Security expert snubs RSA conference over NSA payment allegations

Late last week Reuters reported that security vendor RSA, which encryption solutions, was paid US$10 million by the U.S. National Security Agency several years ago to use a flawed number generating algorithm in one of its products.

That raised questions about whether RSA co-operated with the electronic spy agency to give it a backdoor into certain supposed encrypted applications. Encryption only works if the numbers it generates are truly random.

RSA has stoutly denied it allows a back door into any of its products. But yesterday a prominent non-believer stepped forward.

Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer of anti-virus provider F-Secure, cancelled a talk he was scheduled to deliver at the upcoming annual RSA Conference.

In a letter to Joseph Tucci, CEO of RSA’s parent company EMC, Hypponen complained RSA accepted the random number generator several years ago from the intelligence agency.

“Your company has issued a statement on the topic, but you have not denied this particular claim,” Hypponen’s letter said. “Eventually, NSA’s random number generator was found to be flawed on purpose, in effect creating a back door. You had kept on using the generator for years despite widespread speculation that NSA had backdoored it.”

So, Hypponen said, he wouldn’t speak at the conference.

In a related move, security experts are calling for the removal of a National Security Agency employee who co-chairs an influential cryptography panel, which advises a host of groups that forge widely used standards for the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

The controversy is just the latest fallout from revelations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that the NSA approved an encryption standard organizations could use that unknown to them had vulnerabilities.

Since that story broke the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, which recommends cybersecurity standards for the private sector, said it was looking into its vetting process.

Once again an IT company has been drawn into controversy about U.S. government electronic spying. Last week executives from Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft told President Barak Obama that the allegations are hurting the reputations of their companies.

One thing for certain: More will come in 2014

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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