NSA critics, storm warnings and free books

News and notes from around the federal IT community.

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Experts say NSA overreach hurt Web security

A panel of Internet experts at a New America Foundation event slammed the National Security Agency for allegedly undermining Internet security by weakening encryption standards.

Kevin Bankston, policy director at New America's Open Technology Institute, which hosted the July 7 panel discussion in Washington, D.C., began by listing ways he said the NSA has undercut Internet security. The charges included: “inserting backdoors into widely used computer hardware and software products” and “stockpiling vulnerabilities in commercial software that we use every day, rather than making sure those security flaws get fixed.”

Panelists lamented what they saw as the NSA’s strong-arming of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Commerce Department agency that sets encryption standards. The 2002 Federal Information Security Management Act contains loose language that has allowed the NSA unreasonable sway over NIST’s encryption standards, said Amie Stepanovich, senior policy counsel at Access, a digital rights advocacy.

Random number generators are at the heart of encryption, but documents leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden indicated that the NSA deliberately weakened a NIST encryption standard for such generators to help with surveillance. NIST has denied intentionally weakening the standard.

Damage to consumer trust done by that coding hazard will be difficult to repair, said David Lieber, Google’s privacy policy counsel.

The NSA’s reported meddling with encryption “sends an unfortunate message that the use of encryption is inherently suspect, particularly in the aftermath of what we’ve seen with large-scale data breaches,” Lieber said.

Hurricane app aids evacuees

Just in time for hurricane season, Old Dominion University's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center has developed a tool designed to graphically demonstrate the threat posed by high winds and rising water during a storm, GCN reports.

The Hurricane Evacuation Encouragement Demonstrator prototype was developed by VMASC for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management as a way to convince residents to evacuate during major storms. The tool helps those evacuating select a route, get instructions and maps and find shelters and fuel stops. The concept was broadened to include a mobile application to assist evacuees once they are actually on the road.

eReading on the cheap

Keyboard shortcuts and commercial software deployment aren't usually FCW's focus, but hey -- free is free.

Microsoft's MSDN blog on July 7 shared the "largest collection of FREE Microsoft eBooks ever" -- some 300 in all, including 130 newly shared titles on Windows 8.1, Office 365, Sharepoint 2013 and other products and services. Go load up your iPad/Kindle/Surface e-reader here.

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