# /dev/random and /dev/urandom randomness seeding in Tails
/dev/random and /dev/urandom are special Linux devices that provide
access from user land to the Linux kernel Cryptographically Secure
Pseudo Random Number Generator (CSPRNG). This generator is used for
almost every security protocol, like TLS/SSL key generation, choosing
TCP sequences, ASLR offsets, and
[https://eprint.iacr.org/2006/086.pdf](GPG key generation) . In order
for this CSPRNG to indeed be cryptographically secure, it's recommended
to seed it with a 'good' entropy source, even though The Linux kernel
collects entropy from several sources, for example keyboard typing,
mouse movement, among others.
Because of Tails' feature of being amnesic, and run from different types
of live devices (from DVDs to USB sticks), special care must be taken to
ensure the system gets enough entropy and boots with enough randomness.
This proves to be hard within the Tails context, where the system is
almost always booting the same way. Even the squashfs file is ordered to
optimize boot time.
Although these problems have been documented since a long time (see
[http://www.av8n.com/computer/htm/fixup-live-cd.htm]), there's not much
done to tackle the problem. We looked at notes and research from LiveCD
OS's and supply them here for completeness' sake. Whonix has a [wiki
page](https://www.whonix.org/wiki/Dev/Entropy) with some notes, and
Qubes has tickets about this
## Current situation
See the related [[design document|contribute/design/random]]
Tails does not ship /var/lib/urandom/random-seed in the ISO, since it
means shipping a fixed known value for every Tails installation, which
in turn means that entropy contribution would be zero. Furthermore, this
breaks reproducibility of the ISO image.
Without this random seed, systemd-random-seed won't write anything to
/dev/urandom, so we rely purely on the kernel CSPRNG and current system entropy
to get /dev/urandom. It's commonly admitted to be quite good, but given the
Live nature of Tails, and the fact that good cryptography is a must, we may
want to add additional measures to ensure any Tails system has enough entropy.
Tails ships Haveged and rngd since a while. Still there are concerns about
Haveged's reliability to provide cryptographically secure randomness, and rngd
is only really useful when random generator devices are used.
Taking other measures to seed the Linux Kernel CSPRNG with good material seems
worth spending efforts on.
## Use cases
Tails is used in different ways with different live devices. That requires
different solutions, depending on how and what the Tails OS is installed.
This may be the most difficult, since all that the user is running is the plain
ISO we provide. In there, there's no seed at all, and no way for the users to
On the other hand, that's not the installation method we want to support the
most, and probably not the most used when people want to secure other
communication types than HTTPS (e.g persistence is very useful for OpenPGP key
storage and usage, chat account configuration, ...).
So we may eventually just document somewhere to users that they MUST NOT use
this type of installation if they want to rely on good cryptography for their
communications and key generation, or that they should wait after having
interacted a long (but hard to define) time with the system so that it had time
to collect entropy, and does not rely on the CSPRNG, Haveged and rngd only.
We could also add some kind of notification to users when entropy gets too low,
or just tell them that the way they use Tails is not compatible with strong
### Intermediary USB
This type of installation is supposed to be used when people are installing
Tails from another OS (except Debian and Ubuntu, where they can use the Tails
installer). In most cases, this means having a bit-by-bit copy of the Tails ISO
on the USB stick, except for Windows where we ask to use the [Universal USB
In this case the situation is pretty much the same than with the DVD one. No
seed. And adding one is very difficult if not impossible (except with the
Windows installation where we may ask upstream to implement that in the
Universal USB Installer, but well...).
That's also not really the way we encourage users to use Tails, so as with DVD
there's maybe no point to fix the situation here, and the same workaround could
be applied (document it).
### Final USB
That's supposed to be the standard way to use Tails.
Note that in this case, there are two situations: booting this installation
with persistence enabled, and without.
It is worth noting that the first time this Tails installation is
booted, most of the time the first step is to configure persistence,
which means creating an encrypted partition. At this step though, there
is probably very little entropy at this moment, which may weaken the
LUKS volume encryption.
### Virtual Machines
That's a way to use Tails, and one of the worst cases: it is of public
knowledge that entropy in VMs is very poor. It's not really clear how the
entropy gathering daemons we have would help, but there are mechanisms now in
libvirt to pass randomness from the host using the Virtio RNG feature (even if
it may not be enough by itself).
## Proposed solutions
### Persist entropy pool seeds [[!tails_ticket 7675]]
We hope to improve this situation for users who enable the persistent storage
option by storing a seed from the previous session to help bootstrap
with some "well" generated randomness.
Storing it in the persistent partition will be implemented using a default
(hidden to the user) persistence setting. But it does not solve the problem for
the first time Tails is booted, which is likely when the encrypted persistence
partition is created.
### Use the Tails installer to create a better seed [[!tails_ticket 11897]]
Note that we'll likely soon distribute a USB image and won't use Tails
installer anymore for creating Tails devices. [[!tails_ticket 15292]]
Tails installer can be used on Debian and Ubuntu, and is the tool people
running OSX or Windows are told to use to install their final Tails
USB stick with, by using an intermediary Tails to create the final USB.
Tails installer could store a seed in the FAT filesystem of the system
partition. That would workaround this first boot problem not handled by the
We sadly can't update this seed while running Tails, as read-write mounting the system
FAT partition during a Tails session does not work. So the question whether updating it
or not is open.
If we want to do so, we'll have to update it at the system shutdown. This will
mean remount this partition, write the new random seed, then unmount it and
start the shutdown of the system. Obviously we can do this only in normal
shutdown process, and we'll have to avoid it in emergency shutdown mode.
We may alternatively not update it, and use it only when the persistence is not
enabled. That would still be a unique source of entropy per Tails installation,
so that would be a better situation than the current one.
One drawback: this would break the ability to verify this system partition with
a simple shasum operation.
### Use stronger/more entropy collectors [[!tails_ticket 5650]]
As already stated, Tails runs Haveged, and rngd (since 2.6 for the later).
We may want to add other sources though, given there are concerns about Haveged,
and rngd starts only when a hardware RNG is detected, which is not so often the
XXX: It would be nice to have a study (read: a survey of packages, etc)
of all the useful entropy gathering daemons that might be of use on a
Tails system. (and have this tested on computers with/without intel rng
or things like an entropykey)
An evaluation of some of them [has been done
* [entropy gathering daemon](http://egd.sourceforge.net/): not packaged into Debian.
* [twuewand](http://www.finnie.org/software/twuewand/): used by Finnix LiveCD
(so made for this kind of environment), packaged into Ubuntu only.
* [timer entropy daemon](https://www.vanheusden.com/te/): not packaged into Debian
* randomsound: probably a bad idea in the Tails context as we're discussing a
Greeter option to deactivate the microphone.
### Block booting until enough entropy has been gathered
One way to ensure Tails is booting with enough entropy would be to block
the boot while the system is lacking it.
But this brings questions about how to interact correctly with the users,
as blocking without notifications would be terrible UX. Also Tails boot time is
a bit long already, and this may grow it quite a bit more again.
XXX: So before going on, we need a bit more data about the state of the entropy when
Tails boots, especially now that we have several entropy collector daemons. It may
very well be that this case does not happen anymore. And if it does, we need to know
on average how much time that blocking would last. [[!tails_ticket
### Regularly check available entropy and notify if low
An idea that has been mentioned several times is to have a service that
checks if the available entropy is high enough, and notifies the user if
it's not the case. One downside is, that observing the entropy pool costs
randomness, so this may have to be implemented with care or is worth
discussing/researching the costs/benefits.
## Also see
* [Schleuder thread about haveged](https://0xacab.org/schleuder/schleuder/issues/194)
[federal office for IT security in Germany analysed the rng in linux kernel 4.9 and all changes made up to 4.17](https://www.bsi.bund.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/EN/BSI/Publications/Studies/LinuxRNG/LinuxRNG_EN.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=10).
* [checking for available entropy](https://salsa.debian.org/tookmund-guest/pgpcr/issues/16)
## Related tickets
This is about [[!tails_ticket 7642]], [[!tails_ticket 7675]],
[[!tails_ticket 6116]], [[!tails_ticket 11897]] and friends.
## More references