NIST denies NSA tampering with encryption standards

Although NIST must work with NSA by law, the agency maintains a public vetting process for all encryption standards

The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has vigorously denied that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) tampered with NIST's process of vetting and choosing encryption algorithms.

"NIST would not deliberately weaken a cryptographic standard," NIST said in a statement Tuesday. "We will continue in our mission to work with the cryptographic community to create the strongest possible encryption standards for the U.S. government and industry at large."

The statement was issued five days after The New York Times accused the NSA of circumnavigating the NIST-approved encryption algorithms used to secure electronic communications, either by introducing virtually undetectable back doors in the algorithms or by subverting the public development process to weaken new encryption algorithms and supporting technologies.

NIST led development of many of the algorithms used to encrypt data on the Internet, such as AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) and the now largely defunct DES (Digital Encryption Standard). Both AES and DES are used in SSL (Secure Socket Layer), the protocol used by browsers to secure sensitive data.

In addition to issuing the statement, NIST has also reopened public comments for a number of proposed encryption related standards, namely Special Publication 800-90A and draft Special Publications 800-90B and 800-90C, which cover the random bit generators that provide random numbers to seed encryption keys.

NIST noted that it has worked closely with the NSA to help develop encryption standards, due to the NSA's expertise in this area. NIST is also required to consult with the NSA by U.S. legal statute. But the agency noted that its process for vetting encryption algorithms is an open one, in which anyone can review and comment on the work being done.

"If vulnerabilities are found in these or any other NIST standards, we will work with the cryptographic community to address them as quickly as possible," the statement read.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags securityU.S. National Security AgencyencryptiongovernmentU.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology

More about Advanced Encryption StandardAES EnvironmentalIDGNational Security AgencyNSASocketTechnology

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Joab Jackson

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place