NSA Gave RSA $10 Million To Promote Crypto It Had Purposely Weakened
from the say-bye-bye-to-credibility,-rsa dept
Earlier this year, the Snowden leaks revealed how the NSA was effectively infiltrating crypto standards efforts to take control of them and make sure that backdoors or other weaknesses were installed. Many in the crypto community reacted angrily to this, and began to rethink how they interact with the feds. However, Reuters has just dropped a bombshell into all of this, as it has revealed that not only did the NSA purposefully weaken crypto, it then paid famed crypto provider RSA $10 million to push the weakened crypto, making it a de facto standard.
Undisclosed until now was that RSA received $10 million in a deal that set the NSA formula as the preferred, or default, method for number generation in the BSafe software, according to two sources familiar with the contract. Although that sum might seem paltry, it represented more than a third of the revenue that the relevant division at RSA had taken in during the entire previous year, securities filings show.
The earlier disclosures of RSA’s entanglement with the NSA already had shocked some in the close-knit world of computer security experts. The company had a long history of championing privacy and security, and it played a leading role in blocking a 1990s effort by the NSA to require a special chip to enable spying on a wide range of computer and communications products.
If this is true, it represents a serious attack on RSA’s credibility. While RSA, now owned by EMC, put out a statement saying that “under no circumstances does RSA design or enable any back doors in our products” Reuters sources seem to suggest something quite different. While it might not be seen as “designing or enabling” back doors, that is the effective result of this.
Reuters spoke to a number of former RSA employees, many of whom said it was a huge mistake for RSA to make this deal, showing how the company had strayed far away from its initial mission. Others suggest that the NSA basically duped the RSA on this, such that RSA agreed to the deal, without realizing they were promoting a compromised standard. That’s not a totally crazy assertion, but it’s not particular comforting either way. While it seems crazy to trust the NSA, for years, many people did recognize that the NSA did employ many top crypto experts, and it was believed that, rather than compromising crypto, they were helping to build stronger crypto. Yes, some were always suspicious of this, but it wasn’t entirely crazy to think that a crypto standard supported by the NSA was for good reasons. Of course, it is now quite apparent that the skeptics were exactly correct all along. And RSA’s agreement to take this money from the NSA and to promote compromised crypto now has to call into question pretty much all of RSA’s activities.
$10 million doesn’t seem like that much to make on a deal in which you effectively undermine the entire reason why anyone does business with you. As someone in the article notes, the deal was “handled by business leaders rather than pure technologists.” And it shows.