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Publicly Verifiable Nomcom Random Selection

The information below is for an old version of the document that is already published as an RFC.
Document Type
This is an older version of an Internet-Draft that was ultimately published as RFC 2777.
Author Donald E. Eastlake 3rd
Last updated 2013-03-02 (Latest revision 1999-09-28)
RFC stream Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
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IESG IESG state RFC 2777 (Informational)
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Network Working Group                             Donald E. Eastlake 3rd
INTERNET-DRAFT                                            September 1999
Expires March 2000

              Publicly Verifiable Nomcom Random Selection
              -------- ---------- ------ ------ ---------

                          Status of this Memo

   This draft, file name draft-eastlake-selection-04.txt, is intended to
   become an Informational RFC.  Distribution of this document is
   unlimited. Comments should be sent to the author.

   This document is an Internet-Draft and is in full conformance with
   all provisions of Section 10 of RFC2026.  Internet-Drafts are working
   documents of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), its areas,
   and its working groups.  Note that other groups may also distribute
   working documents as Internet-Drafts.

   Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six
   months.  Internet-Drafts may be updated, replaced, or obsoleted by
   other documents at any time.  It is not appropriate to use Internet-
   Drafts as reference material or to cite them other than as a
   ``working draft'' or ``work in progress.''

   The list of current Internet-Drafts can be accessed at

   The list of Internet-Draft Shadow Directories can be accessed at


   This document describes a method for making random selections in such
   a way that the unbiased nature of the choice is publicly verifiable.
   As an example, the selection of the voting members of the IETF
   Nominations Committee from the pool of eligible volunteers is used.
   Similar techniques would be applicable to other cases.

Donald E. Eastlake 3rd                                          [Page 1]

INTERNET-DRAFT        Verifiable Random Selection          September1999


   Matt Crawford made major contributions to this document.

Table of Contents

      Status of this Memo........................................1

      Table of Contents..........................................2

      1. Introduction............................................3
      2. General Flow of a Publicly Verifiable Process...........3
      2.1 Determination of the Pool..............................3
      2.2 Publication of the Algorithm...........................3
      2.3 Publication of Selection...............................4
      3. Randomness..............................................4
      3.1 Sources of Randomness..................................4
      3.2 Skew...................................................5
      3.3 Entropy Needed.........................................5
      4. A Suggested Precise Algorithm...........................6
      5. Fully Worked Example....................................7
      6. Security Considerations.................................8
      7.  Reference Code.........................................9

      Appendix: History of NomCom Member Selection..............15

      Author's Address..........................................16
      File name and Expiration..................................16

Donald E. Eastlake 3rd                                          [Page 2]

INTERNET-DRAFT        Verifiable Random Selection          September1999

1. Introduction

   Under the IETF rules, each year 10 persons are randomly selected from
   among the eligible persons who volunteer to be the voting members of
   the nominations committee (NomCom) to nominate members of the
   Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG) and the Internet
   Architecture Board (IAB) [draft-ietf-poisson-nomcom-v2-*.txt].  The
   number of eligible volunteers in recent years has varied in the
   approximate range of 40 to 60.

   It is highly desireable that the random selection of the voting
   NomCom be done in a unimpeachable fashion so that no reasonable
   charges of bias or favoritism can be brought.  This is for the
   protection of the IETF from bias and protection of the administrator
   of the selection (currently, the appointed non-voting NomCom chair)
   from suspicion of bias.

   A method such that public information will enable any person to
   verify the randomness of the selection meets this criterion.  This
   document gives an example of such a method.

2. General Flow of a Publicly Verifiable Process

   In general, a selection of NomCom members publicly verifiable as
   unbiased or similar selection could follow the three steps given

2.1 Determination of the Pool

   First, you need to determine the pool from which the selection is to
   be made.

   Volunteers are solicited by the appointed (non-voting) NomCom chair.
   Their names are then passed through the IETF Secretariat to check
   eligibility.  (Current eligibility criteria relate to IETF meeting
   attendance, records of which are maintained by the Secretariat.)  The
   full list of eligible volunteers is made public early enough that
   there is a reasonable time to resolve any disputes as to who should
   be in the pool, probably a week to ten days before the selection.

2.2 Publication of the Algorithm

   The exact algorithm to be used, including the public future sources
   of randomness, is made public.  For example, the members of the final

Donald E. Eastlake 3rd                                          [Page 3]

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   list of eligible volunteers are ordered by publicly numbering them,
   several public future sources of randomness such as government run
   lotteries are specified, and an exact algorithm is specified whereby
   eligible volunteers are selected based on a strong hash function [RFC
   1750] of these future sources of randomness.

2.3 Publication of Selection

   When the prespecified sources of randomness produce their output,
   those values plus a summary of the execution of the algorithm for
   selection should be announced so that anyone can verify that the
   correct randomness source values were used and the algorithm properly
   executed.  A cut off time for any complaint that the algorithm was
   run with the wrong inputs or not faithfully executed should be
   specified to finalize the output and provide a stable NomCom.

3. Randomness

   The crux of the unbiased nature of the selection is that it is based
   exactly on random information which will be revealed in the future
   and thus can not be known to the person specifying the algorithm by
   which that random information will be used to select the NomCom
   members.   The random information must be such that it will be
   publicly revealed in a timely fashion.

   The random sources should not include anything that any reasonable
   person would believe to be under the control or influence of the IETF
   or its components, such as IETF meeting attendance statistics,
   numbers of documents issued, or the like.

3.1 Sources of Randomness

   Examples of good information to use are lottery winning numbers for
   specified runnings of specified lotteries.  Particularly for
   government run lotteries, great care is usually taken to see that
   they produce random quantities.  Even in the unlikely case one were
   to have been rigged, it would almost certainly be in connection with
   winning money in the lottery, not in connection with IETF use.

   Other possibilities are such things as the closing price of a stock
   on a particular day, daily balance in the US Treasury on a specified
   day, the volume of trading on the New York Stock exchange on a
   specified day, etc. (However, the reference code given below will not
   handle integers that are too large.) Sporting events can be used but

Donald E. Eastlake 3rd                                          [Page 4]

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   only with care to specify exactly what quantities are being presumed
   random and what will be done if they are cancelled or delayed.

   It is important that the last source of randomness, chronologically,
   produce a substantial amount of the entropy needed.  If most of the
   randomness has come from the earlier of the specified sources, and
   someone has even limited influence on the final source, they might do
   an exhaustive analysis and exert such influence so as to bias the
   selection in the direction they wanted.  Thus it is best for the last
   source to be an especially strong and unbiased source of a large
   amount of randomness such as a government run lottery.

   It is best not to use too many different sources.  Every additional
   source increases the probability that it might be delayed or
   cancelled calling into play contingency plans or, worst of all,
   possibly creating a situation that was not anticipated.  This would
   either require arbitrary judgement by the Nomcom chair, defeating the
   randomness of the selection, or a re-run of with a new set of
   sources, causing much delay.  Probably a good number of sources is

3.2 Skew

   Many of the sources of randomness suggested above produce data which
   is not uniformly distributed.  This is certainly true of stock prices
   and horse race results, for example.  However, use of a strong mixing
   function [RFC 1750] will extract the available entropy and produce a
   hash value whose bits, remainder modulo a small divisor, etc., are
   uniformly distributed.

3.3 Entropy Needed

   What we are doing is selection N items without replacement from a
   population of P items.  The number of different ways to do this is as
   follows, where "!" represents the factorial function:

                               N! * (P - N)!

   To do this in a completely random fashion requires as many random
   bits as the logarithm base 2 of that quantity.  Some sample
   calculated approximate number of random bits for the selection of 10
   nomcom members from various pool sizes is given below:

Donald E. Eastlake 3rd                                          [Page 5]

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                  Random Selection of Ten Items From Pool

   Pool size     20   25   30   35   40   50   60   75  100
   Bits needed   18   22   25   28   30   34   37   40   44

   Using an inadequate number of bits means that not all of the possible
   selections would be available.  For a substantially inadequate amount
   of entropy, there would be substantial correlations between the
   selection of two members of the pool, for example.  However, as a
   practical matter, for pool sizes likely to be encountered in IETF
   nomcom membership selection, 40 bits of entropy should always be
   adequate.  Even if there is a large pool and theoretically more bits
   are needed for complete randomness, 40 bits of entropy will assure
   that the probability of selection of each pool member differs from
   that of other pool members, the correlation between the selection of
   any pair of pool members, etc., differs only insignificantly from
   that for completely random selection.

   An MD5 [RFC 1321] hash has 128 bits and therefore can produce no more
   than that number of bits of entropy.  However, this is three times
   what is likely to ever been needed for IETF nomcom membership

4. A Suggested Precise Algorithm

   It is important that a precise algorithm be given for mixing the
   random sources specified and making the selection based thereon.
   Sources suggested above each produce either a single positive number
   (i.e., closing price for a stock) or a small set of positive numbers
   (many lotteries provide 6 numbers in the range of 1 through 40 or the
   like, a sporting event could produce the scores of two teams, etc.).
    A sample precise algorithm is as follows:

   For each source producing multiple numeric values, represent each as
   a decimal number terminated by a period (or with a period separating
   the whole from the fractional part) and without leading zeroes
   (except for a single leading zero if the integer part is zero) or
   trailing zeroes after the period.  Order them from smallest to the
   largest and concatenate them and follow the results by a "/".  For
   each source producing a single number, simply represent it as above
   with a trailing "/".  At this point you have a string for each
   source, say s1/, s2/, ...  Concatenate these strings in a pre-
   specified order and represent each character as its ASCII code
   producing s1/s2/.../.

   You can then produce a sequence of random values derived from a
   strong mixing of these sources by calculating the MD5 hash [RFC 1321]
   of this string prefixed and suffixed with a zero byte for the first

Donald E. Eastlake 3rd                                          [Page 6]

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   value, the string prefixed and suffixed by a 0x01 byte for the second
   value, etc.  Treat each of these derived random values as a positive
   multiprecision integer.  If there are P eligible volunteers, select
   the first voting member by dividing the first derived random value by
   P and using the remainder plus one as the position of the selectee in
   the ordered list or volunteers.  Select the second voting member by
   dividing the second derived random value by P-1 and using the
   remainder plus one as the position of the selectee in the list with
   the first selectee eliminated.  Etc.

   It is recommended that alphanumeric random sources be avoided due to
   the greater difficulty in canonicalizing them in an independently
   repeatable fashion; however, if any are used, all white space,
   punctuation, and special characters should be removed and all letters
   set to upper case. This will leave only an unbroken sequence of
   letters A-Z and digits 0-9 which can be treated as a canonicalized
   number above and suffixed with a "/".

5. Fully Worked Example

   Assume the following ordered list of 25 eligible volunteers is
   published in advance of selection:

         1. John         11. Pollyanna       21. Pride
         2. Mary         12. Pendragon       22. Sloth
         3. Bashful      13. Pandora         23. Envy
         4. Dopey        14. Faith           24. Anger
         5. Sleepy       15. Hope            25. Kasczynski
         6. Grouchy      16. Charity
         7. Doc          17. Love
         8. Sneazy       18. Longsuffering
         9. Handsome     19. Chastity
        10. Cassandra    20. Smith

   Assume the following (fake example) ordered list of randomness
       1. The People's Democracy of Betastani State Lottery six winning
   numbers (ignoring the seventh "extra" number) for 1 October 1998.
       2. Numbers of the winning horses at Hialeia for all races for the
   first day on or after x September 1998 on which at least two races
   are run.
       3. The Republic of Alphaland State Lottery daily number for 1
   October 1998 treated as a single four digit integer.
       4. Closing price of Example Corporation stock on the Lunar Stock
   Exchange for the first business day after x September 1998 when it

Donald E. Eastlake 3rd                                          [Page 7]

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   Randomness publicly produced:
       Source 1:  9, 18, 26, 34, 41, 45
       Source 2:  2, 5, 12, 8, 10
       Source 3:  9319
       Source 4:  13 11/16

   Resulting key string:

   The table below gives the hex of the MD5 of the above key string
   bracketed with a byte whose value is successively 0x00, 0x01, 0x02,
   through 0x09.  The divisor for the number size of the remaining pool
   at each stage is given and the index of the selectee as per the
   original number of those in the pool.

   index        hex value of MD5        div  selected
    1  746612D0A75D2A2A39C0A957CF825F8D  25  -> 12 <-
    2  95E31A4429ED5AAF7377A15A8E10CD9D  24  ->  6 <-
    3  AFB2B3FD30E82AD6DC35B4D2F1CFC77A  23  ->  8 <-
    4  06821016C2A2EA14A6452F4A769ED1CC  22  ->  3 <-
    5  94DA30E11CA7F9D05C66D0FD3C75D6F7  21  ->  2 <-
    6  2FAE3964D5B1DEDD33FDA80F4B8EF45E  20  -> 24 <-
    7  F1E7AB6753A773EFE46393515FDA8AF8  19  -> 11 <-
    8  700B81738E07DECB4470879BEC6E0286  18  -> 19 <-
    9  1F23F8F8F8E5638A29D332BC418E0689  17  -> 15 <-
   10  61A789BA86BF412B550A5A05E821E0ED  16  -> 22 <-

   Resulting selection, in order selected:

         1. Pendragon (12)     6. Anger (24)
         2. Grouchy (6)        7. Pollyanna (11)
         3. Sneazy (8)         8. Chastity (19)
         4. Bashful (3)        9. Hope (15)
         5. Mary (2)          10. Sloth (22)

6. Security Considerations

   Careful choice of should be made of randomness inputs so that there
   is no reasonable suspicion that they are under the control of the
   administrator.  Guidelines given above to use a small number of
   inputs with a substantial amout of entropy from the last shoud be
   followed.  And equal care needs to be given that the algorithm
   selected is faithfully executed with the designated inputs values.
   Publication of the results and a week or so window for the community
   of interest to duplicate the calculations should give a reasonable
   assurance against implementation tampering.

Donald E. Eastlake 3rd                                          [Page 8]

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   To maintain the unpredicatable character of selections, should a
   member of the nomcom need to be replaced due to death, resignation,
   expulsion, etc., new publicly announced future random sources should
   be used for the selection of their replacement.

7.  Reference Code

   This code makes use of the MD5 reference code from [RFC 1321] ("RSA
   Data Security, Inc. MD5 Message-Digest Algorithm").  The portion of
   the code dealing with multiple floating point numbers was written by
   Matt Crawford.

    *  Reference code for
    *      "Publicly Verifiable Nomcom Random Selection"
    *          Donald E. Eastlake 3rd
   #include <limits.h>
   #include <math.h>
   #include <stdio.h>
   #include <stdlib.h>
   #include <string.h>

   #include "global.h"
   #include "MD5.h"

   /* local prototypes */
   int longremainder ( unsigned char divisor,
                       unsigned char dividend[16] );
   int getinteger ( char *string );
   double NPentropy ( int N, int P );

   /* limited to 16 inputs of up to sixteen integers each */

   main ()
   int         i, j,  k, k2, err, keysize, pool, selection;
   unsigned char   unch, uc16[16], remaining, *selected;
   long int    temp, array[16];
   MD5_CTX ctx;
   char        buffer[257], key [800], sarray[16][256];

   pool = getinteger ( "Type size of pool:\n" );
   if ( pool > 255 )

Donald E. Eastlake 3rd                                          [Page 9]

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       printf ( "Pool too big.\n" );
       exit ( 1 );
   selected = (unsigned char *) malloc ( pool );
   if ( !selected )
       printf ( "Out of memory.\n" );
       exit ( 1 );
   selection = getinteger ( "Type number of items to be selected:\n" );
   if ( selection > pool )
       printf ( "Pool too small.\n" );
       exit ( 1 );
   if ( selection == pool )
       printf ( "All of the pool is selected.\n" );
       exit ( 0 );
   err = printf ( "Approximately %.1f bits of entropy needed.\n",
                  NPentropy ( selection, pool ) + 0.1 );
   if ( err <= 0 ) exit ( 1 );
   for ( i = 0, keysize = 0; i < 16; ++i )
       if ( keysize > 500 )
           printf ( "Too much input.\n" );
           exit ( 1 );
       /* get the "random" inputs. echo back to user so the user may
          be able to tell if truncation or other glitches occur.  */
       err = printf (
           "\nType #%d randomness or 'end' followed by new line.\n"
           "Up to 16 integers or the word 'float' followed by up\n"
           "to 16 x.y format reals.\n", i+1 );
       if ( err <= 0 ) exit ( 1 );
       gets ( buffer );
       j = sscanf ( buffer,
           &array[0], &array[1], &array[2], &array[3],
           &array[4], &array[5], &array[6], &array[7],
           &array[8], &array[9], &array[10], &array[11],
           &array[12], &array[13], &array[14], &array[15] );
       if ( j == EOF )
           exit ( j );
       if ( !j )
           if ( buffer[0] == 'e' )

Donald E. Eastlake 3rd                                         [Page 10]

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               {   /* floating point code by Matt Crawford */
               j = sscanf ( buffer,
                   "float %ld.%[0-9]%ld.%[0-9]%ld.%[0-9]%ld.%[0-9]"
                   &array[0], sarray[0], &array[1], sarray[1],
                   &array[2], sarray[2], &array[3], sarray[3],
                   &array[4], sarray[4], &array[5], sarray[5],
                   &array[6], sarray[6], &array[7], sarray[7],
                   &array[8], sarray[8], &array[9], sarray[9],
                   &array[10], sarray[10], &array[11], sarray[11],
                   &array[12], sarray[12], &array[13], sarray[13],
                   &array[14], sarray[14], &array[15], sarray[15] );
               if ( j == 0 || j & 1 )
                   printf ( "Bad format." );
               else {
                    for ( k = 0, j /= 2; k < j; k++ )
                          /* strip trailing zeros */
                    for ( k2=strlen(sarray[k]); sarray[k][--k2]=='0';)
                          sarray[k][k2] = '\0';
                    err = printf ( "%ld.%s\n", array[k], sarray[k] );
                    if ( err <= 0 ) exit ( 1 );
                    keysize += sprintf ( &key[keysize], "%ld.%s",
                                         array[k], sarray[k] );
                    keysize += sprintf ( &key[keysize], "/" );
           {   /* sort values, not a very efficient algorithm */
           for ( k2 = 0; k2 < j - 1; ++k2 )
               for ( k = 0; k < j - 1; ++k )
                   if ( array[k] > array[k+1] )
                       temp = array[k];
                       array[k] = array[k+1];
                       array[k+1] = temp;
           for ( k = 0; k < j; ++k )
               { /* print for user check */
               err = printf ( "%ld ", array[k] );
               if ( err <= 0 ) exit ( 1 );
               keysize += sprintf ( &key[keysize], "%ld.", array[k] );
           keysize += sprintf ( &key[keysize], "/" );
       }   /* end for i */

Donald E. Eastlake 3rd                                         [Page 11]

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   /* have obtained all the input, now produce the output */
   err = printf ( "Key is:\n %s\n", key );
   if ( err <= 0 ) exit ( 1 );
   for ( i = 0; i < pool; ++i )
       selected [i] = i + 1;
   printf ( "index        hex value of MD5        div  selected\n" );
   for (   unch = 0, remaining = pool;
           unch < selection;
           ++unch, --remaining )
       MD5Init ( &ctx );
       MD5Update ( &ctx, &unch, 1 );
       MD5Update ( &ctx, (unsigned char *)key, keysize );
       MD5Update ( &ctx, &unch, 1 );
       MD5Final ( uc16, &ctx );
       k = longremainder ( remaining, uc16 );
   /* printf ( "Remaining = %d, remainder = %d.\n", remaining, k ); */
       for ( j = 0; j < pool; ++j )
           if ( selected[j] )
               if ( --k < 0 )
                   printf ( "%2d  "
   "%02X%02X%02X%02X%02X%02X%02X%02X%02X%02X%02X%02X%02X%02X%02X%02X  "
   "%2d  -> %2d <-\n",
   unch+1, uc16[0],uc16[1],uc16[2],uc16[3],uc16[4],uc16[5],uc16[6],
   uc16[15], remaining, selected[j] );
                   selected[j] = 0;
   printf ( "\nDone, type any character to exit.\n" );
   getchar ();
   return 0;

   /* prompt for an integer input */
   int getinteger ( char *string )
   int     i, j;
   char    tin[257];

   while ( 1 )
   printf ( string );
   printf ( "(or 'exit' to exit) " );
   gets ( tin );
   j = sscanf ( tin, "%d", &i );
   if (    ( j == EOF )

Donald E. Eastlake 3rd                                         [Page 12]

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       ||  ( !j && ( ( tin[0] == 'e' ) || ( tin[0] == 'E' ) ) )
       exit ( j );
   if ( j == 1 )
       return i;
   }   /* end while */

   /* get remainder of dividing a 16 byte unsigned int
      by a small positive number */
   int longremainder ( unsigned char divisor,
                       unsigned char dividend[16] )
   int i;
   long int kruft;

   if ( !divisor )
       return -1;
   for ( i = 0, kruft = 0; i < 16; ++i )
       kruft = ( kruft << 8 ) + dividend[i];
       kruft %= divisor;
   return kruft;
   }   /* end longremainder */

   /* calculate how many bits of entropy it takes to select N from P */
   /*             P!
     log  ( ----------------- )
        2    N! * ( P - N )!

   double NPentropy ( int N, int P )
   int         i;
   double      result = 0.0;

   if (    ( N < 1 )   /* not selecting anything? */
      ||   ( N >= P )  /* selecting all of pool or more? */
       return 1.0;     /* degenerate case */

   for ( i = P; i > ( P - N ); --i )
       result += log ( i );
   for ( i = N; i > 1; --i )
       result -= log ( i );
   /* divide by [ log (base e) of 2 ] to convert to bits */
   result /= 0.69315;

Donald E. Eastlake 3rd                                         [Page 13]

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   return result;
   }   /* end NPentropy */

Donald E. Eastlake 3rd                                         [Page 14]

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Appendix: History of NomCom Member Selection

   For reference purposes, here is a list of the IETF Nominations
   Committee member selection techniques and chairs so far:

           YEAR      CHAIR               SELECTION METHOD

        1993/1994  Jeff Case             Clergy
        1994/1995  Fred Baker            Clergy
        1995/1996  Guy Almes             Clergy
        1996/1997  Geoff Huston          Spouse
        1997/1998  Mike St.Johns         Algorithm
        1998/1999  Donald Eastlake 3rd   This Algorithm
        1999/2000  Avri Doria            This Alogrithm

   Clergy = Names were written on pieces of paper, placed in a
   receptacle, and a member of the clergy picked the Nomcom members.

   Spouse = Same as Clergy except chair's spouse made the selection.

   Algorithm = Algorithmic selection based on the same concepts as
   documented herein.

   This Algorithm = Algorithmic selection using the algorithm and
   reference code (but not the fake example sources of randomness)
   described herein.


   RFC 1321 - "The MD5 Message-Digest Algorithm", R. Rivest. April 1992.

   RFC 1750 - "Randomness Recommendations for Security", D. Eastlake,
   3rd, S.  Crocker & J. Schiller. December 1994.

   [draft-ietf-poisson-nomcom-v2-*.txt] - "IAB and IESG Selection,
   Confirmation, and Recall Process: Operation of the Nominating and
   Recall Committees", J. Galvin.

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Author's Address

   Donald E. Eastlake, 3rd
   65 Shindegan Hill Road, RR #1
   Carmel, NY 10512 USA

   tel:    +1-914-276-2668 (h)
           +1-914-784-7913 (w)
   fax:    +1-914-784-3833 (w)

File name and Expiration

   This file is draft-eastlake-selection-04.txt.  It expires March 2000.

Donald E. Eastlake 3rd                                         [Page 16]