Regarding the Guardian article about NSA control over encryption, there was this gem deep inside:

Independent security experts have long suspected that the NSA has been introducing weaknesses into security standards, a fact confirmed for the first time by another secret document. It shows the agency worked covertly to get its own version of a draft security standard issued by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology approved for worldwide use in 2006.

"Eventually, NSA became the sole editor," the document states.

Where else can we turn for encryption standards?

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    Who do I trust? A secret agency with a motivation to do wrong (obvious) but a track record of doing right (DES), or sensational journalism with vague claims and zero proof? Why does it matter that NSA was the sole editor if the standard (and which standard is it anyway? Don't leave us hanging) got public scrutiny? – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Sep 5 '13 at 22:14
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    @Gilles You trust the NSA more than the NYT? Note that the NYT is making some very specific incriminating claims about the content of NSA memos. (Although their lack of details is frustrating, which they explain is at the NSA's request.) Either the NSA is untrustworthy or the NYT is outright lying, which I find unlikely. – Alex Becker Sep 5 '13 at 22:23
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    what standard are they talking about? the nyt article says that it was the "standard adopted in 2006 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the United States’ encryption standards body, and later by the International Organization for Standardization, which has 163 countries as members." but what standard is that? is that one of the SHA ones? – user30436 Sep 5 '13 at 23:51
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    @AlexBecker Tell me what standard it is and show me actual proof and I might be convinced. I can make vague claims as well. "Oh hey, I got a laptop in my basement that can crack a 128-bit AES key in 30 seconds!" – user10211 Sep 6 '13 at 0:52
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    Old news, and just confirmation of something we already knew anyway. – Michael Hampton Sep 6 '13 at 3:11

You could try trusting the past. When Feistel and Coppersmith created Lucifer at IBM back in 1973, the NSA helped them strengthen it by providing better values for the S-boxes and adding the staggered bit shifting between rounds. They did this before IBM released it and it became DES. The NSA later acknowledged improving DES was a big mistake. (At the time, we thought the bigger mistake might have been the revelation that the NSA understood differential cryptanalysis 20 years before the civilian mathematicians figured it out.) While the key length of DES is still too short and attacks over the years have significantly weakened it, 3DES remains a sound implementation built on solid theory, even if it is a bit slow.

Keep in mind that most attacks described in the articles published so far appear to be on the end points, where security is weakest. Even the NSA must follow a budget, and wouldn't expend the resources to brute force every SSL session key ever used; at least not when hacking a target's PC is so much faster and easier.


ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 27 - IT Security techniques

ISO/IEC 9979 Register of Cryptographic Algorithms

ISO/IEC 18033-1:2005 Information technology -- Security techniques -- Encryption algorithms -- Part 1: General

ISO/IEC 18033-2:2006 Information technology -- Security techniques -- Encryption algorithms -- Part 2: Asymmetric ciphers

ISO/IEC 18033-3:2010 Information technology -- Security techniques -- Encryption algorithms -- Part 3: Block ciphers

ISO/IEC 18033-4:2011 Information technology -- Security techniques -- Encryption algorithms -- Part 4: Stream ciphers

CCSDS ( Consultative Committe for Space Data Systens)

CCSDS 352.0-B-1

CCSDS Cryptographic Algorithms. Blue Book. Issue 1. November 2012.

This Recommended Standard provides the basis for standard CCSDS security algorithms. The document recommends a single symmetric block-cipher encryption algorithm and several authentication algorithms.

  • ISO has a bad track record for crypto standards (see the severely broken ISO 9796-2 schemes). – SquareRootOfTwentyThree Sep 6 '13 at 22:11

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