News / USA

    Study: NSA Infiltrated RSA Security More Deeply Than Thought

    A sign marks the entrance to RAS's facility in Bedford, Massachusetts, March 28, 2014.
    A sign marks the entrance to RAS's facility in Bedford, Massachusetts, March 28, 2014.
    Reuters
    Security industry pioneer RSA adopted not just one but two encryption tools developed by the U.S. National Security Agency, greatly increasing the spy agency's ability to eavesdrop on some Internet communications, according to a team of academic researchers.
     
    Reuters reported in December that the NSA had paid RSA $10 million to make a now-discredited cryptography system the default in software used by a wide range of Internet and computer security programs. The system, called Dual Elliptic Curve, was a random number generator, but it had a deliberate flaw - or “back door” - that allowed the NSA to crack the encryption.
     
    A group of professors from Johns Hopkins, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Illinois and elsewhere now say they have discovered that a second NSA tool exacerbated the RSA software's vulnerability.
     
    The professors found that the tool, known as the “Extended Random” extension for secure websites, could help crack a version of RSA's Dual Elliptic Curve software tens of thousands of times faster, according to an advance copy of their research shared with Reuters.
     
    While Extended Random was not widely adopted, the new research sheds light on how the NSA extended the reach of its surveillance under cover of advising companies on protection.
     
    RSA, now owned by EMC Corp, did not dispute the research when contacted by Reuters for comment. The company said it had not intentionally weakened security on any product and noted that Extended Random did not prove popular and had been removed from RSA's protection software in the last six months.
     
    “We could have been more skeptical of NSA's intentions,” RSA Chief Technologist Sam Curry told Reuters. “We trusted them because they are charged with security for the U.S. government and U.S. critical infrastructure.”
     
    Curry declined to say if the government had paid RSA to incorporate Extended Random in its BSafe security kit, which also housed Dual Elliptic Curve.
     
    An NSA spokeswoman declined to comment on the study or the intelligence agency's motives in developing Extended Random.
     
    The agency has worked for decades with private companies to improve cybersecurity, largely through its Information Assurance Directorate. After the 9/11 attacks, the NSA increased surveillance, including inside the United States, where it had previously faced strict restrictions.
     
    Documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed that the agency also aimed to subvert cryptography standards. A presidential advisory group in December said that practice should stop, though experts looking at the case of Dual Elliptic Curve have taken some comfort in concluding that only the NSA could likely break it.
     
    “It's certainly well-designed,” said security expert Bruce Schneier, a frequent critic of the NSA. “The random number generator is one of the better ones.”

    Random numbers
     
    Cryptography experts have long been suspicious of Dual Elliptic Curve, but the National Institute of Standards and Technology and RSA only renounced the technology after Snowden leaked documents about the back door last year.
     
    That was also when the academic team set out to see if they could break Dual Elliptic Curve by replacing two government-issued points on the curve with their own. The professors plan to publish a summary of their study this week and present their findings at a conference this summer.
     
    Random numbers are used to generate cryptographic keys - if you can guess the numbers, you can break the security of the keys. While no random number generator is perfect, some generators were viewed as more predictable than others.
     
    In a Pentagon-funded paper in 2008, the Extended Random protocol was touted as a way to boost the randomness of the numbers generated by the Dual Elliptic Curve.
     
    But members of the academic team said they saw little improvement, while the extra data transmitted by Extended Random before a secure connection begins made predicting the following secure numbers dramatically easier.
     
    “Adding it doesn't seem to provide any security benefits that we can figure out,” said one of the authors of the study, Thomas Ristenpart of the University of Wisconsin.
     
    Johns Hopkins Professor Matthew Green said it was hard to take the official explanation for Extended Random at face value, especially since it appeared soon after Dual Elliptic Curve's acceptance as a U.S. standard.
     
    “If using Dual Elliptic Curve is like playing with matches, then adding Extended Random is like dousing yourself with gasoline,” Green said.
     
    The NSA played a significant role in the origins of Extended Random. The authors of the 2008 paper on the protocol were Margaret Salter, technical director of the NSA's defensive Information Assurance Directorate, and an outside expert named Eric Rescorla.
     
    Rescorla, who has advocated greater encryption of all Web traffic, works for Mozilla, maker of the Firefox web browser. He and Mozilla declined to comment. Salter did not respond to requests for comment.
     
    Though few companies appear to have embraced Extended Random, RSA did. The company built in support for the protocol in BSafe toolkit versions for the Java programming language about five years ago, when a preeminent Internet standards group - the Internet Engineering Task Force - was considering whether to adopt Extended Random as an industry standard. The IETF decided in the end not to adopt the protocol.
     
    RSA's Curry said that if Dual Elliptic Curve had been sound, Extended Random would have made it better. “When we realized it was not likely to become a standard, we did not enable it in any other BSafe libraries,” he added.
     
    The academic researchers said it took about an hour to crack a free version of BSafe for Java using about $40,000 worth of computer equipment. It would have been 65,000 times faster in versions using Extended Random, dropping the time needed to seconds, according to Stephen Checkoway of Johns Hopkins.
     
    The researchers said it took them less than 3 seconds to crack a free version of BSafe for the C programming language, even without Extended Random, because it already transmitted so many random bits before the secure connection began. And it was so inexpensive it could easily be scaled up for mass surveillance, the researchers said.

    You May Like

    US Lawmakers Vow to Continue Immigrant Program for Afghan Interpreters

    Congressional inaction threatens funding for effort which began in 2008 and has allowed more than 20,000 interpreters, their family members to immigrate to US

    Brexit's Impact on Russia Stirs Concern

    Some analysts see Brexit aiding Putin's plans to destabilize European politics; others note that an economically unstable Europe is not in Moscow's interests

    US to Train Cambodian Government on Combating Cybercrime

    Concerns raised over drafting of law, as critics fear cybercrime regulations could be used to restrict freedom of expression and stifle political dissent

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora