Entries Tagged "NSA"

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NSA Over-surveillance

Here in 2022, we have a newly declassified 2016 Inspector General report—”Misuse of Sigint Systems”—about a 2013 NSA program that resulted in the unauthorized (that is, illegal) targeting of Americans.

Given all we learned from Edward Snowden, this feels like a minor coda. There’s nothing really interesting in the IG document, which is heavily redacted.

News story.

EDITED TO ADD (11/14): Non-paywalled copy of the Bloomberg link.

Posted on November 11, 2022 at 6:25 AMView Comments

NSA on Supply Chain Security

The NSA (together with CISA) has published a long report on supply-chain security: “Securing the Software Supply Chain: Recommended Practices Guide for Suppliers.“:

Prevention is often seen as the responsibility of the software developer, as they are required to securely develop and deliver code, verify third party components, and harden the build environment. But the supplier also holds a critical responsibility in ensuring the security and integrity of our software. After all, the software vendor is responsible for liaising between the customer and software developer. It is through this relationship that additional security features can be applied via contractual agreements, software releases and updates, notifications and mitigations of vulnerabilities.

Software suppliers will find guidance from NSA and our partners on preparing organizations by defining software security checks, protecting software, producing well-secured software, and responding to vulnerabilities on a continuous basis. Until all stakeholders seek to mitigate concerns specific to their area of responsibility, the software supply chain cycle will be vulnerable and at risk for potential compromise.

They previously published “Securing the Software Supply Chain: Recommended Practices Guide for Developers.” And they plan on publishing one focused on customers.

EDITED TO ADD (11/14): The proposed EU Cyber Resilience Act places obligations on software providers to deliver secure code, and fix bugs in a timely manner.

Posted on November 4, 2022 at 9:16 AMView Comments

NSA Employee Charged with Espionage

An ex-NSA employee has been charged with trying to sell classified data to the Russians (but instead actually talking to an undercover FBI agent).

It’s a weird story, and the FBI affidavit raises more questions than it answers. The employee only worked for the NSA for three weeks—which is weird in itself. I can’t figure out how he linked up with the undercover FBI agent. It’s not clear how much of this was the employee’s idea, and whether he was goaded by the FBI agent. Still, hooray for not leaking NSA secrets to the Russians. (And, almost ten years after Snowden, do we still have this much trouble vetting people before giving them security clearances?)

Mr. Dalke, who had already left the N.S.A. but told the agent that he still worked there on a temporary assignment, then revealed that had taken “highly sensitive information” related to foreign targeting of U.S. systems and information on cyber operations, the prosecutors said. He offered the information in exchange for cryptocurrency and said he was in “financial need.” Court records show he had nearly $84,000 in debt between student loans and credit cards.

EDITED TO ADD (10/5): Marcy Wheeler notes that the FBI seems to be sitting on some common recruitment point, and collecting potential Russian spies.

Posted on October 4, 2022 at 6:30 AMView Comments

Levels of Assurance for DoD Microelectronics

The NSA has has published criteria for evaluating levels of assurance required for DoD microelectronics.

The introductory report in a DoD microelectronics series outlines the process for determining levels of hardware assurance for systems and custom microelectronic components, which include application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs), field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and other devices containing reprogrammable digital logic.

The levels of hardware assurance are determined by the national impact caused by failure or subversion of the top-level system and the criticality of the component to that top-level system. The guidance helps programs acquire a better understanding of their system and components so that they can effectively mitigate against threats.

The report was published last month, but I only just noticed it.

Posted on August 29, 2022 at 9:30 AMView Comments

Ecuador’s Attempt to Resettle Edward Snowden

Someone hacked the Ecuadorian embassy in Moscow and found a document related to Ecuador’s 2013 efforts to bring Edward Snowden there. If you remember, Snowden was traveling from Hong Kong to somewhere when the US revoked his passport, stranding him in Russia. In the document, Ecuador asks Russia to provide Snowden with safe passage to come to Ecuador.

It’s hard to believe this all happened almost ten years ago.

Posted on June 29, 2022 at 6:19 AMView Comments

On the Subversion of NIST by the NSA

Nadiya Kostyuk and Susan Landau wrote an interesting paper: “Dueling Over DUAL_EC_DRBG: The Consequences of Corrupting a Cryptographic Standardization Process”:

Abstract: In recent decades, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which develops cryptographic standards for non-national security agencies of the U.S. government, has emerged as the de facto international source for cryptographic standards. But in 2013, Edward Snowden disclosed that the National Security Agency had subverted the integrity of a NIST cryptographic standard­the Dual_EC_DRBG­enabling easy decryption of supposedly secured communications. This discovery reinforced the desire of some public and private entities to develop their own cryptographic standards instead of relying on a U.S. government process. Yet, a decade later, no credible alternative to NIST has emerged. NIST remains the only viable candidate for effectively developing internationally trusted cryptography standards.

Cryptographic algorithms are essential to security yet are hard to understand and evaluate. These technologies provide crucial security for communications protocols. Yet the protocols transit international borders; they are used by countries that do not necessarily trust each other. In particular, these nations do not necessarily trust the developer of the cryptographic standard.

Seeking to understand how NIST, a U.S. government agency, was able to remain a purveyor of cryptographic algorithms despite the Dual_EC_DRBG problem, we examine the Dual_EC_DRBG situation, NIST’s response, and why a non-regulatory, non-national security U.S. agency remains a successful international supplier of strong cryptographic solutions.

Posted on June 23, 2022 at 6:05 AMView Comments

The NSA Says that There are No Known Flaws in NIST’s Quantum-Resistant Algorithms

Rob Joyce, the director of cybersecurity at the NSA, said so in an interview:

The NSA already has classified quantum-resistant algorithms of its own that it developed over many years, said Joyce. But it didn’t enter any of its own in the contest. The agency’s mathematicians, however, worked with NIST to support the process, trying to crack the algorithms in order to test their merit.

“Those candidate algorithms that NIST is running the competitions on all appear strong, secure, and what we need for quantum resistance,” Joyce said. “We’ve worked against all of them to make sure they are solid.”

The purpose of the open, public international scrutiny of the separate NIST algorithms is “to build trust and confidence,” he said.

I believe him. This is what the NSA did with NIST’s candidate algorithms for AES and then for SHA-3. NIST’s Post-Quantum Cryptography Standardization Process looks good.

I still worry about the long-term security of the submissions, though. In 2018, in an essay titled “Cryptography After the Aliens Land,” I wrote:

…there is always the possibility that those algorithms will fall to aliens with better quantum techniques. I am less worried about symmetric cryptography, where Grover’s algorithm is basically an upper limit on quantum improvements, than I am about public-key algorithms based on number theory, which feel more fragile. It’s possible that quantum computers will someday break all of them, even those that today are quantum resistant.

It took us a couple of decades to fully understand von Neumann computer architecture. I’m sure it will take years of working with a functional quantum computer to fully understand the limits of that architecture. And some things that we think of as computationally hard today will turn out not to be.

EDITED TO ADD (6/14): Since I wrote this, flaws were found in at least four candidates.

Posted on May 16, 2022 at 6:34 AMView Comments

Details of an NSA Hacking Operation

Pangu Lab in China just published a report of a hacking operation by the Equation Group (aka the NSA). It noticed the hack in 2013, and was able to map it with Equation Group tools published by the Shadow Brokers (aka some Russian group).

…the scope of victims exceeded 287 targets in 45 countries, including Russia, Japan, Spain, Germany, Italy, etc. The attack lasted for over 10 years. Moreover, one victim in Japan is used as a jump server for further attack.

News article.

Posted on March 3, 2022 at 6:32 AMView Comments

Interview with the Head of the NSA’s Research Directorate

MIT Technology Review published an interview with Gil Herrera, the new head of the NSA’s Research Directorate. There’s a lot of talk about quantum computing, monitoring 5G networks, and the problems of big data:

The math department, often in conjunction with the computer science department, helps tackle one of NSA’s most interesting problems: big data. Despite public reckoning over mass surveillance, NSA famously faces the challenge of collecting such extreme quantities of data that, on top of legal and ethical problems, it can be nearly impossible to sift through all of it to find everything of value. NSA views the kind of “vast access and collection” that it talks about internally as both an achievement and its own set of problems. The field of data science aims to solve them.

“Everyone thinks their data is the messiest in the world, and mine maybe is because it’s taken from people who don’t want us to have it, frankly,” said Herrera’s immediate predecessor at the NSA, the computer scientist Deborah Frincke, during a 2017 talk at Stanford. “The adversary does not speak clearly in English with nice statements into a mic and, if we can’t understand it, send us a clearer statement.”

Making sense of vast stores of unclear, often stolen data in hundreds of languages and even more technical formats remains one of the directorate’s enduring tasks.

Posted on February 3, 2022 at 6:01 AMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.