Generating passwords client-side, means the server hos now possible way of knowing what passwords were generated, unless the client is also calling home (the code should be inspected). And of course, we don't want any adware or malware installed in the password generating application to further compromise the security of the generator.

Okay. That's all well and good, but what about this claim to generate passwords from at least 70-bits in entropy? Let's dig into that.

Brute force password cracking

Password cracking is all about reducing possibilities. Professional password crackers will have access to extensive word lists of previously compromised password databases, they'll have access to a great amount of hardware to rip through the password space, and they'll employ clever tricks in the password cracking software, such as Hashcat or MDXFind, to further reduce the search space, to make finding the passwords more likely. In practice, 90% of leaked hashed password databases are reversed trivially. With the remaining 10%, half of that space takes some time to find, but those passwords are usually recovered. The remaining few, maybe 3%-5%, contain enough entropy that the password cracking team likely won't recover those passwords in a week, or a month, or even a year.

So the question is this- what is that minimum entropy value that thwarts password crackers? To answer this question, let's look at some real-life brute force searching to see if we can get a good handle on the absolute minimum security margin necessary to keep your client's leaked password hash out of reach.

Bitcoin mining

Bitcoin mining is the modern-day version of the 1849 California Gold Rush. As of right now, Bitcoin is trading at $3,665.17 per BTC. As such, people are fighting over each other to get in on the action, purchasing specialized mining hardware, called "Bitcoin ASICs", to find those Bitcoins as quickly as possible. These ASICs are hashing blocks of data with SHA-256, and checking a specific difficulty criteria to see if it meets the requirements as a valid Bitcoin block. If so, the miner that found that block is rewarded that Bitcoin and it's recorded in the never-ending, ever-expanding, non-scalable blockchain.

How many SHA-256 hashes is the word at large calculating? As of this writing, the current rate is 7,751,843.02 TH/s, which is 7,751,843,020,000,000,000 SHA-256 hashes per second. At one point, it peaked at 8,715,000 THps, and there is no doubt in my mind that it will pass 10,000,000 THps before the end of the year. So let's run with that value, of 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 SHA-256 hashes per second, or 1019 SHA-256 hashes per second.

If we're going to talk about that in terms of bits, we need to convert it to a base-2 number, rather than base-10. Thankfully, this is easy enough. All we need to calculate is the log2(X) = log(X)/log(2). Doing some math, we see that Bitcoin mining is roughly flipping every combination of bits in a:

  • 63-bit number every second.
  • 69-bit number every minute.
  • 74-bit number every hour.
  • 79-bit number every day.
  • 84-bit number every month.
  • 88-bit number every year.

What does this look like? Well, the line is nearly flat. Here in this image, the x-axis is the number of days spent mining for Bitcoin, starting from 0 through a full year of 365 days. The y-axis is the search space exhaustion in bits. So, you can see that in roughly 45 days, Bitcoin mining have calculated enough SHA-256 hashes to completely exhaust an 85-bit search space (click to enlarge):

Plot showing log(x*10^19*86400)/log(2) for Bitcoin mining.

Real-world password cracking

That's all fine and dandy, but I doubt professional password crackers have access to that sort of hardware. Instead, let's look at a more realistic example.

Recently, Australian security researcher Troy Hunt, the guy that runs https://haveibeenpwned.com/, released a ZIP of 320 million SHA-1 hashed passwords that he's collected over the years. Because the passwords were hashed with SHA-1, recovering them should be like shooting fish in a barrel. Sure enough, a team of password crackers got together, and made mincemeat of the dataset.

In the article, it is mentioned that they had a peak password cracking speed of 180 GHps, or 180,000,000,000 SHA-1 hashes per second, or 18*1010 SHA-1 hashes per second. The article mentions that's the equivalent of 25 NVidia GTX1080 GPUs working in concert. To compare this to Bitcoin mining, the team was flipping every combination of bits in a:

  • 41-bit number every second.
  • 47-bit number every minute.
  • 53-bit number every hour.
  • 58-bit number every day.
  • 63-bit number every month.
  • 66-bit number every year.

As we can see, this is a far cry from the strength of Bitcoin mining. But, are those numbers larger than you expected? Let's see how it looks on the graph, compared to Bitcoin (click to enlarge):

Plot showing log(x*18*10^10*86400)/log(2) for this cluster of password cracking hobbyists.

So, it seems clear that our security margin is somewhere above that line. Let's look at one more example, a theoretical one.

Theoretical password cracking by Edward Snowden

Before Edward Snowden became known to the world as Edward Snowden, he was known to Laura Poitras as "Citizenfour". In emails back-and-forth between Laura and himself, he told her (emphasis mine):

"Please confirm that no one has ever had a copy of your private key and that it uses a strong passphrase. Assume your adversary is capable of one trillion guesses per second. If the device you store the private key and enter your passphrase on has been hacked, it is trivial to decrypt our communications."

But one trillion guesses per second is only about 5x the collective power of our previous example of a small team of password cracking hobbyists. That's only about 125 NVidia GTX1080 GPUs. Certainly interested adversaries would have more money on hand to invest in more computing power than that. So, let's increase the rate to 10 trillion guesses per second. 1,250 NVidia GTX1080 GPUs would cost our adversary maybe $500,000. A serious investment, but possibly justifiable, and certainly not outside the $10 billion annual budget of the NSA. So let's roll with it.

At 1013 password hashes per second, we are flipping every combination of bits in a:

  • 43-bits every second.
  • 49-bits every minute.
  • 54-bits every hour.
  • 59-bits every day.
  • 64-bits every month.
  • 68-bits every year.

Plotting this on our chart with both Bitcoin mining and clustered hobbyist password cracking, we see (click to enlarge):

Plot of log(x*86400*10^13)/log(2)

The takeaway

What does all this math imply? That as a developer of password generator software, you should be targeting a minimum of 70-bits of entropy with your password generator. This will give your users the necessary security margins to steer clear of well-funded adversaries, should some service provider's password database get leaked to the Internet, and they find themselves as a target.

As a general rule of thumb, for password generator developers, these are the sort of security margins your can expect with entropy:

  • 70-bits or more: Very secure.
  • 65-69 bits: Moderately secure.
  • 60-64 bits: Weakly secure.
  • 59 bits or less: Not secure.

Colored recommendation of the previous plot showing all brute force attempts.

What does this mean for your generator then? This means that the number of size of the password or passphrase that you are giving users should be at least:

  • Base-94: 70/log2(94)=11 characters
  • Base-64: 70/log2(64)=12 characters
  • Base-32: 70/log2(32)=14 characters
  • Base-16: 70/log2(16)=18 characters
  • Base-10: 70/log2(10)=22 characters
  • Diceware: 70/log2(7776)=6 words

Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with generating 80-bit, 90-bit, or even 128-bit entropy. The only thing you should consider with this, is the size of the resulting password and passphrases. For example, if you were providing a minimum of 128-bit security for your users with the password generator, then things would look like:

  • Base-94: 128/log2(94)=20 characters
  • Base-64: 128/log2(64)=22 characters
  • Base-32: 128/log2(32)=26 characters
  • Base-16: 128/log2(16)=32 characters
  • Base-10: 128/log2(10)=39 characters
  • Diceware: 128/log2(7776)=10 words

As you can see, as you increase the security for your users, the size of the generated passwords and passphrases will also increase.

Conclusion

It's critical that we are doing right by our users when it comes to security. I know Randall Munroe of XKCD fame created the "correct horse battery staple" comic, advising everyone to create 4-word passphrases. This is fine, provided that those 4 words meets that minimum 70-bits of entropy. In order for that to happen though, the word list needs to be:

   4 = 70/log2(x)
=> 4 = 70/log(x)/log(2)
=> 4 = 70*log(2)/log(x)
=> 4*log(x) = 70*log(2)
=> log(x) = 70/4*log(2)
=> x = 1070/4*log(2)
=> x ~= 185,364

You would need a word list of at least 185,364 words to provide at least 17.5-bits of entropy per word, which brings us to required 70-bits of total entropy for 4 words. All too often, I see generators providing four words, but the word list is far too small, like around Diceware size, which is only around 51-bits of entropy. As we just concluded, that's not providing the necessary security for our users.

So, developers, when creating password and passphrase generators, make sure they are at least targeting the necessary 70-bits of entropy, in addition to the other qualifications that we outlined at the beginning of this post.

Electronic Slot Machines and Pseudorandom Number Generators

TL;DR

An Austrian casino company used a predictable pseudorandom number generator, rather than a cryptographically secure one, and people are taking advantage of it, and cashing out big.

The Story

Wired reported on an article about an amazing operation at beating electronic slot machines, by holding your phone to the slot machine screen for a time while playing, leaving the slot machine, then coming back an additional time, and cashing in big.

Unlike most slots cheats, he didn’t appear to tinker with any of the machines he targeted, all of which were older models manufactured by Aristocrat Leisure of Australia. Instead he’d simply play, pushing the buttons on a game like Star Drifter or Pelican Pete while furtively holding his iPhone close to the screen.

He’d walk away after a few minutes, then return a bit later to give the game a second chance. That’s when he’d get lucky. The man would parlay a $20 to $60 investment into as much as $1,300 before cashing out and moving on to another machine, where he’d start the cycle anew.

These machines were made by Austrian company Novomatic, and when Novomatic engineers learned of the problem, after a deep investigation, the best thing they could come up with, was that the random number generator in the machine was predictable:

Novomatic’s engineers could find no evidence that the machines in question had been tampered with, leading them to theorize that the cheaters had figured out how to predict the slots’ behavior. “Through targeted and prolonged observation of the individual game sequences as well as possibly recording individual games, it might be possible to allegedly identify a kind of ‘pattern’ in the game results,” the company admitted in a February 2011 notice to its customers.

The article, focused on a single incident in Missouri, mentions that the state vets the machines before they go into production:

Recognizing those patterns would require remarkable effort. Slot machine outcomes are controlled by programs called pseudorandom number generators that produce baffling results by design. Government regulators, such as the Missouri Gaming Commission, vet the integrity of each algorithm before casinos can deploy it.

On random number generators

I'll leave you to read the rest of the article. Suffice it to say, the Novomatic machines were using a predictable pseudorandom number generator after observing its output for a period of time. This poses some questions that should immediately start popping up in your head:

  1. What is the vetting process by states to verify the quality of the pseudorandom number generators in solt machines?
  2. Who is on that vetting commission? Is it made up of mathematicians and cryptographers? Or just a board of executives and politicians?
  3. Why aren't casino manufacturers using cryptographically secure pseudorandom number generators?

For me, that third item is the most important. No doubt, as the Wired article states, older machines just cannot be fixed. They need to be taken out of production. So long as they occupy casinos, convenience stores, and gas stations, they'll be attacked, and the owner will lose money. So let's talk about random number generators for a second, and see what the gambling industry can do to address this problem.

You can categorize random number generators into four categories:

  1. Nonsecure pseudorandom
  2. Cryptographically secure pseudorandom
  3. Chaotic true random
  4. Quantum true random

What I would be willing to bet, is that most electronic machines out there are of the "nonsecure pseudorandom" type of random number generator, and Novomatic just happened to pick a very poor one. Again, there likely isn't anything they can do about existing machines in production now, but what can they do moving forward? They should start using cryptographically secure pseudorandom number generators (CSPRNGs).

In reality, this is trivial. There are plenty of CSPRNGs to choose from. CSPRNGs can be broken down further into three subcategories:

  1. Designs based on cryptographic primitives.
  2. Number theoretic designs.
  3. Special-purpose designs.

Let's look at each of these in turn.

Designs based on cryptographic primitives.

These are generators that use things like block ciphers, stream ciphers, or hashing functions for the generator. There are some NIST and FIPS standardized designs:

  • NIST SP 800-90A rev. 1 (PDF): CTR_DRBG (a block cipher, such as AES in CTR mode), HMAC_DRBG (hash-based message authentication code), and Hash_DRBG (based on cryptographically secure hashing functions such as SHA-256).
  • ANSI X9.31 Appendix A.2.4: This is based on AES, and obsoletes ANSI X9.17 Appendix C, which is based on 3DES. It requires a high-precision clock to initially seed the generator. It was eventually obsoleted by ANSI X9.62-1998 Annex A.4.
  • ANSI X9.62-2005 Annex D: This standard is defines an HMAC_DRBG, similar to NIST SP 800-90A, using an HMAC as the cryptographic primitive. It obsoletes ANSI X9.62-1998 Annex A.4, and also requires a high-precision clock to initially seed the generator.

It's important that these designs are backtracking resistant, meaning that if you know the current state of the RNG, you cannot construct all previous states of the generator. The above standards are backtracking resistant.

Number theoretic designs

There are really only two current designs, that are based on either the factoring problem or the discrete logarithm problem:

  • Blum-Blum-Shub: This is generator based on the fact that it is difficult to compute the prime factors of very large composites (on the order of 200 or more digits in length). Due to the size of the prime factors, this is a very slow algorithm, and not practical generally.
  • Blum-Micali: This is a generator based on the discrete logarithm problem, when given two known integers "b" and "g", it is difficult to find "k" where "b^k = g". Like Blum-Blum-Shub, this generator is also very slow, and not practical generally.

Special-purpose designs

Thankfully, there are a lot of special purpose designs designed by cryptographers that are either stream ciphers that can be trivially ported to a CSPRNG, or deliberately designed CSPRNGs:

  • Yarrow: Created by cryptographer Bruce Schneier (deprecated by Fortuna)
  • Fortuna: Also created by Bruce Schneier, and obsoletes Yarrow.
  • ISAAC: Designed to address the problems in RC4.
  • ChaCha20: Designed by cryptographer Daniel Bernstein, our crypto Lord and Savior.
  • HC-256: The 256-bit alternative to HC-128, which is part of the eSTREAM portfolio.
  • eSTREAM portfolio: (7 algorithms- 3 hardware, 4 software)
  • Random123 suite: Contains four highly parallelizable counter-based algorithms, only two of which are cryptographically secure.

The solution for slot machines

So now what? Slot machine manufacturers should be using cryptographically secure algorithms in their machines, full stop. To be cryptographically secure, the generator:

  • Must past the next-bit test (you cannot predict the next bit any better than 50% probability).
  • Must withstand a state compromise (you cannot reconstruct past states of the generator based on the current state).

If those two properties are met in the generator, then the output will be indistinguishable from true random noise, and the generator will be unbiased, not allowing an adversary, such as someone with a cellphone monitoring the slot machine, to get the upperhand on the slot machine, and prematurely cash out.

However, the question should then be raised- "How do you properly seed the CSPRNG, so it starts in an unpredictable state, before release?" Easy, you have two options here:

  • Seed the CSPRNG with a hardware true RNG (HWRNG), such as a USB HWRNG, or....
  • Build the machine such that it collects environmental noise as entropy

The first point is much easier to achieve than the second. Slot machines likely don't have a lot of interrupts built into the system-on-a-chip (SoC). So aside from a microphone, video camera, or antenna recording external events, you're going to be hard-pressed to get any sort of high-quality entropy into the generator. USB TRNGs are available all over the web, and cheap. When the firmware is ready to be deployed, read 512-bits out of the USB generator, hash it with SHA-256, and save the resulting hash on disk as an "entropy file".

Then all that is left is when the slot machine boots up and shuts down:

  • On startup, read the "entropy file" saved from the previous shutdown, to seed the CSPRNG.
  • On shutdown, save 256-bits of data out of the generator to disk as an "entropy file".

This is how most operating systems have solved the problem with their built-in CSPRNGs. Provided that the very first "entropy file" was initially seeded with a USB true HWRNG, the state of every slot machine will be always be different, and will always be unpredictable. Also, 256-bits is more than sufficient to make sure the initial state of the generator is unpredictable; physics proves it.

Of course, the SoC could have a HWRNG onboard, but then you run the risk of hardware failure, and the generator becoming predictable. This risk doesn't exist with software-based CSPRNGs, so provided you can always save the state of the generator on disk at shutdown, and read it on startup, you'll always have an unpredictable slot machine.

Adblockers Aren't Part Of The Problem- People Are

Troy Hunt, a well-respected security researcher, and public speaker, wrote a blog post recently about how adblockers are part of the bad experience of the web. His article is about a sponsorship banner he posts at the top of his site, just below the header. It's not flashy, intrusive, loud, obnoxious, or a security or privacy concern. He gets paid better for the sponsorship strip than he does for ads, and the strip is themed with the rest of his site. It's out of the way of the site content, and scrolls with the page. In my opinion, it's in perfectly good taste. See for yourself:

Screenshot of Troy Hunt's homepage, showing the sponsorship strip just below the header.

Troy was surprised to find out, however, that his sponsorship strip is not showing when AdBlock Plus or UBlock Origin ad blockers are installed and enabled in the browser. He is understandably upset, as he is avoiding everything that piss off the standard web user when it comes to ads. He reached out to ABP about whitelisting his strip, and they've agreed it's hardly violating web user experience. However, someone added it to the EasyList filters, which means any ad blocker outside of ABP, will filter the sponsorship strip.

So, here's my question- are users wrong in filtering it?

Let's look at the state of web ads over the past couple decades. First, there was the ad popup, where the web page you were visiting would popup an ad right in front of the page. Sometimes they were difficult to close, and sometimes closing one would open a different one. Some pages would open dozens of popups, some fullscreen. It wasn't long before browsers across the board blocked popups by default, baked right into the browser.

Screenshot showing a Windows XP desktop littered with ad popups.

After popups were unanimously blocked across every browser, advertisers turned to ad banners. These were just as obnoxious as the popups, even if you didn't have to close a window. The flashed, blinked, falsely promised free trips and gadgets, and even sometimes auto-played videos. They were rarely relevant to the site content, but web page owners were promised a revenue per click, regardless. So, the more you could fit on the page, the more likely someone would click on an ad, and you would get paid. Web page owners placed these obnoxious ads above the header, below the header, in the sidebars, in the middle of the pages breaking up paragraphs in posts, in the footers. In some cases, the screen real estate dedicated to ads was more than the actual content on the site.

An image showing a collection of annoying banner ads.

Some HTML5 and CSS3 solutions now include overlays, that have to be manually closed or escaped, in order to continue parsing the site content. Unfortunately, ad blockers don't do a great job at blocking these. While they're great at finding and filtering out elements, blocking CSS overlay popups seems to be too difficult, as they are prevalent on the web, much to the chagrin of many ad block users.

Screenshot showing a CSS overlay on a web page showing an ad.

Ad blockers then became a mainstay. Web users were pissed off due to Flash crashing the browser (most ads were Flash-based), slowing down their connection to download additional content (at the time, most were on dial-up on slow DSL), and in general just getting in the way. It got so bad, that DoubleClick's "privacy chief" wrote a rant about ad blockers, and how they were unethical, and ad blocker users were stealing revenue.

As web page analytics started becoming a thing, more and more website owners wanted to know how traffic was arriving at their site, so they could further increase that traffic, and in addition, increase ad revenue. Already, page counters like StatCounter existed, to help site owners understand partially how traffic was hitting them, where they came from, what time, what search engine they used, how long they stayed, etc. Well, advertisers started putting these analytics in their ads. So, not only did the website owner know who you were, the advertising company did too. And worse, while the website owner might not be selling that tracking data, the advertiser very likely is.

The advertiser also became a data broker.

But here's the tricky part- ad blocking was no longer enough. Now website owners were adding JavaScript trackers to their HTML. They're not visible on the page, so the ad blocker isn't hiding an element. It's not enough to block ads any longer. Privacy advocates begin warning about "browser fingerprinting" based on the specific details in your browser that can uniquely identify you. Those unique bits are then tracked with these tracking scripts, and set to advertisers and data brokers, which change many hands along the way. The EFF created a project to help users understand how unique they appeared on the web through the Panopticlick Project.

Screenshot of my browser results after testing at https://panopticlick.eff.org.

As a result, other browser extensions dedicated to blocking trackers started showing up. Things like Ghostery, Disconnect, Privacy Badger, and more. Even extensions that completely disable JavaScript and Flash became popular. Popular enough, that browsers implemented a "click-to-play" setting, where flash and other plugin content was blocked by default, and you would need to click the element to display it. It's not uncommon now to visit a web page where you tracking blocker will block a dozen or more trackers.

Screenshot of Ghostery blocking 20 trackers on a web page.

I wish I could stop here, but alas, many advertisers have made a turn for the ugly. Now, web ads are the most common way to get malware installed on your computer. Known as "malvertising", it is more common at infecting your computer than shady porn sites. Even more worrisome, is that this trend is shifting away from standard desktops to mobile. Your phone is now more valuable than your desktop, and advertisers know it. Never mind shady apps that compromise your device, ads in legitimate "safe" apps are compromising devices as well.

Infographic showing the threat of malvertising on mobile in 2014.

So, to summarize, the history of ads has been:

  1. Annoying popups.
  2. Annoying banners.
  3. Annoying CSS overlays.
  4. Transparent trackers.
  5. Malvertising.

So, to Troy Hunt, here's my question: Given the awful history of advertisements on the web, are you honestly surprised that users don't trust a sponsorship strip?

Consider the following analogy: Suppose I brought a bunch of monkeys to your home, and they trashed the place. Smashed dishes, tore up furniture, destroyed computers and televisions, ruined floors, broke windows, and generally just destroyed anything and everything in sight. Then, after cleaning the place up, not only do I bring the monkeys back, but this time, they have digital devices (cameras, microphones, etc.) that report back to me about what your house looks like, where you live, what you're doing in response to the destruction. Again, you kick them out, clean up the place, and I return with everything as before, with some of them carrying a contagious disease that can get you and your family sick. I mean, honestly, one visit of these monkeys is enough, but they've made three visits, each worse than before.

Now, you show up at my doorstep, with a well-trained, leashed, groomed, clean, tame monkey, and I'm supposed to trust that it isn't anything like the past monkeys I've experienced before? As tame as it may be, call me rude, but I'm not trusting of monkeys right now. I've installed all sorts of alarm and monitoring systems, to warn me when monkeys are nearby, and nuke them with lasers. I've had too many bad experiences with monkeys in the past, to trust anyone bringing a new monkey to the premises.

So, you can see, it's not ad blockers that are the problem. It's the people behind the advertising firms and it's the people not trusting the Internet. The advertising c-level executives are trying to find ways to get their ad in front of your eyes, and are using any sort of shady means necessary to do it. The average web user is trying to find ways to have a pleasant experience on the web, without getting tracked, infected with malware, shouted at by a video, while still being able to consume the content.

People arguably don't trust ads. The people in the advertising firms have ruined that trust. You may have a clean privacy-aware non-intrusive sponsorship strip, but you can't blame people for not trusting it. We've just had too long of a history of bad ad experiences. So, while reaching out to the ad blocker developers to whitelist the sponsorship strip is a good first step, ultimately, if people don't trust it, and want to block, you can't blame them. Instead, continue focusing on what makes you successful, for your revenue from the ad blockers- blogging, speaking, developing, engaging. Your content, who you are, how you handle yourself is your most valuable ad.

Webcam Random Number Generation

A couple weeks ago, I purchased a lava lamp for $5 at a thrift store. It was in brand spanking new condition, and worked like a charm. The only thing going through my head at the time? I can't wait to point my webcam at it, and start generating some random numbers! Okay, well that, and mood lighting for the wife.

Anyway, I wrote a quickie Python script which will capture a frame from the webcam, hash it with a keyed BLAKE2, and output the result to a FIFO file to be processed. The BLAKE2 digest of the frame also becomes the key for the next BLAKE2 instance, making this script very CBC-like in execution (the first function is keyed from /dev/urandom, and each digest keys the next iteration).

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#!/usr/bin/python

# Create true random seeds (near as we can tell) with your webcam.
#
# This script will use your webcam pointed at a source of entropy, keyed with
# random data from the OS CSPRNG. You could point the camera at:
#
#   * Lava lamps
#   * Plasma globes
#   * Double pendulums
#   * Rayleigh-Benard convection
#   * Brownian motion
#
# Performance is ~ 2 KiB/s.
# Requires pyblake2: https://pypi.python.org/pypi/pyblake2
#
# Released to the public domain.

import os
import cv2
import pyblake2

cap = cv2.VideoCapture(0)
webcamfile = '/tmp/webcamfile.fifo'
key = os.urandom(64)

try:
    os.mkfifo(webcamfile)
except OSError, e:
    print "Cannot create FIFO: {0}".format(e)
else:
    fifo = open(webcamfile, 'w+')

while True:
    ret, frame = cap.read()
    if not ret:
        break

    b2sum = pyblake2.blake2b(key)
    b2sum.update(frame)
    digest = b2sum.digest()
    key = digest

    fifo.write(digest)
    fifo.flush()

    cv2.imshow('webcamlamp', frame)
    k = cv2.waitKey(1) & 0xFF
    if k == 27:
        break

fifo.close()
os.remove(webcamfile)
cap.release()
cv2.destroyAllWindows()

As you'll notice in the code, you should point your webcam at a source of either chaotic randomness, like a lava lamp, or quantum randomness, like a plasma globe. Because the frame is whitened with a keyed BLAKE2, it could be considered as a true random number generator, or you could use it as a seed for a cryptographically secure pseudorandom number generator, such as those shipped with modern operating systems. If you do use this as a TRNG, realize that it's slow- it only operates at about 2 KiBps.

Here is a screenshot of the webcam itself looking at a USB desk plasma globe, that you can purchase of ThinkGeek for $10.

Webcam view of a plasma globe in operation.

The data is sent to a FIFO in /tmp/. If you don't do anything with the data, and let the buffer fill, the script will hang, until you read data out of the FIFO. As such, you could do something like this to reseed your CSPRNG (of course, it's not increasing the entropy estimate, just reseeding the generator):

$ < /tmp/webcamrng.fifo > /dev/random

Lava lamps and plasma globes are only the beginning. Anything quantum or chaotic that can be visually observed also works. Things like:

  • Double pendulums
  • Brownian motion
  • Rayleigh-Benard convection
  • CCD noise from the webcam itself
  • A bouncing ball on a sinusoidal vibrating table

So, there you have it. Plasma globes and lava lamps providing sufficiently random data via a webcam, either to be used as a secret seed, or as a TRNG itself. Any other systems that could be used to point a webcam at, or suggestions for improvement in the Python code, let me know in the comments.

How To Always Encrypt Chromium Saved Passwords On GNU/Linux - No Matter What

One of the things that has always bothered me about the Chromium project (the project the Google Chrome browser is based on) is that passwords are encrypted, if and only if your operating system provides an authentication API through your account login. For example, on Windows, is is accomplished through the "CryptProtectData" function. This function uses your existing account credentials when logging into your computer, as a "master key" to encrypt the passwords on your hard drive. For Mac OS X, this is accomplished with Keychain, and with GNU/Linux users, KWallet if you're running KDE or GNOME Keyring if you're running GNOME.

In all those cases, your saved passwords will be encrypted before getting saved to disk. But, what if you're like me, and do not fall into any of those situations? Now, granted, GNU/Linux and BSD users (you're welcome) make up about 3% of the desktop installs.

Graph showing operating system market share.

Of that 3%, although I don't have any numbers, maybe 2/3 run GNOME or KDE. That leaves 1 out of every 100 users where Chromium is not encrypting passwords on disk by default. For me, who lands in that 1%, this is unacceptable. So, I wanted a solution.

Before I go any further, let me identify the threat and adversary. The threat is offline disk analysis. I'm going to assume that you're keeping your operating system up-to-date with the latest security patches, and that your machine is not infected with malware. Instead, I'm going to assume that after you are finished using your machine, upgrading the hardware, or a hard drive fails, that the disk is discarded. I'm further going to assume that you either can't or didn't digitally wipe or physically destroy the drive once decommissioned. So, the threat is someone getting a hold of that drive, or laptop, or computer, and imaging the drive for analysis. This means that our adversary is a global adversary- it could be anyone.

Now, the obvious solution would be to run an encrypted filesystem on that drive. dm-crypt with or without LUKS makes this possible. But, let's assume you're not running FDE. Any options? In my case, I run eCryptfs, and store the Chromium data there, symbolically linking to it from the default location.

By default, Chromium stores its passwords in ~/.config/chromium/Default/Login\ Data. This is an SQLite 3.x database, and as mentioned, the passwords are stored in plaintext. A simple solution is to create an eCryptfs private directory, and symlink the database to that location. However, Chromium also stores cookies, caches, and other data in ~/.config/chromium/ that might be worth encrypting as well. So, you can just symlink the entire ~/.config/chromium/ directory to the eCryptfs mount.

I'll assume you've already setup eCryptfs and have it mounted to ~/Private/. If not, run the "ecryptfs-setup-private" command, and follow the prompts, then run "ecryptfs-mount-private" to get it mounted to ~/Private/.

Make sure Chromium is not running and move the ~/.config/chromium/ directory to ~/Private/. Then create the necessary symlink, so Chromium does not create a new profile:

$ mv ~/.config/chromium/ ~/Private/
$ ln -s ~/Private/chromium/ ~/.config/

At this point, all your Chromium data is now stored in your eCryptfs encrypted filesystem, and Chromium will follow the symlink, reading and writing passwords in the encrypted mount. This means, no matter if using KWallet or GNOME Keyring, or nothing at all, your passwords will be always be encrypted on disk. Of course, in the SQLite 3.x database, the passwords are still in plaintext, but the database file is encrypted in eCryptfs, thus giving us our security that we're looking for.

However, there is a caveat which needs to be mentioned. The entire security of the encryption rests solely on the entropy of your eCryptfs passphrase. If that passphrase does not have sufficient entropy to withstand a sophisticated attack from a well-funded organization (our global adversary), then all bets are off. Essentially, this eCryptfs solution is acting like a "master password", and all encryption strengths rests on your ability to use a strong password defined by Shannon entropy. Current best-practice to guard against an offline password cracking attack, is to pick a password with at least 128-bits of entropy. You can use zxcvbn.js from Dropbox to estimate your passphrase entropy, which I have installed at http://ae7.st/ent/ (no, I'm not logging passphrases- save the page offline, pull your network cable and run it locally if you don't believe me).

Linux Kernel CSPRNG Performance

I'm hardly the first one to notice this, but I was having a discussion in ##crypto on Freenode about the Linux kernel CSPRNG performance. It was mentioned that the kernelspace CSPRNG was "horrendously slow". Personally, I found the performance sufficient for me needs, but I decided to entertain his definition. I'm glad I did; I wasn't disappointed.

Pull up a terminal, and run the following command, passing 10GB of data from /dev/urandom to /dev/null:

$ dd if=/dev/urandom of=/dev/null bs=1M count=1024 iflag=fullblock  
1024+0 records in  
1024+0 records out  
1073741824 bytes (1.1 GB) copied, 80.1537 s, 13.4 MB/s
$ pv < /dev/urandom > /dev/null # cancel in a different terminal, unless you have "-S"
1.02GB 0:01:20 [13.3MB/s] [                   < =>                              ]

13.4 MBps of throughput for reading data directly out of the kernelspace CSPRNG. But, can we do better?

In the ##crypto channel, and as should be across development mailing lists, forums, groups, and discussion channels, I recommend that developers should not generally develop their own userspace CSPRNG. There are all sorts of pitfalls and traps waiting for you when you attempt it. Unless you know what you're doing, you could end up with a CSPRNG that isn't actually cryptographically secure (the "CS" in "CSPRNG").

However, what happens when I do actually run a userspace CSPRNG on the same machine? What can I expect out of performance? For example, I could implement AES-128 in CTR mode as a CSPRNG. In fact, we can do this with OpenSSL:

$ dd if=/dev/zero bs=10M count=1024 iflag=fullblock 2> /dev/null | openssl enc -aes-128-ctr -pass pass:"sHgEOKTB8bo/52eDszkHow==" -nosalt | dd of=/dev/null
20971520+0 records in
20971520+0 records out
10737418240 bytes (11 GB) copied, 15.3137 s, 701 MB/s
$ openssl enc -aes-128-ctr -pass pass:"sHgEOKTB8bo/52eDszkHow==" -nosalt < /dev/zero | pv > /dev/null
31.9GB 0:00:34 [ 953MB/s] [                                  < =>               ]

700-950 MBps (notice that dd(1) incurs a performance penalty). That's 52-70x the speed of reading the kernelspace CSPRNG directly. That's more than a full order of magnitude faster. However, this is on a box with AES-NI. What about disabling AES-NI on the same box? How badly does it damage performance, and how does it compare to reading the kernelspace CSPRNG? We can use OpenSSL speed(1SSL) to benchmark algorithms.

First, with AES-NI enabled:

$ openssl speed -elapsed -evp aes-128-ctr 2> /dev/null  
(...snip...)
The 'numbers' are in 1000s of bytes per second processed.
type             16 bytes     64 bytes    256 bytes   1024 bytes   8192 bytes
aes-128-ctr     468590.43k  1174849.02k  1873606.83k  2178642.60k  2244471.47k

And with AES-NI disabled:

$ OPENSSL_ia32cap="~0x200000200000000" openssl speed -elapsed -evp aes-128-ctr 2> /dev/null  
(...snip...)  
The 'numbers' are in 1000s of bytes per second processed.
type             16 bytes     64 bytes    256 bytes   1024 bytes   8192 bytes
aes-128-ctr      74272.21k    83315.43k   340393.30k   390135.47k   391279.96k

In this case, we see about a 5x performance improvement when using the AES-NI instruction set as compared to when not using it. That's significant. And even with AES-NI disabled in userspace, we're still outperforming /dev/urandom by almost 30x.

Interestingly enough, even the OpenBSD CSPRNG (different hardware than previously tested), which uses ChaCha20, outperforms the Linux CSPRNG (although its userspace CSPRNG with openssl(1) doesn't outperform kernelspace):

% dd if=/dev/urandom of=/dev/null bs=1M count=1024
1024+0 records in
1024+0 records out
1073741824 bytes transferred in 13.630 secs (78775541 bytes/sec)
% dd if=/dev/zero bs=1M count=1024 2> /dev/null | openssl enc -aes-128-ctr -pass pass:"sHgEOKTB8bo/52eDszkHow==" -nosalt | dd of=/dev/null 
2097152+0 records in
2097152+0 records out
1073741824 bytes transferred in 33.498 secs (32052998 bytes/sec)
% openssl speed -elapsed -evp aes-128-ctr 2> /dev/null
(...snip...)
The 'numbers' are in 1000s of bytes per second processed.
type             16 bytes     64 bytes    256 bytes   1024 bytes   8192 bytes
aes-128-ctr      41766.37k    46930.74k    49593.54k    50669.32k    50678.33k

Roughly 78 MBps for OpenBSD on an Intel Xeon CPU running at 2.80GHz. Basically, six times the speed of the Linux kernel CSPRNG on an Intel Xeon CPU running at 2.67GHz.

So why is the Linux CSPRNG so slow? And, what can we do about it? Well, first, the kernel is using SHA-1 for its cryptographic primitive. In very loose terms, the CSPRNG hashes the input pool with SHA-1, and spits out the output to /dev/urandom. It's output is also its input, so its digesting its own output.

But, that's not all it's doing actually. The first function actually adds data into the input pool without increasing the entropy estimate. Then, after adding those bytes, the input pool is mixed with a Skein-like mixing function. Then some math is done to credit the entropy estimator, and the system is polled for data to add to the input entropy pool. Things like disk IO, CPU timings, interrupts, and user activity. Finally, we're ready to hash the data. This is done by extracting the data out of the input pool, and hashing it with SHA-1. But, we don't want any recognizable output, so the output is left-rotated and folded in half. Then, and only then, is the data ready for consumption.

W.T.F.

Unfortunately, the Linux kernel CSPRNG is not based on any sound theoretical security design. It's very much a hodge-podge home-brew design by developers who think they know what they're doing, when in reality, they don't. In 2013, a security audit and analysis was performed on the Linux kernel CSPRNG (PDF), and concluded that not only is it not robust, but it has some weaknesses:

In the literature, four security notions for a PRNG with input have been proposed: resilience (RES), forward security (FWD), backward security (BWD) and robustness (ROB), with the latter being the strongest notion among them.

(...snip...)

Distributions Used in Attacks based on the Entropy Estimator As shown in Section 5.4, LINUX uses an internal Entropy Estimator on each input that continuously refreshes the internal state of the PRNG. We show that this estimator can be fooled in two ways. First, it is possible to define a distribution of zero entropy that the estimator will estimate of high entropy, secondly, it is possible to define a distribution of arbitrary high entropy that the estimator will estimate of zero entropy. This is due to the estimator conception: as it considers the timings of the events to estimate their entropy, regular events (but with unpredictable data) will be estimated with zero entropy, whereas irregular events (but with predictable data) will be estimated with high entropy.

(...snip...)

As shown in Section 5.7, it is possible to build a distribution D0 of null entropy for which the estimated entropy is high (cf. Lemma 3) and a distribution D1 of high entropy for which the estimated entropy is null (cf. Lemma 4). It is then possible to mount attacks on both /dev/random and /dev/urandom, which show that these two generators are not robust.

(...snip...)

We have proposed a new property for PRNG with input, that captures how it should accumulate the entropy of the input data into the internal state. This property actually expresses the real expected behavior of a PRNG after a state compromise, where it is expected that the PRNG quickly recovers enough entropy. We gave a precise assessment of Linux PRNG /dev/random and /dev/urandom security. In particular, we prove that these PRNGs are not robust. These properties are due to the behavior of the entropy estimator and the mixing function used to refresh its internal state. As pointed by Barak and Halevi [BH05], who advise against using run-time entropy estimation, we have shown vulnerabilities on the entropy estimator due to its use when data is transferred between pools in Linux PRNG. We therefore recommend that the functions of a PRNG do not rely on such an estimator.

Finally, we proposed a construction that meets our new property in the standard model and we showed that it is noticeably more efficient than the Linux PRNGs. We therefore recommend to use this construction whenever a PRNG with input is used for cryptography.

TL;DR? The Linux CSPRNG does not meet the definitions of a secure CSPRNG per the PDF. It's not that it's theoretically broken, it's just not theoretically secure either. It's really nothing theoretically at all. This isn't great.

A replacement for random.c in the kernel would be to ditch the homebrew entropy collection, mixing, and output mangling, and instead, stick with AES-128 in CTR mode. Of course, as per the PDF, the entropy collectors need serious work, but if AES-128-CTR was deployed as the CSPRNG instead of SHA-1, then the generator could take advantage of hardware AES performance, which as I've shown, is exceptionally superior. It's frustrating, because the kernel already ships AES, so the code is already there. It's just not being utilized.

The Linux kernel could have 1 GBps in CSPRNG output, but is deliberately choosing not to. That's like having a V12 turbo-charged sleeper, without the turbo, and only firing on 3 of the 12 cylinders, with a duct taped muffler on the back.

Why does 1 GBps of performance matter? How about wiping hard drives or secure data removal in general? With 20 MBps, we can't even saturate a single drive in IOPS. With 1 GBps, we could saturate many simultaneously. As someone who wipes old employee workstations when they leave the company, backup servers with dozens of drives, or old decommissioned hardware, I see great benefit here.

Or, how about HTTPS web sites for a shared web hosting provider? I have seen countless times HTTPS and SSH connections lag due to waiting on the CSPRNG. Not that it's being intentionally blocked, but because the load is so intense on the server, it just can't generate enough cryptographic randomness to keep up with requests.

I'm sure there are plenty of other examples where end userspace applications could benefit with improved performance of the CSPRNG. And, as shown, it can't be that difficult to implement correctly. The real question is, of course, who will do the work and submit the patch?

My Strange Tweets

You may have noticed some tweets from me that look.... strange. Probably something like these:

First, let me provide some background. When Twitter was announced, a couple Free Software developers got together to create a self-hosted Free Software alternative. They called that alternative "Identica", because it was hosted in Canada, and a way to establish your social identity. It made sense, and the Free Software and Open Source ecosystem ate it up. Within no time, it was a thriving online social network, involving mostly those from the Free Software and Open Source world, with all sorts of very influential developers and people creating accounts.

One account that seemed to catch the eye of many was @key. It posted what appeared to be MD5 checksums every 2 hours, regularly and consistently. Plenty of people were following the account, yet it wasn't following anyone. People replied to the tweets, asking what it was posting, who it was, why it was doing what it was doing, if it was a government account, etc. No one could figure it out, and if there were MD5 checksums, no one could reproduce them. It was a social enigma, and it kept people enthralled and engaged.

I thought this was exceptionally creative, and I was quite jealous that I didn't think of it first. The best I figured was that it was posting the timestamp of the tweet with a custom salt. At least, that is what I would have done. It couldn't be an MD5 of random data, otherwise, why not just post the random data? Or is that exactly what it is? So, instead, I decided to play with the Identica API and roll my own, using my own account. I had already setup the "Identica-Twitter bridge", so anything I posted to my Identica account would get posted to Twitter automatically.

But, I have to be different. So rather than a random digest that no one could figure out (I'm sure it's a timestamp), I wanted something a little more transparent. I started with taking the SHA-1 of the Unix epoch (the number of seconds since Jan 1, 1970 00:00.00) at 13:37 local time, because it's leet. This was easily accomplished with a bit of shell code:

$ EPOCH=$(date --date="today 13:37" +%s); printf "$EPOCH: "; printf "$EPOCH" | sha1sum - | cut -d ' ' -f 1

This was the first tweet:

Later however, I wanted something even more creative. I go by the online nick "eightyeight" on IRC, because I play the piano. However, some Asian cultures see the number "8" as lucky. With "Chinese" fortune cookies, I figured I would "encrypt" a fortune at 08:08 local time. Again, I decided to do this with a bit of shell code:

$ fortune -s -n 70 | gzip -c | base64 | rot13 | paste -sd ''

The first tweet to hit that was (testing the API, so this one actually wasn't on 08:08):

However, Identica started going downhill. First, we had big challenges fighting bot spam. Despite repeated bug reports and discussion on the network, very little change was happening in the code to combat the spam (for future reference, just use Hashcash tokens as a proof-of-work for form submissions). Then getting venture capital, and attempting to appeal to the mass market, things started changing. First it rebranded itself as "Status.Net", then we lost threaded replies. The API was no longer Twitter compatible (at least some things were different), and branding got real weird. Then it rebranded itself again under a completely new code rewrite as "pump.io", and that is the status today. At this last rebranding, the API was no longer functional, and my scripts stopped. I didn't want to work with the Twitter API, so I didn't bother setting it up again.

It wasn't until some time ago I decided to resurrect my cryptic tweets. However, I made some changes. Instead of using SHA-1, I decided to use RIPEMD-160. Although it hasn't had the mountains of analysis SHA-1 has had, RIPEMD-160 is still considered secure, although with its 160-bit digest size, the security margin might be a bit too slim for some. However, I stuck with the same Unix epoch timestamp automated at 13:37 local time.

Then, after developing my own playing card cipher, and refining it with the help of @timshadel, I decided to actually attempt a legitimate (if still insecure) cipher with Talon. It's still a fortune (BOFH style) and it's still published at 08:08 local time for the same reasons. If you want a crack at decrypting it, check out my playing card cipher repository at https://github.com/atoponce/cardciphers. There should be a new one every day, but it may be possible that the fortune is 1 character too long, and as a result, it doesn't get posted (I've accounted for this, but I'm sure I've missed something).

What's the point? Nothing more than just a bit of fun. It's probably not something you're interested in seeing on your timeline, and I don't blame you. Granted, there will be one of each every day. If you don't have a busy timeline, I guess it could get a bit old. But, I don't plan on stopping, nor using a separate account.

Getting Root On The Nexus 6 With Android 6

This probably the 40th millionth time, since owning this phone, that I've needed to root my device. Because I keep doing it over and over, while also referring to past commands and notes, it's high time I blogged the steps. If I can benefit myself from my own blog post, then chances are someone else can. So, with that said, here's what we're going to do:

  1. Grab the latest Nexus factory images from Google.
  2. Update the phone by flashing all the images (without wiping user data).
  3. Flash the recovery with the latest TWRP image.
  4. Get root on the device with Chainfire's "system-less root" SuperSU package.
  5. Enable USB tethering and the wireless hotspot functionality.

Before beginning, I should mention that if the title isn't immediately clear, this post is specific to the Motorola Nexus 6, which is the phone I currently own. It's probably generic enough, however, to be applied to a few Nexus devices. Minus getting the factory Nexus images from Google, this might even be generic enough for non-Nexus devices, but you're on your own there. Proceed at your own risk. With that said, it's fairly hard to brick an Android phone these days.

Also, you need to make sure you have an unlocked bootloader. Google ships with the bootloader locked by default. Unlocking it, will wipe your user partition, meaning you will lose any and all user data (images, videos, text messages, application data, etc.). I'm going to assume that you've already unlocked the bootloader, and are ready to proceed.

TL;DR

If you don't want to read the post, and know what you're doing, here's the short of it:

$ tar -xf shamu-mmb29k-factory-9a76896b.tgz
$ cd shamu-mmb29k
$ adb reboot bootloader
$ fastboot flash bootloader bootloader-shamu-moto-apq8084-71.15.img
$ fastboot reboot-bootloader
$ fastboot flash radio radio-shamu-d4.01-9625-05.32+fsg-9625-02.109.img
$ fastboot reboot-bootloader
$ fastboot update image-shamu-mmb29k.zip
$ fastboot flash recovery twrp-2.8.7.1-shamu.img
$ fastboot reboot recovery
(reboot normally)
$ adb push UPDATE-SuperSU-v2.46.zip /sdcard/supersu.zip
$ adb reboot recovery
(install /sdcard/supersu.zip from TWRP)
(do not install TWRP root)
(reboot normally)
(install build.prop editor from Google Play)
(set "net.tethering.noprovisioning" to "true")

Otherwise ...

Getting the Google Nexus factory images

Navigate to https://developers.google.com/android/nexus/images#shamu and grab the version you are looking for. For example, I recently wanted to flash 6.0.1, so I grabbed the "MMB29K" image. Before flashing, I find it critical to verify the checksums. They are "27dde1258ccbcbdd3451d7751ab0259d" for MD5 and "9a76896bed0a0145dc71ff14c55f0a590b83525d" for SHA-1. So, after downloading, I pulled up a terminal, and verified them:

$ md5sum shamu-mmb29k-factory-9a76896b.tgz
27dde1258ccbcbdd3451d7751ab0259d  shamu-mmb29k-factory-9a76896b.tgz
$ sha1sum shamu-mmb29k-factory-9a76896b.tgz 
9a76896bed0a0145dc71ff14c55f0a590b83525d  shamu-mmb29k-factory-9a76896b.tgz

After examination, it's clear these checksums match, so I'm ready to flash.

Flashing the images

This step does not require root on your device. I'll need to connect my phone to my computer via USB, and verify that I can talk to it via adb(1). This means installing the Debian "android-tools-adb" and "android-tools-fastboot" packages if they're not already. After installed, I should be able to verify that I can talk to the phone:

$ sudo apt-get install android-tools-adb android-tools-fastboot
(...snip...)
$ adb devices
List of devices attached 
[serial number]      device

If your device is visible, we are ready to rock-n-roll. First, extract the tarball, and enter the directory:

$ tar -xf shamu-mmb29k-factory-9a76896b.tgz
$ cd shamu-mmb29k
$ ls -lh
total 2.3G
-rw-r--r-- 1 atoponce atoponce  124 Jan  1  2009 android-info.txt
-rw-r--r-- 1 atoponce atoponce 8.1M Jan  1  2009 boot.img
-rw-r----- 1 atoponce atoponce  11M Nov 18 16:59 bootloader-shamu-moto-apq8084-71.15.img
-rw-r--r-- 1 atoponce atoponce 6.2M Jan  1  2009 cache.img
-rw-r----- 1 atoponce atoponce  985 Nov 18 16:59 flash-all.bat
-rwxr-x--x 1 atoponce atoponce  856 Nov 18 16:59 flash-all.sh*
-rwxr-x--x 1 atoponce atoponce  814 Nov 18 16:59 flash-base.sh*
-rw-r----- 1 atoponce atoponce 964M Nov 18 16:59 image-shamu-mmb29k.zip
-rw-r----- 1 atoponce atoponce 113M Nov 18 16:59 radio-shamu-d4.01-9625-05.32+fsg-9625-02.109.img
-rw-r--r-- 1 atoponce atoponce 8.8M Jan  1  2009 recovery.img
-rw-r--r-- 1 atoponce atoponce 2.0G Jan  1  2009 system.img
-rw-r--r-- 1 atoponce atoponce 136M Jan  1  2009 userdata.img

Notice a couple of things- first, there are shell scripts "flash-all.sh" and "flash-base.sh" for Unix-like systems. Also, notice the "bootloader-shamu-moto-apq8084-71.15.img" & "radio-shamu-d4.01-9625-05.32+fsg-9625-02.109.img" raw images, as well as the "image-shamu-mmb29k.zip". These are the only files we're going to concern ourselves with when flashing the phone.

However, we want to be careful that we don't flash "userdata.img". This will format your user partition and all user data will be wiped (see above). What we're going to do, is basically the same execution as the "flash-all.sh" shell script. However, we're going to make just one small modification. Further, we need our phone already booted into the bootloader. As such, here's what we're going to do:

$ adb reboot bootloader
$ fastboot flash bootloader bootloader-shamu-moto-apq8084-71.15.img
$ fastboot reboot-bootloader
$ fastboot flash radio radio-shamu-d4.01-9625-05.32+fsg-9625-02.109.img
$ fastboot reboot-bootloader
$ fastboot update image-shamu-mmb29k.zip

Notice that I removed -w from that last command (if you looked in the "flash-all.sh" shell script). That option wipes user data, which would be necessary if we wanted to return the phone back to factory state. We don't- we're just upgrading. Also, I don't see the need for "sleep 5". Just wait for the phone to successfully reboot before running the next command.

At this point, the phone is successfully updated. If you were to reboot the phone, it would be perfectly operational as if you did an OTA update, or purchased it from the store. However, we want root, so we have a few more steps to accomplish.

Getting and flashing TWRP

This step also does not require root on your phone. I prefer TWRP for my recovery on Android. It's touch-based, which sets the UI apart from the other recoveries, and it's Free Software, unlike ClockworkMod. Both of these are big wins for me. Grab the latest image at https://twrp.me/devices/motorolanexus6.html. I downloaded twrp-2.8.1.7-shamu.img. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any checksums to check to verify the download. So, I installed it anyway, knowing I could flash the stock "recovery.img" if something goes wrong. So far, things have been great, so I calculated the checksums for you:

$ md5sum twrp-2.8.7.1-shamu.img 
f040c3a26f71dfce2f04339f62e162b8  twrp-2.8.7.1-shamu.img
$ sha1sum twrp-2.8.7.1-shamu.img
40017e584879fad2be4043c397067fe4d2d76c88  twrp-2.8.7.1-shamu.img
$ sha256sum twrp-2.8.7.1-shamu.img
ebe5af833e8b626e478b11feb99a566445d5686671dcbade17fe39c5ce8517c7  twrp-2.8.7.1-shamu.img

If those checkout, you should be safe in flashing. Currently, the phone should already be booted into the bootloader. If not, make sure it is. Once in the bootloader, we can flash TWRP then reboot normally:

$ fastboot flash recovery twrp-2.8.7.1-shamu.img

Now, it's critical that we don't normally reboot the phone. If we do, recovery will be overwritten, and we'll have to reflash. So, while your phone is still booted into the bootloader, reboot it into recovery. You can do this by pressing the volume up/down arrows, until rebooting into recovery is available, and pressing the power button. This should boot you into TWRP. Now that you're there, you can reboot the phone normally.

WARNING
It is possible that while booting, your phone will notify you that the system cannot be verified. One of two things will happen: either the boot will pause, and not go further, or will boot without despite the warning. If you flashed these exact versions, my phone boots without the warning at all. However, don't panic if you see it. Remember, you have the factory images. Just reflash the recovery.img, and you will be just fine.

More info can be found at http://www.xda-developers.com/a-look-at-marshmallow-root-verity-complications/.

Getting and flashing SuperSU (getting root)

WARNING
At this point, the phone should be booted into its regular state. We are now ready to root the phone. This means getting the latest SuperSU package, and installing it through TWRP. However, I need to throw out another caution. We'll be installing a beta version of SuperSU to do something called "system-less root". This means that the package will only be modifying the bootloader image to get root, and will not be touching the system partition. This is both good, and bad. It's good in that we only need to reflash the bootloader to remove root. It's bad in that this is experimental software, and really not ready for production. Further, unlike TWRP, SuperSU is proprietary software, which sucks. It does make me a bit nervous, to be honest, to rely on non-free closed-source proprietary software, on such a critical piece of my life. Proceed at your own risk.

As of this writing, you'll need to get the SuperSU package from the XDA forums at http://forum.xda-developers.com/showpost.php?p=64161125&postcount;=3. I grabbed version "BETA-SuperSU-v2.64-20151220185127.zip". There may be updates since this post was published.

Unfortunately, again, I did not see any published checksums. So, I've installed it, with the knowledge of how to reflash my bootloader should I encounter problems.

$ md5sum UPDATE-SuperSU-v2.46.zip 
332de336aee7337954202475eeaea453  UPDATE-SuperSU-v2.46.zip
$ sha1sum UPDATE-SuperSU-v2.46.zip 
6135f9d0af28e02f4292c324bf5983998e7ae006  UPDATE-SuperSU-v2.46.zip
$ sha256sum UPDATE-SuperSU-v2.46.zip 
d44cdd09e99561132b2a4cd19d707f7126722a9c051dc23f065a948c7248dc4e  UPDATE-SuperSU-v2.46.zip

Provided these checksums match, we're good to go. We need to push the ZIP to our phone with the Android debugger, and reboot into the TWRP recovery:

$ adb push UPDATE-SuperSU-v2.46.zip /sdcard/supersu.zip
$ adb reboot recovery

From the TWRP interface, tap "Install" and install the /sdcard/supersu.zip package. When it finishes, tap "Reboot". TWRP will ask if you would like to install the root provided by the image. You do NOT want to install this root- you just flashed one.

The phone should boot normally.

Enable USB tethering and the wireless hotspot

This step requires root. Finally, we want to enable the hotspot and tethering. Google is bending to wireless carriers, forcing the user to prove that they are subscribing to a cellular service that allows them to use USB tethering or the wireless hotspot. Personally, I find this dirty, and unfortunate. Even worse, is the fact that cellular providers think they can get away by charging double for using your own data. Data is data; it shouldn't matter if it comes from your phone, or your laptop connected to your phone. If they want to charge for overages on caps, whatever. But charging double, just because you connected your phone via USB? Or setting up a hotspot in your grandma's house, because she doesn't have WiFi but you have cellular coverage? Please. This is clearly grandfathered from the days of feature phones, where you couldn't tether or hotspot. So, you purchased a USB dongle to enable the hotspot. Even then, it was dirty, but it's clear that this is a byproduct of days gone by.

To enable tethering and the hotspot, you just need to add one line to /system/build.prop config file. Unfortunately, /system/ is mounted read-only. So, you'll have to remount it as read-write and edit the file. However, every attempt I have made at modifying it has ended up with an empty file- IE: losing all its contents. So, rather than editing it manually, there is an app for that.

Install https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.jrummy.apps.build.prop.editor&hl=en. Add "net.tethering.noprovisioning" and set the property to "true", then reboot your phone. At that point, you should be able to USB tether and setup a wireless hotspot.

Conclusion

This wasn't for the faint of heart or for someone who doesn't care about gaining the necessary control over their Android phone that root would give them (setting up firewalls, ad blockers, tethering/hotspot, etc.). However, as mentioned earlier, it's getting fairly difficult to hard brick and Android phone these days. Even better, the steps are getting somewhat standardized. IE: flash factory images, flash custom recovery, install SuperSU, & optionally enable tethering/hotspot.