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FBI 'planted backdoor' in OpenBSD

Break out the code auditing kit

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Allegations that the FBI may have smuggled back doors or weaknesses into openBSD's cryptography have created uproar in the security community.

Former government contractor Gregory Perry, who helped develop the OpenBSD crypto framework a decade ago, claims that contractors were paid to insert backdoors into OpenBSD's IPSec stack around 10 years ago. Perry recently warned the openBSD's Theo de Raadt of the development, years after the event, via an email that de Raadt has published in the spirit of openness.

Perry said he had waited until his ten year NDA with the FBI had expired before coming forward with the claims, which remain unsupported by secondary sources. If true the allegations mean that would have an easy way to tap into supposedly secure VPN links and other technologies based on OpenBSD's crypto stack.

De Raadt said he had published Perry's email so that those who use potentially affected code can carry out an audit, as well as offering the opportunity for those named in the email to come forward and give their version of events.

In his email, Perry alleges that virtualisation guru Scott Lowe is on the FBI payroll, suggesting this may be behind his recent advocacy of OpenBSD at a technology for VPN and firewall installation in virtualised environments. Lowe denies the charge, saying he never worked for the Feds.

In an email exchange with reporter Robert McMillan, Perry said that attempts to plant backdoors in open source code were made by the Clinton administration to "counter to their supposed relaxation of the Department of Commerce encryption export regulations".

Perry's allegations are being taken seriously even though they don't come alongside anything substantial by way of evidence. Whether true or not, the charge of an OpenBSD backdoor has spawned a debate.

E J Hilbert, a former FBI cyber-crime agent, said attempts were made to place backdoors in open source security codes but that these were unsuccessful. "I was one of the few FBI cyber agents when the coding supposedly happened. Experiment yes. Success No," Hilbert said in a Twitter update.

Chris Wysopal, CTO of application security tools firm Veracode and former high profile member of hacker collective L0pht Heavy Industries, said that the issue of potential backdoors doesn't stop with OpenBSD: "If OpenBSD w/all their auditing was backdoored where does that leave Linux, Windows, FreeBSD, OS X. Who thinks they stopd at smallest dist?" ®

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