I am curious about the standard cryptographic secure random generator used by /dev/urandom in Ubuntu LTS 20.04. Can someone name the standard or provide me with a reference where I can find more information, e.g. the source code?


1 Answer 1


That is the "the kernel's random number generator" as stated in man 4 random, urandom:

The character special files /dev/random and /dev/urandom (present since Linux 1.3.30) provide an interface to the kernel's random number generator. The file /dev/random has major device number 1 and minor device number 8. The file /dev/urandom has major device number 1 and minor device number 9.

The random number generator gathers environmental noise from device drivers and other sources into an entropy pool. The generator also keeps an estimate of the number of bits of noise in the entropy pool. From this entropy pool, random numbers are created.

More is explained in the programmers' comments of the kernel's related source file random.c:

 * This routine gathers environmental noise from device drivers, etc.,
 * and returns good random numbers, suitable for cryptographic use.
 * Besides the obvious cryptographic uses, these numbers are also good
 * for seeding TCP sequence numbers, and other places where it is
 * desirable to have numbers which are not only random, but hard to
 * predict by an attacker.
 * Theory of operation
 * ===================
 * Computers are very predictable devices.  Hence it is extremely hard
 * to produce truly random numbers on a computer --- as opposed to
 * pseudo-random numbers, which can easily generated by using a
 * algorithm.  Unfortunately, it is very easy for attackers to guess
 * the sequence of pseudo-random number generators, and for some
 * applications this is not acceptable.  So instead, we must try to
 * gather "environmental noise" from the computer's environment, which
 * must be hard for outside attackers to observe, and use that to
 * generate random numbers.  In a Unix environment, this is best done
 * from inside the kernel.
 * Sources of randomness from the environment include inter-keyboard
 * timings, inter-interrupt timings from some interrupts, and other
 * events which are both (a) non-deterministic and (b) hard for an
 * outside observer to measure.  Randomness from these sources are
 * added to an "entropy pool", which is mixed using a CRC-like function.
 * This is not cryptographically strong, but it is adequate assuming
 * the randomness is not chosen maliciously, and it is fast enough that
 * the overhead of doing it on every interrupt is very reasonable.
 * As random bytes are mixed into the entropy pool, the routines keep
 * an *estimate* of how many bits of randomness have been stored into
 * the random number generator's internal state.
 * When random bytes are desired, they are obtained by taking the SHA
 * hash of the contents of the "entropy pool".  The SHA hash avoids
 * exposing the internal state of the entropy pool.  It is believed to
 * be computationally infeasible to derive any useful information
 * about the input of SHA from its output.  Even if it is possible to
 * analyze SHA in some clever way, as long as the amount of data
 * returned from the generator is less than the inherent entropy in
 * the pool, the output data is totally unpredictable.  For this
 * reason, the routine decreases its internal estimate of how many
 * bits of "true randomness" are contained in the entropy pool as it
 * outputs random numbers.
 * If this estimate goes to zero, the routine can still generate
 * random numbers; however, an attacker may (at least in theory) be
 * able to infer the future output of the generator from prior
 * outputs.  This requires successful cryptanalysis of SHA, which is
 * not believed to be feasible, but there is a remote possibility.
 * Nonetheless, these numbers should be useful for the vast majority
 * of purposes.

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