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NSA-Developed Encryption Untrustworthy, Security Firm Says
NSA-Developed Encryption Untrustworthy, Security Firm Says

By Barry Levine
September 24, 2013 2:17PM

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In 2006, NIST accepted an NSA proposal for one of four cryptographic systems for government use. According to news reports, the NSA proposal was considered unusual, and there had been suspicions by some users that it contained a back door. In fact, a 2007 presentation by Microsoft researchers specifically questioned the security of that component.
 



Is there a back door from the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) in a section of encryption software from security firm RSA? That possibility has been raised by RSA itself, following a news report related to leaks by former NSA contract employee Edward Snowden.

On Monday, the security firm said its customers should not use the Dual Elliptic Curve Deterministic Random Bit Generation component of its BSAFE toolkit and Data Protection Manager security software. RSA is instead recommending that its customers use one of the other "cryptographic Pseudo-Random Number Generators built into the RSA BSAFE toolkit."

The RSA warning stems from the fact that Dual EC DRBG, as it is known, is a community-developed encryption algorithm standard, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has warned about its security. The NIST warning followed a report in The New York Times about NSA involvement in public cryptography standards.

'Called into Question'

In its September bulletin, NIST wrote that "concern has been expressed about one of the DRBG algorithms," which includes default elliptic curve points for three elliptic curves. It added that "security researchers have highlighted the importance of generating these elliptic curve points in a trustworthy way," and that recent comments from the community "have called into question the trustworthiness of these default elliptic curve points."

NIST said its role was to publish "the strongest cryptographic standards possible," using a transparent, public process to do so. Because of this, the agency said, it "strongly recommends that, pending the resolution of the security concerns," the Dual EC DRBG "no longer be used."

RSA, part of EMC, has said it agrees with NIST's assessment, and the subtext is that NSA might have made the elliptic curve spec easier for it to break. The RSA BSAFE kit has been used for increasing security in Web browsers, in hardware and in other kinds of software. Cryptographic packages commonly include random number generators, but generators that create less-than-random numbers could make the encoded content easier to decode.

Edward Snowden

The New York Times reported last week that the documents revealed by Edward Snowden, from his stint as a NSA contractor, indicated that the security agency was involved in community development of cryptography standards through NIST to create weak points, so that the resulting encoded material could be more easily cracked.

Snowden is a fugitive living in temporary asylum in Russia, and has been charged in the U.S. with espionage for his unauthorized disclosure of massive NSA programs that collected Internet, telephone and e-mail data.

In 2006, NIST accepted an NSA proposal for one of four cryptographic systems for government use. According to news reports, the NSA proposal was considered unusual, and there had been suspicions by some users that it contained a back door. In fact, a 2007 presentation by Microsoft researchers specifically questioned the security of that component. Reportedly, it had been accepted by NIST because other government agencies were already employing it.
 

Tell Us What You Think
Comment:

Name:

Serenicom:

Posted: 2013-10-07 @ 11:32pm PT
Now we know why Windows Vista was so slow. It was using a RNG more than a thousand times slower than the other three choices.

Duh!

JT Reynolds:

Posted: 2013-09-25 @ 3:39pm PT
Encryption may not be the foolproof solution we want, but it's better than nothing. It will give NSA more trouble than its worth to dig into our private data without good reason. Same goes for storing files online. Get them off the cloud services and stash them in a CloudLocker (www.cloudlocker.it), which stays in your home where they still need a warrant to get inside.



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