Tag Archives: php

PHP uniqid() – Entropy Analysis and Potentially Vulnerable Apps

This research started with my reporting a zero-day that Front Accounting’s reporting used uniqid() and it’s file names were non-random. Given where the application saves these reports by default they are retrievable by anyone who can guess the proper URL report name. OSVDB asked me to what extent does this issue overlap with a larger, previously reported PHP issue of non-randomness in the generation of PHPSESSIONID. Over the course of my research I discovered that, while both suffered issues of non-randomness, uniqid() and LCG were independent from each other after PHP3. As of PHP4+, uniqid() is not used to generate session cookies. While uniqid()  uses an LCG randomness routine it only does so when the more_entropy flag is set by the developer. LCG is not the cause of the lack of uniqid() entropy. In fact it is just the opposite. It helps it when the flag is set but not significantly. As such it is my humble opinion that CVE and OSVDB descriptions needed to be updated to reflect this information. In our tweets Steve Christey was still worried — and rightly so — that many applications use the uniqid() function and might be vulnerable. So, here we are.

It’s clear that uniqid() is non-random. This is even reported in the PHP documentation. The question is how non-random is it? Furthermore, what’s the impact? How many apps are using the function?

I tested the non-randomness by writing some sample PHP code taken almost straight from the documentation. I did this because I felt it best to use the sample code provided by PHP to their users. I assume here that it will be the way most people will use the function (copy and paste). Two apps were written: one to test the function regularly and one to test it with added entropy. Since I’m not a math geek, I used burp‘s Sequencer functionality to test the entropy. I have fairly smallish sample sizess but I believe I do not need a larger ones to change the general nature of the result. (I leave this to the next researcher.) I then used Search Diggity to scan through google’s project code as well as doing a direct search. I attached a gallery with annotations showing the testing procedure and results.


With or without the more_entropy option, uniqid(), as represented in the PHP sample code and documentation, results in poor entropy and should not be used. According to burp, with a sample size of 4016 tokens, uniqid() without more_entropy is “extremely poor” and has a effective entropy of 10 bits. With a sample size of 7515 tokens, uniqid() with more_entropy enabled is “poor” with an effective entropy of 29 bits. According to burp the reliability of the sample sizes were either reasonable or good. It is my opinion that if the tests were conducted over a larger sample size the effective entropy will only decrease: by how much I’m not certain.

The question remains: are there vulnerable applications and to what extent? Search Diggity returns 100 instances of uniqid() being used on google code. Google’s own search engine returns 60K+ strings matching uniqid(). Important:  google’s query is a bit of a false indicator since it returns results that matches the string including languages other than PHP. And, I didn’t scan other repositories such as Sourceforge or Github.

Lesson 1: heed the PHP documentation and do not use uniqid() when the need for a random string arises. Lesson 2: it seems that there is a decent amount of potential vulnerable code.

Below are the pictures to support the research. Many thanks to OSVDB and Steve Christy for an excellent exchange of tweets. Enjoy and happy hunting.

PHP uniqid() and LCG non-randomness write-up

In twitter conversations with OSVDB the question arose whether the Front Accounting 2.3.13 Predictable File Name and Public Path vulnerability I disclosed yesterday had a connection with a previously reported LCG vulnerability in 2010 since the LCG in PHP apparently uses the uniqid() function.

Although there is a loose connection, the upshot is that they are different. Here’s why.

After checking though the PHP SVN this morning, it seems like the connection is tenuous at best. If we begin with the LCG revisions we notice that in branches 5.2 and 5.3 that we are adding entropy through tv.tv as shown below:

But from our standpoint — determining the connection between LCG and uniqid() — this doesn’t matter much. It’s the fact that it uses the following structure and call:

The call to uniqid() also uses the timeval structure:

Unlike LCG, uniqid() adds it’s randomness in the following way:

Since randomness is added differently, the gettimeofday() function is in fact the only overlap between uniqid.c and lcg.c that concerns us to understand the connection and the difference for this analysis.

For our purposes to answer OSVDB’s initial inquiry the answer comes down to this:

  • Both LCG and the uniqid() function use the same gettimeofday call as the initial seed for randomness, whether through returning a string for uniqid() or as part of PHPSESSIONID
  • LCG and uniqid() are totally separate and use independent calls to fill data structures defined in separate areas of memory
  • the functions do not call one another at all
  • LCG uses the php_combined_lcg() function which does not use uniqid() in any functions below it for session token creation

From an attackers point of view, the key in the LCG attack is the ability to use a function such as uniqid() — which is much more likely to be used by a developer — to get the server’s seed (actual time on the box) and off of which we will base our attack on the PHPSESSIONID since neither offer enough entropy.

Conclusion 1: LCG does not use uniqid() as it’s seed generator. We can see this from the SVN of the committed LCG code linked to earlier: uniqid was neither removed or added. A quick search of the actual LCG code will show that this header or function is not included in the PHPSESSION generating code. The description in NVD and OSVDB is is in fact incorrect for the 2010 attack*.

Conclusion 2: The non-randomness I described in my Front Accounting vuln release is based solely off the uniqid() function and is independent from the LCG functions although both have a similar but not exact non-randomness issue.

I cannot take full credit for this as some of the critical pieces of the LCG attack analysis come from Andreas Bogk in this post at Full-Disclosure.

* The original post of the LCG issue in 2001 shows that PHPLIB session.c called uniqid() but code apparently is for PHP3 and is no longer maintained since 2007. This is most likely where the NVD / OSVBD confusion comes from. Note that the write-up and tool released by samy kamkar for the 2010 disclosure does not mention uniqid(). At no point is uniqid() used in session.c as described in the original 2001 post as of PHP4.