How deep does NSA incursion at NIST go?

Readers wonder whether revelations that NSA influenced some NIST standards imply a deeper connection.

keyhole digital

FCW published an article Sept. 6 in which sources questioned the integrity and trustworthiness of the National Institute of Standards and Technology following the release of  top-secret documents showing the National Security Agency weakened a set of encryption standards adopted for worldwide use in 2006.

Readers expressed concern at the news, questioning whether the NSA's intervention was a one-time event or a frequent occurrence.

So if our computer security standards are open to, let's call it "tweaking", I wonder what other standards that NIST regulates are "tweaked?" remarked one reader.

Another said, So much for NIST's credibility. I noticed they ignored the good stuff brought to them, now we know why.

A reader identifying himself as William Frazier questioned why government agencies even bother to compare each other's security protocols when they're all apparently operating with subverted encryption standards promulgated by NIST and used in IT solutions mass-produced by vendors.

Another reader wondered how far down the rabbit hole NSA-tweaking extends beyond encryption standards.

Frank Konkel responds: NIST responded to the criticism on Sept. 10, reopening the standards for public scrutiny and stating "NIST would not deliberately weaken" standards it approves for adoption.

However, the key word here is "deliberately," and I agree with readers who believe NIST's credibility is now open to question. When a top-secret NSA document – leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden – states directly that the NSA "became the sole editor" of the weakened encryption standards in question, what does that say about NIST?

Nobody has come out and claimed responsibility for the apparent weakness in standards, and it's unlikely anybody will. What is more likely is that the cryptographic community will work hard to expose the vulnerabilities– if any – and work to correct them in a widespread, yet sensitive endeavor. If vulnerabilities exist, patches will be made. But as several cryptographers have noted, the time between when a vulnerability is found and a patch is implemented is key.

Regardless, the revelations uproot the image of NIST as a "just the facts, ma'am" agency based on scientific principles, which is sad for federal agencies and worldwide commercial organizations that adhere their security standards to NIST recommendations. What role did NIST play in adopting the weakened standards?

The agency says none at all, and that raises questions in itself. How many other standards were adopted in the same fashion? Was NIST handcuffed by the NSA from discussing any kind of potential sabotage? How often does the NSA take the lead on standards for unclassified systems?

NIST regularly exposes its standards to public scrutiny in an effort to be a transparent organization, but if anyone at the agency knew the NSA deliberately or even inadvertently messed with standards, they sure didn't make a public fuss about it.

While the whole issue got lost in the NSA leaks story, the NSA's efforts to defeat encryption by any means necessary is one of the biggest stories to come from Snowden's flash drives. Perhaps there is more to come on that front, and if it involves more collaboration between NIST and the NSA, it may be more bad news for feds.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.