Serious Weakness in GNU Classpath/gcj PRNG; DSA keys are compromised

GNU Classpath is an open source implementation of the Java class libraries used by gcj, the GNU Compiler for Java. One component of the Java library is JCE, the Java Cryptography Extensions (so called because originally it was not bundled with the JVM due to United States export restrictions), which provides the basic crypto features one would expect (ciphers, hashing, signatures) for Java applications. I found a rather interesting bug that compromised all RSA and DSA keys used with GNU classpath.

For many RNG purposes, including creating private keys, DSA k values, and SRP session ids, GNU Classpath uses This PRNG uses a hash function, which by default is SHA-1 though others can be used instead. It is initialized with a random seed, and then values are generated by the recurrence:

V(0) = H(seed)
V(i) = H(seed || V(i-1))

The PRNG has an interface allowing the addition of new seed material at a later time, for instance a GUI application might seed it with mouse click event information.

Unfortunately there are two problems with how this PRNG is used in Classpath that in combination cause serious problems. One is a convention where each object, most of the time, gets its own PRNG. It seems that it is possible in some but not all cases to override the PRNG to be used, and there seem to be at least three different conventions for how to do it in Classpath. A representative example, from the RSA key pair generator code:

/** The optional {@link SecureRandom} instance to use. */
  private SecureRandom rnd = null;

  /** Our default source of randomness. */
  private PRNG prng = null;


  private void nextRandomBytes(byte[] buffer)
    if (rnd != null)

  private PRNG getDefaultPRNG()
    if (prng == null)
      prng = PRNG.getInstance();

    return prng;

This class will use nextRandomBytes to choose starting points for the RSA p and q values. Note that all access to the prng itself is private, so an application developer cannot, for instance, add new seed data to the PRNG.

The other problem is that by default the only seed used in is the current timestamp in milliseconds. This can be extended by setting a property named "", but I could not find out much more about this because it does not seem to be used by any code at all within Classpath.

Many cryptographic algorithms require a source of cryptographically secure random numbers. For instance, DSA requires choosing a new random 160-bit integer k for each signature that is generated. If this k value is ever revealed, the private key is immediately compromised, since it is equal to (((s*k) - H(m)) * r-1) mod q (using the notation from FIPS 186). Since GNU Classpath (in effect) chooses k values by simply hashing the current timestamp in milliseconds with SHA-1, it is quite simple to search for and find k.

Experiments confirmed that the output of, as it is returned by PRNG.getInstance(), is easily guessable using only the local clock as the starting point for the search. This usage matches exactly how this class is used throughout the GNU Classpath source.

There are less than 235 millisecond values in a year, which puts an upper bound on the security of any keys generated by this RNG, assuming an attacker can guess the year, which seems a reasonably safe bet. Even a decade contains barely 238 milliseconds. These values are far less than even the toughest export restrictions the United States ever imposed, which were typically 40 to 56 bits of security.

Classpath contains a number of other RNGs including, which seems (at least at first glance) to be somewhat safer. I would recommend adding additional seed material, which would probably be sufficient, except it seems in many cases that is not even possible. Unfortunately since g.c.s.u.PRNG's use is hardcoded in nearly everywhere, it may be difficult for applications to switch.

Update 2008-12-08: I've confirmed that the private half of a DSA keypair can be derived from the public key and a single signature/message pair, simply starting with a guess of the time the signature was generated. This basically means that every DSA key which has been used in an application compiled with gcj or using GNU Classpath/GNU crypto is (or at least can easily be, at any time) compromised. Based on the CVS history, it appears this flaw was originally introduced in GNU Crypto about 6 years ago, and was then imported into Classpath without alteration.

I've entered a bug report for Classpath describing the problem, but no response yet. After this is resolved (hopefully soon), I'll post the private key derivation code for examination.

An example vulnerable application is, which uses only the normal stock Java/JCE API calls to generate a random DSA key, sign an empty string (the exact value doesn't matter, as long as the message is known), and prints the public key and signature (the private key is printed to stderr by the Java code, just so I could confirm that the search code was in fact finding the correct key):

(motoko)$ gcj --version
gcj (Gentoo 4.3.2 p1.2) 4.3.2
Copyright (C) 2008 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
This is free software; see the source for copying conditions.  There is NO

(motoko)$ gcj --main=DSASigGen
(motoko)$ ./a.out > pubkey_and_sig
Private key is 286340495355822070335047169143648712734886086939
(motoko)$ cat pubkey_and_sig
308201b83082012c ... [(DSA public key truncated for readability / not screwing up formatting)]
(motoko)$ g++ -O2 find_dsa_key.cpp -lbotan -o find_dsa_key
(motoko)$ time ./find_dsa_key < pubkey_and_sig
Found private key 286340495355822070335047169143648712734886086939

real    0m0.716s
user    0m0.634s
sys     0m0.054s

Update #2: According to Wikipedia, other JVMs including Kaffe and JikesRVM use GNU Classpath. I have not checked if they are vulnerable (Kaffe is not building on my machine), but the odds are good. This may be a bigger issue than I first thought.

Update #3: I should emphasize that while DSA keys are the easiest target of this flaw, it is quite likely that all private keys (RSA, DSA, Diffie-Hellman, etc) generated by Classpath can be easily found, simply by guessing PRNG seeds and running through the key generation procedure until a private key corresponding to the known public key is produced.

Update #4: This issue has been assigned CVE-2008-5659.