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ARC4RANDOM(3) NetBSD Library Functions Manual ARC4RANDOM(3)
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arc4random, arc4random_uniform, arc4random_buf, arc4random_stir,
arc4random_addrandom -- random number generator
Standard C Library (libc, -lc)
arc4random_buf(void *buf, size_t len);
arc4random_addrandom(unsigned char *buf, int len);
The arc4random family of functions provides a cryptographic pseudorandom
number generator automatically seeded from the system entropy pool and
safe to use from multiple threads. arc4random is designed to prevent an
adversary from guessing outputs, unlike rand(3) and random(3), and is
faster and more convenient than reading from /dev/urandom directly.
arc4random() returns an integer in [0, 2^32) chosen independently with
arc4random_uniform() returns an integer in [0, bound) chosen indepen-
dently with uniform distribution.
arc4random_buf() stores len bytes into the memory pointed to by buf, each
byte chosen independently from [0, 256) with uniform distribution.
arc4random_stir() draws entropy from the operating system and incorpo-
rates it into the library's PRNG state to influence future outputs.
arc4random_addrandom() incorporates len bytes, which must be nonnegative,
from the buffer buf, into the library's PRNG state to influence future
It is not necessary for an application to call arc4random_stir() or
arc4random_addrandom() before calling other arc4random functions. The
first call to any arc4random function will initialize the PRNG state
unpredictably from the system entropy pool.
The arc4random functions provide the following security properties
against three different classes of attackers, assuming enough entropy is
provided by the operating system:
1. An attacker who has seen some outputs of any of the arc4random
functions cannot predict past or future unseen outputs.
2. An attacker who has seen the library's PRNG state in memory can-
not predict past outputs.
3. An attacker who has seen one process's PRNG state cannot predict
past or future outputs in other processes, particularly its par-
ent or siblings.
One `output' means the result of any single request to an arc4random
function, no matter how short it is.
The second property is sometimes called `forward secrecy', `backtracking
resistance', or `key erasure after each output'.
The arc4random functions are currently implemented using the ChaCha20
pseudorandom function family. For any 32-byte string s, ChaCha20_s is a
function from 16-byte strings to 64-byte strings. It is conjectured that
if s is chosen with uniform distribution, then the distribution on
ChaCha20_s is indistinguishable to a computationally bounded adversary
from a uniform distribution on all functions from 16-byte strings to
The PRNG state is a 32-byte ChaCha20 key s. Each request to an
· computes the 64-byte quantity x = ChaCha20_s(0),
· splits x into two 32-byte quantities s' and k,
· replaces s by s', and
· uses k as output.
arc4random() yields the first four bytes of k as output directly.
arc4random_buf() either yields up to 32 bytes of k as output directly,
or, for longer requests, uses k as a ChaCha20 key and yields the concate-
nation ChaCha20_k(0) || ChaCha20_k(1) || ... as output.
arc4random_uniform() repeats arc4random() until it obtains an integer in
[2^32 % bound, 2^32), and reduces that modulo bound.
The PRNG state is per-thread, unless memory allocation fails inside the
library, in which case some threads may share global PRNG state with a
mutex. The global PRNG state is zeroed on fork in the parent via
pthread_atfork(3), and the per-thread PRNG state is zeroed on fork in the
child via minherit(2) with MAP_INHERIT_ZERO, so that the child cannot re-
use or see the parent's PRNG state. The PRNG state is reseeded automati-
cally from the system entropy pool on the first use of an arc4random
function after zeroing.
The first use of an arc4random function may abort the process in the
highly unlikely event that library initialization necessary to implement
the security model fails. Additionally, arc4random_stir() and
arc4random_addrandom() may abort the process in the highly unlikely event
that the operating system fails to provide entropy.
rand(3), random(3), rnd(4), cprng(9)
Daniel J. Bernstein, ChaCha, a variant of Salsa20,
http://cr.yp.to/papers.html#chacha, 2008-01-28, Document ID:
There is no way to get deterministic, reproducible results out of
arc4random for testing purposes.
The name `arc4random' was chosen for hysterical raisins -- it was origi-
nally implemented using the RC4 stream cipher, which has been known since
shortly after it was published in 1994 to have observable biases in the
output, and is now known to be broken badly enough to admit practical
attacks in the real world. Unfortunately, the library found widespread
adoption and the name stuck before anyone recognized that it was silly.
The signature of arc4random_addrandom() is silly. There is no reason to
require casts or accept negative lengths: it should take a void * buffer
and a size_t length. But it's too late to change that now.
arc4random_uniform() does not help to choose integers in [0, n) uniformly
at random when n > 2^32.
The security model of arc4random is stronger than many applications need,
and stronger than other operating systems provide. For example, applica-
tions encrypting messages with random, but not secret, initialization
vectors need only prevent an adversary from guessing future outputs,
since past outputs will have been published already.
On the one hand, arc4random could be marginally faster if it were not
necessary to prevent an adversary who sees the state from predicting past
outputs. On the other hand, there are applications in the wild that use
arc4random to generate key material, such as OpenSSH, so for the sake of
NetBSD users it would be imprudent to weaken the security model. On the
third hand, relying on the security model of arc4random in NetBSD may
lead you to an unpleasant surprise on another operating system whose
implementation of arc4random has a weaker security model.
One may be tempted to create new APIs to accommodate different security
models and performance constraints without unpleasant surprises on dif-
ferent operating systems. This should not be done lightly, though,
because there are already too many different choices, and too many oppor-
tunities for programmers to reach for one and pick the wrong one.
NetBSD 9.1 November 16, 2014 NetBSD 9.1