NSA-Developed Crypto Technology No Longer Trusted For Use In Global Standards

from the I-just-can't-think-why dept

One of the most shocking pieces of information to emerge from the Snowden documents was that the NSA had paid RSA $10 million to push a weakened form of crypto in its products. The big advantage for the NSA was that it made it much easier to decrypt messages sent using that flawed technology. A few months after this news, the National Institute of Standards and Technology announced that it would remove the "Dual Elliptic Curve" (Dual EC) algorithm from its recommendations. But of course, that's not the end of the story. Betraying trust is always a bad idea, but in the security field it's an incredibly stupid idea, since trust is a key aspect of the way things work in that shadowy world. So it should come as no surprise that following the Dual EC revelations, the world's security experts no longer trust the NSA:

An international group of cryptography experts has forced the U.S. National Security Agency to back down over two data encryption techniques it wanted set as global industry standards, reflecting deep mistrust among close U.S. allies.

In interviews and emails seen by Reuters, academic and industry experts from countries including Germany, Japan and Israel worried that the U.S. electronic spy agency was pushing the new techniques not because they were good encryption tools, but because it knew how to break them.

The NSA has now agreed to drop all but the most powerful versions of the techniques -- those least likely to be vulnerable to hacks -- to address the concerns.

The Reuters report has interesting comments from security experts explaining why they opposed the new standards. Concerns included the lack of peer-reviewed publication by the creators, the absence of industry adoption or a clear need for the new approaches. There's also the intriguing fact that the UK was happy for the NSA algorithms to be adopted. Given the extremely close working relationship GCHQ has with the NSA, you can't help wondering whether the UK's support was because it too knew how to break the proposed encryption techniques, and therefore was keen for them to be rolled out widely. Certainly, the reason its representative gave for backing the two NSA data encryption methods, known as Simon and Speck, was feeble in the extreme:

Chris Mitchell, a member of the British delegation, said he supported Simon and Speck, noting that "no one has succeeded in breaking the algorithms.”

Moreover, it was only half-true: the Reuters story says that academics have already had "partial success" in finding weaknesses, which surely calls for a cautious approach and more research, rather than simply accepting the proposal and hoping for the best. And even the British representative had to admit that his NSA mates had totally blown it:

He acknowledged, though, that after the Dual EC revelations, "trust, particularly for U.S. government participants in standardization, is now non-existent."

As the NSA -- and also the W3C, thanks to its blessing of DRM in HTML -- will now find, regaining that lost trust will be a long and difficult process. Maybe others can learn from their (bad) examples.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Filed Under: encryption, nsa, standards, trust

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Sep 2017 @ 9:49am

    This was how I read it.

    Certainly, the reason its representative gave for backing the two NSA data encryption methods, known as Simon and Speck, was feeble in the extreme:

    Chris Mitchell, a member of the British delegation, said he supported Simon and Speck, noting that "no one else has succeeded in breaking the algorithms.”

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