Was the NSA/RSA Scandal Started on a False Assumption by RSA?

In the months preceding this year's RSA conference, it was alleged in an article published by Reuters that the arranged a secret $10 million contract with RSA. Documents leaked by Edward Snowden show that the NSA created and promulgated a flawed formula for generating random numbers to create a "back door" in encryption products and that RSA became the most important distributor of that formula by rolling it into BSAFE, an security application used in personal computers and many other products.

We spoke with Tim Belcher is the CTO of RSA. In charge of their "strategic direction", Belcher came to RSA through an acquisition on 2011.

While discussing Art Coviello's keynote address at the conference, we chatted about the allegations of flawed code being intentionally distributed by RSA.

"Look at Obama walking around with a BlackBerry. There's a process for a technology company to get to the President like that, that includes common criteria, NIST reviews," said Belcher. "Since the year 2000 we've been standing in line handing over crypto code over to the government. All of us had an assumption that there were rules in place".

In December 2013, RSA made a statement categorically denying "that RSA entered into a 'secret contract' with the NSA to incorporate a known flawed random number generator into its BSAFE encryption libraries."

That same statement also says that RSA "never entered into any contract or engaged in any project with the intention of weakening RSA’s products, or introducing potential ‘backdoors’ into our products for anyone’s use".

In September 2013, when it became apparent that the encryption algorithm Dual EC DRBG was compromised, RSA advised its customers to stop using it.

When it comes to what the Federal government uses, Belcher said "We sell a crypto toolkit to the government that meets 140 specifications that they set. Don’t forget that they were the arbiters of what the Federal Government we going to use".

Clearly, there's a very tangled web of facts, leaked information, assumptions and obfuscation going on and this matter is far from over.


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