Feeds

How much did NSA pay to put a backdoor in RSA crypto? Try $10m – report

Latest Snowden claims: Flawed encryption tech switched on by default in exchange for cash

Security for virtualized datacentres

The mystery of why RSA would use a flawed, NSA-championed algorithm as the default random number generator for several of its encryption products appears to be solved, and the answer is utterly banal, if true: the NSA paid it to.

Reuters reports that RSA received $10m from the NSA in exchange for making the agency-backed Dual Elliptic Curve Deterministic Random Bit Generator (Dual EC DRBG) its preferred random number algorithm, according to newly disclosed documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

If that figure sounds small, that's because it is. Tech giant EMC acquired RSA for $2.1bn in 2006 – around the same time as the backroom NSA deal – so it seems odd that RSA would kowtow to the g-men so cheaply.

But according to Reuters, at the time, things weren't looking so good for the division of RSA that was responsible for its BSafe encryption libraries. In 2005, those tools brought in a mere $27.5m of RSA's $310m in annual revenue, or just 8.9 per cent.

By accepting $10m from the NSA, as Reuters claims, the BSafe division managed to increase its contribution to RSA's bottom line by more than a third.

It wasn't long after RSA switched to Dual EC DRBG as its default, however, that security experts began to question whether this new algorithm was really all it was cracked up to be. In 2007, a pair of Microsoft researchers observed that the code contained flaws that had the potential to open "a perfect backdoor" in any encryption that made use of it [PDF].

Such concerns remained largely within the province of security experts until earlier this year, when documents leaked by Snowden confirmed the existence of NSA-created backdoors in encryption based on RSA's technology.

In late September, RSA itself even warned its customers that they should choose a different cryptographically secure random number generator while it reviews its own products for potential vulnerabilities. OpenSSL, the software library used by countless applications to perform encryption and decryption, has also written off Dual EC DRBG. How the NSA came to be involved with the algorithm is discussed in detail here by computer security expert Bruce Schneier.

For its part, however, RSA maintains that it never conspired with the NSA to compromise the security of its products, and that if the government knew how to break RSA's encryption, it never let on.

"RSA always acts in the best interest of its customers and under no circumstances does RSA design or enable any back doors in our products," the company wrote in a canned statement. "Decisions about the features and functionality of RSA products are our own." ®

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
FYI: OS X Yosemite's Spotlight tells Apple EVERYTHING you're looking for
It's on by default – didn't you read the small print?
Edward who? GCHQ boss dodges Snowden topic during last speech
UK spies would rather 'walk' than do 'mass surveillance'
Microsoft pulls another dodgy patch
Redmond makes a hash of hashing add-on
NOT OK GOOGLE: Android images can conceal code
It's been fixed, but hordes won't have applied the upgrade
DEATH by PowerPoint: Microsoft warns of 0-day attack hidden in slides
Might put out patch in update, might chuck it out sooner
'LulzSec leader Aush0k' found to be naughty boy not worthy of jail
15 months home detention leaves egg on feds' faces as they grab for more power
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.