U.S. NSA Swears It Won’t Allow Backdoors in New Encryption Standards

U.S. NSA Swears It Won’t Allow Backdoors in New Encryption Standards
Photo: SAUL LOEB / AFP, Getty Images

The U.S. has been working on new encryption standards meant to withstand the powers of quantum computing, an emergent technology that will supposedly involve machines capable of high-octane mathematical calculations that can crack current-day encryption algorithms without breaking a sweat.

Bloomberg reports that the National Institute of Technical Standards, or NIST, has been holding competitions to help develop these new standards. The goal is to develop better, more hack-resistant public-key cryptography, which will power secure communications for email and other everyday online applications that millions of Americans rely on.

The National Security Agency has also been helping out with the development of these new encryption standards, though it’s not totally clear how. Don’t worry though! The NSA swears that the new protocols are so secure that even its own band of keyboard warriors can’t hack them. And the NSA would never put a backdoor in an encryption standard, right?

“There are no backdoors,” Rob Joyce, the NSA’s director of cybersecurity told the news outlet. “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 agency declined to comment further.

This sounds good, though it seems important to mention that the NSA does not have… shall we say, an amazing track record when it comes to backdoors. Don’t forget that…

  • In 2013, it was reported that the NSA had paid $US10 ($14) million to the security company RSA, in exchange for which, RSA allegedly implanted a compromised encryption algorithm into its products’ software called Dual_EC_DRBG. This algorithm is widely believed to have acted as a backdoor for the NSA.
  • In 2014, it was reported that the NSA had been intercepting U.S.-made hardware that was being sent abroad. NSA operatives would allegedly implant the products with backdoors, repackage them, then send them on their way.
  • In 2015, networking products manufacturer Juniper Networks announced that a suspected backdoor had been discovered inside the operating system that runs its firewalls. The NSA is long suspected of having been involved or having been inadvertently responsible for security weaknesses that allowed hackers to get inside the devices.
  • In 2020, Congress tried to get a straight answer out of the NSA as to whether it was still planting backdoors in U.S.-made hardware and software. Then NSA staffer Anne Neuberger said: “We don’t share specific processes and procedures.”
  • In February, it was reported that a backdoor affecting most Linux distributions had been discovered. The backdoor, dubbed “Bvp47,” was reportedly “linked” to the Equation Group, a well-known hacking group inside the NSA.

So, sure…no backdoors. Alright!