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CERT Coordination Center

Keys generated with PGP5i batch mode do not contain sufficient randomness on systems that use /dev/random

Vulnerability Note VU#26188

Original Release Date: 2001-08-10 | Last Revised: 2001-08-10


Under certain circumstances, PGP v5.0 generates keys that are not sufficiently random, which may allow an attacker to predict keys and, hence, recover information encrypted with that key.


Generating Randomness in PGP Keys

In order to generate cryptographically secure keys, PGP (and other products) need to use random numbers as part of the input to the key generation process. Generating truly random numbers is a difficult problem. PGP has traditionally solved that problem by prompting the user to type some random characters or to move the mouse in a random manner, measuring the time between keystrokes and using this as a source of random data. Additionally, PGP uses a file (usually called randseed.bin) as a source of randomness. However, PGP also provides the ability to generate keys non-interactively (useful, for example, if you need to generate a large number of keys simultaneously or provide a script to generate a key). When generating keys non-interactively, PGP needs a source of random numbers; on some systems PGP v5.0 uses the /dev/random device to provide the required random numbers.

PGP v5.0, including U.S. Commercial, U.S. Freeware, and International versions, contains a flaw in reading the information provided by /dev/random. This is not a flaw in /dev/random but instead is the result of a flaw in how PGP processes the information returned from /dev/random. Thus, when a key is generated non-interactively using a command such as

    pgpk -g <DSS or RSA> <key-length> <user-id> <timeout> <pass-phrase>

it does not contain sufficient randomness to prevent an attacker from guessing the key. If such a command were issued on a system with no available randseed.bin file, then the resulting key may be predictable.

This problem was discovered and analyzed by Germano Caronni <>, and verified by Thomas Roessler <> and Marcel Waldvogel <>. A copy of their analysis can be found at


Keys produced non-interactively with PGP v5.0 on a system with a /dev/random device may be predictable, especially those produced in an environment without a pre-existing randseed.bin file.

Documents encrypted with a vulnerable key may recoverable by an attacker. Additionally, an attacker may be able to forge a digital signature corresponding to a vulnerable key.

Signatures produced using a vulnerable key, including signatures in certificates, may be untrustworthy.


If your PGP key was generated non-interactively using any version of PGP v5.0 on a system with a /dev/random device, you may wish to revoke it.
Documents encrypted with a predictable key may need to be re-encrypted with a non-vulnerable key, if your particular circumstances warrant it; that is, if the information still needs to be encrypted.

You may need to resign documents signed with a vulnerable key if your circumstances warrant it.

Vendor Information

Affected   Unknown   Unaffected


Updated:  October 11, 2000



Vendor Statement

No statement is currently available from the vendor regarding this vulnerability.

Vendor Information

The vendor has not provided us with any further information regarding this vulnerability.


The CERT/CC has no additional comments at this time.

If you have feedback, comments, or additional information about this vulnerability, please send us email.

Network Associates

Updated:  October 11, 2000



Vendor Statement

Network Associates Security Advisory

Date: May 30, 2000
Author: PGP Engineering


    A security issue has been discovered in the following PGP products:
      • PGP 5.0 for Linux, US Commercial and Freeware editions
      • PGP 5.0 for Linux, Source code book (basis for PGP 5.0i for Linux)
    The following PGP products are NOT affected by this issue:
      • PGP 1.x products
      • PGP 2.x products
      • PGP 4.x products
      • All other PGP 5.x products
      • PGP 6.x products
      • PGP 7.x products

    During a recent review of our published PGP 5.0 for Linux source code, researchers discovered that under specific, rare circumstances PGP 5.0 for Linux will generate weak, predictable public/private keypairs. These keys can only be created under the following circumstances:
      • Keys are generated using PGP's command line option for unattended batch key generation, with no user interaction for entropy (random data) collection
      • No keys were generated interactively on this system previously (e.g., a PGP random seed file is not present on this system prior to unattended batch key generation)
      • PGP is able to access the UNIX /dev/random service to gather entropy during unattended batch key generation
      • PGP 5.0 for Linux does not process the data read from /dev/random appropriately, and therefore does not gather enough entropy required to generate strong public/private keypairs. This issue affects both RSA and Diffie-Hellman public/private keypairs, regardless of keysize. Network Associates has verified that this issue does not exist in any other version of PGP.
    Users who generated keys in the manner described above are strongly urged to do the following:
      • Revoke and no longer use keys suspected to have this problem
      • Generate new public/private keypairs with entropy collected from users' typing and/or mouse movements
      • Re-encrypt any data with the newly generated keypairs that is currently encrypted with keys suspected to have this problem
      • Re-sign any data with the newly generated keypairs, if required
    Users are also urged to upgrade to the latest releases of PGP, as PGP 5.0 products have not been officially supported by Network Associates since early 1999, or distributed by Network Associates since June 1998.
    Additional Information:
      US commercial and freeware versions of PGP 5.0 for Linux were released in September 1997 by PGP, Inc., a company founded by Phil Zimmermann. Source code for the PGP 5.0 product family was published in September 1997. PGP, Inc. was acquired by Network Associates in December 1997.

      PGP appreciates the efforts of Germano Caronni, Thomas Roessler and Marcel Waldvogel in identifying this issue and bringing it to our attention.
      A pgp signed version of this statement is also available at

      Vendor Information

      The vendor has not provided us with any further information regarding this vulnerability.


      The CERT/CC has no additional comments at this time.

      If you have feedback, comments, or additional information about this vulnerability, please send us email.

    CVSS Metrics

    Group Score Vector
    Base N/A N/A
    Temporal N/A N/A
    Environmental N/A



    The CERT Coordination Center thanks Germano Caronni, Thomas Roessler, and Marcel Waldvogel for initially discovering and reporting this vulnerability, and for their help in developing this document. Additionally we thank Brett Thomas for his insights.

    This document was written by Shawn V Hernan.

    Other Information

    CVE IDs: CVE-2000-0445
    CERT Advisory: CA-2000-09
    Severity Metric: 3.75
    Date Public: 2000-05-30
    Date First Published: 2001-08-10
    Date Last Updated: 2001-08-10 15:25 UTC
    Document Revision: 5

    Sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Cybersecurity and Communications.