NIST pledges transparency in NSA dealings over crypto standards

The agency says it will disclose all contributions from the National Security Agency

A U.S. agency that develops widely used standards for encryption has pledged to be more transparent about its dealings with the National Security Agency, amid concerns the NSA undermined those standards to boost its surveillance efforts.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology outlined new proposed operating procedures in an updated draft published Friday. It's seeking public comments on the proposal through March 27.

The document follows a report last July from independent security experts who concluded NIST had put too much faith in the NSA in developing cryptographic standards.

"The new draft expands on NIST's interactions with the National Security Agency (NSA), explaining how the agencies work together and what steps are now in place to ensure NSA's contributions to the standards development process are transparent," NIST said.

"The new processes will ensure that NIST attributes to the NSA all algorithms, standards or guidelines contributed by the agency's staff, and acknowledges all comments received from the NSA."

NIST has been in the spotlight since 2013, when reports based on leaked documents from Edward Snowden claimed the NSA used its influence over NIST to insert a backdoor in at least one cryptographic standard and possibly to weaken others.

Last February, NIST appointed an independent panel of technologists review its practices, including Ed Felten, a computer scientist at Princeton University, Ron Rivest, an MIT professor, and Internet pioneer Vint Cerf, who works at Google.

They concluded that NIST needed to hire more cryptographic experts and reduce its reliance on the NSA for decisions about standards.

Friday's proposal reflects the feedback in that report and from public comments on the first draft, which was published last February and said much less about NIST's work with the NSA.

NIST is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Formed in 1901, it's charged with making U.S. businesses more competitive by creating standard measures for weights and time, as well as standards for encryption, x-ray radiation and other areas.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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