NSA paid RSA $10 Mill to make flawed crypto algorithm the default
Courtesy Peter Bright, ArsTechnica.com
Security company RSA was paid $10 million to use the flawed Dual_EC_DRBG pseudorandom number generating algorithm as the default algorithm in its BSafe crypto library, according to sources speaking to Reuters.
The Dual_EC_DRBG algorithm is included in the NIST-approved crypto standard SP 800-90 and has been viewed with suspicion since shortly after its inclusion in the 2006 specification. In 2007, researchers from Microsoft showed that the algorithm could be backdoored: if certain relationships between numbers included within the algorithm were known to an attacker, then that attacker could predict all the numbers generated by the algorithm. These suspicions of backdooring seemed to be confirmed this September with the news that the National Security Agency had worked to undermine crypto standards.
The impact of this backdooring seemed low. The 2007 research, combined with Dual_EC_DRBG’s poor performance, meant that the algorithm was largely ignored. Most software didn’t implement it, and the software that did generally didn’t use it.
One exception to this was RSA’s BSafe library of cryptographic functions. With so much suspicion about Dual_EC_DRBG, RSA quickly recommended that BSafe users switch away from the use of Dual_EC_DRBG in favor of other pseduorandom number generation algorithms that its software supported. This raised the question of why RSA had taken the unusual decision to use the algorithm in the first place given the already widespread distrust surrounding it.
RSA said that it didn’t enable backdoors in its software and that the choice of Dual_EC_DRBG was essentially down to fashion: at the time that the algorithm was picked in 2004 (predating the NIST specification), RSA says that elliptic curves (the underlying mathematics on which Dual_EC_DRBG is built) had become “the rage” and were felt to “have advantages over other algorithms.”
Reuters’ report suggests that RSA wasn’t merely following the trends when it picked the algorithm and that contrary to its previous claims, the company has inserted presumed backdoors at the behest of the spy agency. The $10 million that the agency is said to have been paid was more than a third of the annual revenue earned for the crypto library.
Other sources speaking to Reuters said that the government did not let on that it had backdoored the algorithm, presenting it instead as a technical advance.