Security software provider RSA has “categorically” denied that it knowingly and wilfully included a flawed formula for generating random numbers in its BSAFE product as part of a agreement to provide a “back door” for the National Security Agency (NSA) to access data sheltered by the encryption software.
RSA has said in a recent blog post, “Recent press coverage has asserted that RSA entered into a ‘secret contract’ with the NSA to incorporate a known flawed random number generator into its BSAFE encryption libraries. We categorically deny this allegation,”
The former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who in late 2012 began leaking documents about the nature and scope of computer spying by the U.S. security agency, gave evidence back in September that “the NSA created and promulgated a flawed formula for generating random numbers to create a back door in encryption products” made by RSA, News agency Reuters has noted. The agency reported recently that the NSA has allegedly paid $10 million to RSA to create this security exploit in its encryption products.
Over the weekend, RSA responded to this by saying that it has worked with the NSA and did incorporate the agency’s Dual EC DRBG random number generator as the default option in BSAFE beginning nearly 10 years ago, in 2004. But the security company said that “we also categorically state that we have never entered into any contract or engaged in any project with the intention of weakening RSA’s products, or introducing potential ‘back doors’ into our products for anyone’s use.”
RSA said the formula in question, Dual EC DRBG, was verified by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) even after “concern surfaced around the algorithm in 2007…When NIST issued new guidance recommending no further use of this algorithm in September 2013, we adhered to that guidance, communicated that recommendation to customers and discussed the change openly in the media,” RSA noted. The timeframe of September for NIST’s dropping of Dual EC DRBG as a recommended encryption algorithm ties in with Snowden’s revelations about the NSA at that time.
RSA did not frankly question the NSA’s actions in this instance, but the blog post offered some wording about the U.S. security agency’s current reputation in the computer security sphere. “We have worked with the NSA, both as a vendor and an active member of the security community. We have never kept this relationship a secret and in fact have openly publicized it. Our explicit goal has always been to strengthen commercial and government security…We made the decision to use Dual EC DRBG as the default in BSAFE toolkits in 2004, in the context of an industry-wide effort to develop newer, stronger methods of encryption. At that time, the NSA had a trusted role in the community-wide effort to strengthen, not weaken, encryption.”
Reuters last week claimed that unnamed sources thought that RSA did get paid by the NSA to include the algorithm in its encryption software. They said on Friday that the agency had a $10 million contract with RSA to “set the NSA formula as the preferred, or default, method for number generation in the BSAFE software.” RSA securities filings showed that the contract represented “more than a third of the revenue that the relevant division at RSA had taken in during the entire previous year,” Reuters noted. The sources also claimed that RSA “was misled by government officials, who portrayed the formula as a secure technological advance” and that the NSA “did not show their true hand” to the security company whilst brokering the $10 million contract.
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