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Re: Sufficiently safe random information for security-critical Guile app

From: Christopher Allan Webber
Subject: Re: Sufficiently safe random information for security-critical Guile applications
Date: Sat, 27 Aug 2016 10:32:55 -0500
User-agent: mu4e 0.9.16; emacs 24.5.1

Josh Datko writes:

> On Fri, 2016-08-26 at 14:59 -0500, Christopher Allan Webber wrote:
>> Hello!So, as some of you know, I'm working on a federation
>> implementation in Guile.This needs a few things:
>> - Random tokens which won't collide, for various purposes
> There's a function in libgcrypt, gcry_create_nonce. Perhaps this would
> provide better performance in this use-case. From the libgcrypt 1.6.4
> manual:
> void gcry_create_nonce (unsigned char *buffer, size t length)
> Fill buffer with length unpredictable bytes. This is commonly called a
> nonce and may also be used for initialization vectors and padding. This
> is an extra function nearly independent of the other random function
> for 3 reasons: It better protects the regular random generator’s
> internal state, provides better performance and does not drain the
> precious entropy pool

That seems to fill 300k 50-length bytevectors with random data per
second, which is quite good.

At that point, it's really the base64 encoding in guile which is slowing
things down, which I suspect might be much faster in Guile 2.1.X
(but I haven't tested it yet).

>> - The ability to generate a solid random key, which is used for...
> Well, besides this unfortunate recent bug/cve (http://formal.iti.kit.ed
> u/~klebanov/pubs/libgcrypt-cve-2016-6313.pdf), I would take
> cryptographic PRNG over a non-one, with no offense to the guile
> developers.

I think you're right.  I did a bit more research (full caveat: I know
nearly nothing about these things, or this section of the codebase,
aside from what I looked into yesterday) and it looks like Guile is
using the same Multiply With Carry RNG that was installed in 1999:

 * The prepackaged RNG
 * This is the MWC (Multiply With Carry) random number generator
 * described by George Marsaglia at the Department of Statistics and
 * Supercomputer Computations Research Institute, The Florida State
 * University (
 * It uses 64 bits, has a period of 4578426017172946943 (4.6e18), and
 * passes all tests in the DIEHARD test suite
 * (

As it turns out, Multiply With Carry was the same PRNG used in V8, in
the article I previously linked to where troubles were described:

It looks like most other languages are using the Mersenne Twister,
though I don't know if that is necessarily better, or if V8's
implementation was just not really good, or really anything about it.

But yes, I think trusting a crypto library's PRNG for security-critical
stuff is probably the right move.  The recent CVE sorta sucks, but also,
it's good that it's getting that much review to run into those kinds of

>> - The ability to generate an HMAC (for signed cooke based sessions)
> HMAC is deterministic, so once you have your key generated, there is no
> random input into HMAC (besides the key of course).

Right, I just need an initial good value... and even if that were on the
longer end of generation, it would only need to be done once.

>> So!Does someone much better informed than I am have any insights?
>> :)
> Seeding one RNG (/dev/random) from another (libgcrypt) doesn't sit well
> with me. The problem you need to seed a PRNG from ideally, real random.
> How did you generate *that* random? Well, you quickly have a Rube
> Goldberg machine.

Well, and here I was going to throw all my energy into a new random
number generating device scavenged from an old Boggle dice dome, some
original red-box D20s, and a webcam... oh well.

In all seriousness, good point. :)

Anyway, I'll trust in libgcrypt to do the right thing for now.  Thanks
for the input!

 - Chris

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