Draft language signals more transparent NIST

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has been on the defensive since it was revealed that the NSA subverted encryption standards.

digital key

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has released new guidance on cryptographic standards that officials hope will begin to earn back the trust of the cyber community and  general public after leaked classified documents in September showed the National Security Agency subverted NIST-adopted computer encryption standards.

NIST has spent the past six months on the defensive, offering few public comments from officials and a few embarrassing recommendations – including one advising against using its own Special Publication (SP) 800-90A.

On Feb. 20, NIST released draft guidance of a document that, if adopted, would further formalize NIST’s claims of transparency and openness into policy.

The draft guidance, titled “NIST Cryptographic Standards and Guidelines Development Process,” puts an emphasis on transparency, openness, technical merit, balance and integrity. It also calls for all stakeholders in the private sector, academia and the public at large to have access to “essential information” regarding standards-related activities and venues, with a commitment from NIST to be transparent during the development and documentation of cryptographic standards. Selection and evaluation criteria, specifications, security and performance characteristics and other standards development-related information must be made transparent to all stakeholders, the document states.

The draft guidance makes clear that NIST will continue to work with the NSA for two reasons:  because of the NSA’s “vast expertise in cryptography,” and because NIST is statutorily obligated to consult with the NSA on standards under the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002.

NIST is asking for public feedback on its released draft guidance by April 18. The revised publication will “serve as the basis for NIST’s future standards development process.”

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