Researchers Find NSA Planted Two Spy Tools through RSA

Last fall, an encryption tool widely distributed through leading security firm RSA was withdrawn because of concerns it was vulnerable to decoding by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), which created it. Now, a team of researchers has reported that the super-secret agency also created at least one other tool that allowed it to more easily decode transmissions.

Both tools were part of RSA's BSafe software security package, and both are assumed to have provided back-door access to communications and software encrypted with BSafe tools.

The Reuters news agency reported Monday that a team of academic researchers from several universities, including Johns Hopkins, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Illinois, has discovered the NSA was involved with the second tool. It's called an "Extended Random" extension, and it can be used to crack the RSA's Dual Elliptic Curve random number generator software -- the other NSA developed tool that had been withdrawn -- tens of thousands of times faster than other methods.

NIST and NSA

The Extended Random software is supposed to increase the randomness of Dual Elliptic Curve-generated numbers, thus making its encoding more secure. However, the researchers discovered that the extra data transmitted by Extended Random before a secure connection begins made decoding the the following transmission much easier.

The Extended Random software was removed from RSA's BSafe security kit within the last six months. Reportedly, Extended Random had not been widely adopted.

"We trusted [the NSA] because they are charged with security" for the U.S., a RSA executive told Reuters.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) had accepted an NSA proposal in 2006 to create the Dual Elliptic Curve random number generator. There had subsequently been suspicions and reports -- including from Microsoft researchers -- that the resulting code from the NSA contained a back door.

Snowden Documents

But NIST...

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