NSA-Developed Encryption Untrustworthy, Security Firm Says

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,...

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