Security Researchers Find RSA Even More Completely Compromised By The NSA Than Previously Thought

from the setting-the-decryption-standard dept

Last December, Reuters broke the news that RSA had received $10 million from the NSA to push a weakened crypto standard as the default. This resulted in an incredible amount of backlash against RSA, resulting in many security researchers pulling out of the RSA’s conference (which itself was met by a protest conference).

There’s more bad news ahead for the RSA, again delivered by Reuters.

Security industry pioneer RSA adopted not just one but two encryption tools developed by the U.S. National Security Agency, greatly increasing the spy agency’s ability to eavesdrop on some Internet communications, according to a team of academic researchers.

Reuters reported in December that the NSA had paid RSA $10 million to make a now-discredited cryptography system the default in software used by a wide range of Internet and computer security programs. The system, called Dual Elliptic Curve, was a random number generator, but it had a deliberate flaw – or “back door” – that allowed the NSA to crack the encryption.

A group of professors from Johns Hopkins, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Illinois and elsewhere now say they have discovered that a second NSA tool exacerbated the RSA software’s vulnerability.

The professors found that the tool, known as the “Extended Random” extension for secure websites, could help crack a version of RSA’s Dual Elliptic Curve software tens of thousands of times faster, according to an advance copy of their research shared with Reuters.

As Reuters notes, Extended Random has not been widely adopted (and now won’t be), so the real story here is how the NSA undermines companies (and their aims) under the name of “advising on protection.”

Rather belatedly, RSA officials are developing a sense of skepticism towards the NSA’s motives.

“We could have been more skeptical of NSA’s intentions,” RSA Chief Technologist Sam Curry told Reuters. “We trusted them because they are charged with security for the U.S. government and U.S. critical infrastructure.”

As has been shown numerous times over the last several years, the government would rather make the connected world less secure — by stockpiling exploits and preventing holes from being patched — in the name of “security.” There’s more than one kind of security, and the definition that works for most normal people runs contrary to the NSA’s desire to exploit and collect everything it can.

The NSA has refused to comment on the story and the RSA, for its part, has not disputed what researchers have uncovered. Dual Elliptic Curve is the NSA’s $10 million baby, and the addition of Extended Random does nothing more than make the next set of random numbers easier to predict.

Johns Hopkins Professor Matthew Green said it was hard to take the official explanation for Extended Random at face value, especially since it appeared soon after Dual Elliptic Curve’s acceptance as a U.S. standard.

“If using Dual Elliptic Curve is like playing with matches, then adding Extended Random is like dousing yourself with gasoline,” Green said…

The academic researchers said it took about an hour to crack a free version of BSafe for Java using about $40,000 worth of computer equipment. It would have been 65,000 times faster in versions using Extended Random, dropping the time needed to seconds, according to Stephen Checkoway of Johns Hopkins.

This is what happens when you allow the NSA to not only play with the toys, but to also design them. “Security,” in terms of the RSA’s chosen standard, is now nothing more than a buzzword appended to its product line. The company learned far too late that the intelligence agency has little need for solid encryption, viewing it as an obstacle to be surmounted rather than a defensive tool that might make computing more secure — for everybody.

The agency wants it all and it wants to gather it with the least amount of effort possible. While it may have little desire to turn its weapons on Americans (“incidental collections” will still continue, of course…), it has exactly zero compelling legal reasons not to weaponize crippled encryption against the rest of the world. RSA’s credulousness (and perhaps $10 million) apparently silenced its better judgement, and now the connected world is open not only to the NSA’s exploits, but anyone else with the desire to open the agency’s backdoors.

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Companies: rsa

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Comments on “Security Researchers Find RSA Even More Completely Compromised By The NSA Than Previously Thought”

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25 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Fuck the NSA

Can anyone cite five things that have benefitted the people of These United States of America on behalf of the NSA?

As a follow up question, how much taxpayer money was used (including such bribes as the $10 million mentioned in this blog) to get this benefit?

Time to end the NSA! They are completely misguided and worthless.

Geno0wl (profile) says:

What were they thinking?

Even IF, which it is a big if, the NSA didn’t have “malicious” intent it would be an absolutely terrible idea to put a backdoor into the crypto.
I mean it only takes one clever person(or a jaded ex-NSA contractor…) to bring that whole house of cards down. Then not only did you just shoot your company in the foot but you also compromised EVERYBODY else.
At this point I don’t know why anybody in their right mind would use any RSA products if they could go somewhere else, and RSA has nobody to blame for it than themselves.

DannyB (profile) says:

But look at the benefit to the RSA

But the NSA give RSA $10 Million for compromising crypto!

Wouldn’t this be an immediate and justifiable reason for RSA to bend over for the NSA, take the money and run?

Isn’t short term benefit always more important than long term benefit? Look at Nokia signing an assisted suicide deal with Microsoft. Look at Oculus Rift being acquired by Facebook.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Can EMC sue?

Like others have told me, you can sue for anything, but winning in the actual lawsuit? Different story altogether.
If the US government even allowed the case to move forward, they would just argue that nothing was taken, that RSA still has the standard and can still promote and sell their products, that it’s all legal, blah blah blah.

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

The scary part of this...

…is not that these cryptographers discovered this problem. It’s not even that the NSA has been exploiting it for who-knows-what.

The scary part is that maybe someone else did. A long time ago. And elected to do something with it that didn’t include publishing in academic journals or talking to reporters.

Eric Stein (profile) says:

(gasping sound)

Wait, the NSA will do the taking, and no compensation will be given. The $10M seems like a drop in the bucket compared to the losses sustained by people and companies unfortunate enough to use RSA products, yet what has the NSA gained for this deadly (the bodies will be found eventually) sabotage to the US economy. If your job is to protect the country and you think that ruining the economy in a necessary step towards that goal, aren’t you now the mad-dog agency. Here’s another piece: what do you do with tame dogs if you work for US LE?

zip says:

RSA - world's most gullible people?

It’s always amazed me that an organization that specializes in building encryption algorithms would knowingly take advice from an organization that specializes in breaking encryption algorithms — and never suspect any monkey business.

But of course feigning ignorance serves as better damage-control than the alternate possibility: that RSA knew the deal smelled fishy, but chose to take the money with one hand while holding their nose with the other.

Feldie47 (profile) says:

Hmmm. Should I think twice the next time I bank online, or buy something online? RSA broken? Credit card encryption still valid? Did the NSA get to do what so many hackers failed to do? Bring down all monetary transactions on the internet? Remember the discussions decades ago about breaking the encryption? 64 bits then 128, then 256. Where exactly does that put us now?

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