11.21 Gathering Entropy from Mouse Events on Windows

11.21.1 Problem

You need entropy in a low-entropy environment and can prompt the user to move the mouse to collect it.

11.21.2 Solution

On Windows, process all mouse events. Mix into an entropy pool the current position of the mouse pointer on the screen, along with the timestamp at which each event was processed. Estimate entropy based upon your operating environment; see the considerations in Recipe 11.19.

11.21.3 Discussion

There can be a reasonable amount of entropy in mouse movement. The entropy comes not just from where the mouse pointer is on the screen, but from when each movement was made. In fact, the mouse pointer's position on the screen can have very little entropy in it, particularly in an environment where there may be very little interaction from a local user. Most of the entropy will come from the exact timing of the mouse movements.

The basic methodology is to mix the on-screen position of the mouse pointer, along with a timestamp, into the entropy pool. We will provide an example implementation in this section, where that operation is merely hashing the data into a running SHA1 context.

The big issue is in estimating the amount of entropy in each mouse movement. The first worry is that it is common for Windows to send multiple mouse event messages with the same mouse pointer position. That is easy to thwart, though. You simply do not measure any entropy at all, unless the mouse pointer has actually changed position.

Ultimately, the amount of entropy you estimate getting from each mouse movement should be related to the resolution of the clock you use to measure mouse movements. In addition, you must consider whether other processes on the system may be recording similar information. (See Recipe 11.19 for a detailed discussion of entropy estimation.)

The following code captures mouse events, hashes mouse pointer positions and timestamps into a SHA1 context, and repeats until it is believed that the requested number of bits of entropy has been collected. A progress bar is also displayed that shows how much more entropy needs to be collected.

Here is the resource definition for the progress dialog:

#include <windows.h>
#define SPC_MOUSE_DLGID     102
#define SPC_PROGRESS_BARID  1000
#define SPC_MOUSE_STATIC    1003
FONT 8, "MS Sans Serif"
    CONTROL         "Progress1",SPC_PROGRESS_BARID,"msctls_progress32",
                    PBS_SMOOTH | WS_BORDER,5,125,275,14
    LTEXT           "Please move your mouse over this dialog until the progress \
                    bar reports 100% and the OK button becomes active.",
    PUSHBUTTON      "OK",IDOK,230,145,50,14,WS_DISABLED
                    SS_SUNKEN | WS_BORDER | WS_GROUP,5,35,275,80

Call the function SpcGatherMouseEntropy( )to begin the process of collecting entropy. It has the same signature as SpcGatherKeyboardEntropy( ) from Recipe 11.20. This function has the following arguments:


Application instance handle normally obtained from the first argument to WinMain( ), the program's entry point.


Handle to the dialog's parent window. It may be specified as NULL, in which case the dialog will have no parent.


Buffer into which the collected entropy will be placed.


Number of bytes of entropy to place into the output buffer. The output buffer must be sufficiently large to hold the requested amount of entropy. The number of bytes of entropy requested should not exceed the size of the hash function used, which is SHA1 in the code provided. SHA1 produces a 160-bit or 20-byte hash. If the requested entropy is smaller than the hash function's output, the hash function's output will be truncated.

SpcGatherMouseEntropy( ) uses the CryptoAPI to hash the data collected from the mouse. It first acquires a context object, then creates a hash object. After the arguments are validated, the dialog resource is loaded by calling DialogBoxParam( ), which creates a modal dialog. A modal dialog can be used for capturing mouse messages instead of the modeless dialog that was required for gathering keyboard entropy in Recipe 11.20, because normal dialog processing doesn't eat mouse messages the way it eats keyboard messages.

Once the dialog is successfully created, the message handling procedure handles WM_MOUSEMOVE messages, which will be received whenever the mouse pointer moves over the dialog or its controls. The position of the mouse pointer is extracted from the message, converted to screen coordinates, combined with a timestamp, and fed into the hash object. If the current pointer position is the same as the previous pointer position, it is not counted as entropy but is added into the hash anyway. As mouse movements are collected, the progress bar is updated, and when the requested amount of entropy has been obtained, the OK button is enabled.

When the OK button is clicked, the dialog is destroyed, terminating the message loop. The output from the hash function is copied into the output buffer from the caller, and internal data is cleaned up before returning to the caller.

#include <windows.h>
#include <wincrypt.h>
#include <commctrl.h>
#define SPC_MOUSE_DLGID         102
#define SPC_PROGRESS_BARID      1000
#define SPC_MOUSE_COLLECTID     1003
#define SPC_MOUSE_STATIC        1002
typedef struct {
  double     dEntropy;
  DWORD      cbRequested;
  POINT      ptLastPos;
  DWORD      dwLastTime;
typedef struct {
  POINT ptMousePos;
  DWORD dwTickCount;
static BOOL CALLBACK MouseEntropyProc(HWND hwndDlg, UINT uMsg, WPARAM wParam,
                                      LPARAM lParam) {
  SPC_MOUSEPOS    MousePos;
  switch (uMsg) {
      pDlgData = (SPC_DIALOGDATA *)lParam;
      SetWindowLong(hwndDlg, DWL_USER, lParam);
      SendDlgItemMessage(hwndDlg, SPC_PROGRESS_BARID, PBM_SETRANGE32, 0,
      return TRUE;
    case WM_COMMAND:
      if (LOWORD(wParam) =  = IDOK && HIWORD(wParam) =  = BN_CLICKED) {
        EndDialog(hwndDlg, TRUE);
        return TRUE;
    case WM_MOUSEMOVE:
      pDlgData = (SPC_DIALOGDATA *)GetWindowLong(hwndDlg, DWL_USER);
      if (pDlgData->dEntropy < pDlgData->cbRequested) {
        MousePos.ptMousePos.x = LOWORD(lParam);
        MousePos.ptMousePos.y = HIWORD(lParam);
        MousePos.dwTickCount  = GetTickCount(  );
        ClientToScreen(hwndDlg, &(MousePos.ptMousePos));
        CryptHashData(pDlgData->hHash, (BYTE *)&MousePos, sizeof(MousePos), 0);
        if ((MousePos.ptMousePos.x != pDlgData->ptLastPos.x ||
             MousePos.ptMousePos.y != pDlgData->ptLastPos.y)  && 
            MousePos.dwTickCount - pDlgData->dwLastTime > 100) {
          pDlgData->ptLastPos = MousePos.ptMousePos;
          pDlgData->dwLastTime = MousePos.dwTickCount;
          pDlgData->dEntropy += SPC_ENTROPY_PER_SAMPLE;
          SendDlgItemMessage(hwndDlg, SPC_PROGRESS_BARID, PBM_SETPOS,
                             (WPARAM)pDlgData->dEntropy, 0);
          if (pDlgData->dEntropy >= pDlgData->cbRequested) {
            EnableWindow(GetDlgItem(hwndDlg, IDOK), TRUE);
            SetFocus(GetDlgItem(hwndDlg, IDOK));
      return TRUE;
  return FALSE;
BOOL SpcGatherMouseEntropy(HINSTANCE hInstance, HWND hWndParent, 
                              BYTE *pbOutput, DWORD cbOutput) {
  BOOL           bResult = FALSE;
  BYTE           *pbHashData = 0;
  DWORD          cbHashData, dwByteCount = sizeof(DWORD);
  HCRYPTHASH     hHash = 0;
  HCRYPTPROV     hProvider = 0;
  if (!CryptAcquireContext(&hProvider, 0, MS_DEF_PROV, PROV_RSA_FULL,
                          CRYPT_VERIFYCONTEXT)) goto done;
  if (!CryptCreateHash(hProvider, CALG_SHA1, 0, 0, &hHash)) goto done;
  if (!CryptGetHashParam(hHash, HP_HASHSIZE, (BYTE *)&cbHashData, &dwByteCount,
                         0)) goto done;
  if (cbOutput > cbHashData) goto done;
  if (!(pbHashData = (BYTE *)LocalAlloc(LMEM_FIXED, cbHashData))) goto done;
  DialogData.dEntropy     = 0.0;
  DialogData.cbRequested = cbOutput * 8;
  DialogData.hHash        = hHash;
  DialogData.dwLastTime   = 0;
  bResult = DialogBoxParam(hInstance, MAKEINTRESOURCE(SPC_MOUSE_DLGID),
                           hWndParent, MouseEntropyProc, (LPARAM)&DialogData);
  if (bResult) {
    if (!CryptGetHashParam(hHash, HP_HASHVAL, pbHashData, &cbHashData, 0))
      bResult = FALSE;
      CopyMemory(pbOutput, pbHashData, cbOutput);
  if (pbHashData) LocalFree(pbHashData);
  if (hHash) CryptDestroyHash(hHash);
  if (hProvider) CryptReleaseContext(hProvider, 0);
  return bResult;

There are other ways to achieve the same result on Windows. For example, entropy could be collected throughout your entire program by installing a message hook or by moving the entropy collection code out of MouseEntropyProc( ) and placing it into your program's main message processing loop. SpcGatherMouseEntropy( ) could then be modified to operate in global state, presenting a dialog only if there is not a sufficient amount of entropy collected already.

Note that the dialog uses a progress bar control. While this control is a standard control on Windows, it is part of the common controls, so you must initialize common controls before instantiating the dialog; otherwise, DialogBoxParam( ) will fail inexplicably (GetLastError( ) will return 0, which obviously is not very informative). The following code demonstrates initializing common controls and calling SpcGatherMouseEntropy( ):

int WINAPI WinMain(HINSTANCE hInstance, HINSTANCE hPrevInstance, LPSTR lpCmdLine,
                   int nShowCmd) {
  BYTE                 pbEntropy[20];
  CommonControls.dwSize = sizeof(CommonControls);
  CommonControls.dwICC  = ICC_PROGRESS_CLASS;
  SpcGatherMouseEntropy(hInstance, 0, pbEntropy, sizeof(pbEntropy));
  return 0;

11.21.4 See Also

Recipe 11.19, Recipe 11.20