Widespread Weak Keys in Network Devices

We performed a large-scale study of RSA and DSA cryptographic keys in use on the Internet and discovered that significant numbers of keys are insecure due to insufficient randomness. These keys are being used to secure TLS (HTTPS) and SSH connections for hundreds of thousands of hosts.

Nearly all the vulnerable hosts are headless and embedded network devices, such as routers, firewalls, and server management cards. These types of devices often generate keys automatically on first boot, and lack many of the physical sources of randomness used by traditional PCs to generate random numbers. We identified apparently vulnerable devices and software from 54 manufacturers and notified these companies about the problems.

In experiments with several popular open-source software components, we were able to reproduce these vulnerabilities and show how such weak keys can arise in practice. Most critically, we found that the Linux random number generator can produce predictable output at boot under certain conditions, although we also observed compromised keys on BSD and Windows-based systems.

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The Team

This study was performed by computer scientists at the University of California, San Diego and the University of Michigan.

The research team can be reached at factorable@umich.edu.