Friday, December 28, 2007

Using Your Shell To Generate RANDOMness For Security Software

Random number generation, or entropy gathering is something I've always found interesting, because it's so rarely used (to the extent that is possible) and the basic underlying principle is becoming so heavily depended upon. As we enter an age where encryption is becoming not only the standard for network security, but, at times, the only option, this seems insane. I've literally walked into dozens of security software "situations" where it had been agreed upon, all around, that an impasse had been reached, because prngd, egd or the /dev/random and/or /dev/urandom character special devices were no longer functioning correctly. There was simply nothing left to do but wait for vendor support to figure out the problem or, at the very best, wait while we re-installed such and such an OS or software package.

This is a huge problem when your security department has decided that, not only is Telnet no longer a safe connection method, but it's so unsafe that it shouldn't even be on the OS as a backup method for connection. You're left with three options: A secure connection, direct console connection or nothing!

Of course, in a situation like the one I'm describing above, when the security software (Let's say SSH) stops functioning (and no one has a lingering session), you'll need to do your work via the system console. But you should, theoretically, be able to get SSH back up on its feet and running in just slightly more time than it would take you to restart it, once you've logged into the console (hopefully from home :)

The main reason that I see SSH go down is a problem with whatever random number generator it was compiled to use. Of the few I mentioned above, the /dev/random and /dev/urandom character special devices are the most commonly built-in "randomness" generators for SSH. On some older setups (Or for those traditionalists), this is left open and/or set to read random informatiom from a straight file (like /etc/random, or whatever you decide to call it).

On the older versions (where the program reads from a file to "generate randomness") you almost never see this problem, because there's nothing convoluted about the process. We're assuming SSH is fine for all of these examples, and (unless you don't have read access to the file or the filesystem that its on is corrupted), there's almost no way straight-file reads to create randomness can go wrong.

When you're reading from a domain socket or a character special device (like /dev/urandom) is when you may end up having an issue. However you can get around this in your shell using a common variable called RANDOM (Not very cleverly named, but a good indicator of its actual function - available in ksh, bash and almost all shells). This variable produces a random number from between a range of 0 to 32767 (Actual results may vary depending on OS, bit strength of OS, etc) and its value changes every time it's invoked. For instance:

host # a=0;while [ $a -lt 5 ];do echo $RANDOM;let a=$a+1;done
17417
6453
11016
3054
8647


Now, to proceed. We're going to assume that the default file your SSH uses to generate randomness and transfer it to /dev/urandom is missing. Otherwise, you'd just have to fix that and this would be no fun at all ;) In order to incorporate this functionality into your downed SSH server, you'll need to, in effect, create your own /dev/urandom and move the other one out of the way (It's cooked anyway, right? ;)

host # mv /dev/random /dev/norandom
host # mv /dev/urandom /dev/nourandom


Then proceed to create your simple script (We're just going to script on the command line, here) which, while it won't be nearly as secure as the "real" /dev/random was, will keep you afloat until you get the fix in. Theoretically, you could make it really complicated and as secure as you like just as long as you just follow the general outline like this:

First recreate the two necessary random files:

host # mknod /dev/random c 1 8 &&
host # mknod /dev/urandom c 1 9 &&
host # chown root:root /dev/random /dev/urandom
host # chmod 0644 /dev/random /dev/urandom


Then create the random text file, like so (We only need 512 bytes):

host # a=0;while [ $a -lt 92160 ];do echo $RANDOM >>BING;let a=$a+1;done
host # cat BING >/dev/urandom


Note that the above command line (which dumps its output into the file named BING could be a full fledged shell script. It could be highly convoluted and as hard to comprehend as you prefer. The script doesn't even need to work as long as it dumps out enough error data and you're redirecting STDERR to STDOUT -- e.g. 2>&1)

If you want, you can save this output for later, but, hopefully, you won't be needing it. Just dd (disk to disk copy) it back to itself, like this:

host # dd if=/dev/urandom of=BING count=1 >/dev/null 2>&1

Now you should be able to startup your SSH Daemon and finally get back to work ;)

Cheers,

, Mike




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