Facing skepticism by experts, NSA backs down in global encryption standards debate

NSARepresentatives from the United States National Security Agency (NSA) withdrew a proposal to introduce new global industry standards for data encryption, after encountering prolonged skepticism by experts representing other Western countries. Some observers have interpreted this development as indicative of the damaged relationship between the NSA and its Western counterparts following revelations by American defector Edward Snowden.

Deliberations for establishing new industry standards for data encryption have been taking place for over three years under the supervision of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The ISO is a worldwide standard-setting body founded in 1947, which brings together representatives from national standards organizations. The US delegation, had proposed the adoption of two new data encryption techniques, known as ‘Simon’ and ‘Speck’. The techniques had the approval of the US national standards organization, which is known as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) . However, it also had the approval of the NSA, America’s signals intelligence agency, whose representatives were members of the US delegation to the ISO. According to the Reuters news agency, the presence of the NSA representatives in ANSI prompted skepticism among other national delegations.

Eventually, encryption experts from countries including Israel, Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom, rejected ‘Simon’ and ‘Speck’. The reason, according to Reuters, was that they were “worried that the [NSA] was pushing the new techniques not because they were good encryption tools, but because it knew how to break them”. Some commentators believe that this incident illustrates the suspicion with which the NSA is seen by American allies following headline-grabbing revelations made Edward Snowden, a former employee of the NSA who defected to Russia in 2013. Some of Snowden’s most sensational revelations involved alleged NSA operations targeting Germany, France, Israel, Japan, and other American allies. The revelations shocked public opinion in Europe and elsewhere, and resulted in the unprecedented expulsion of the CIA station chief in Berlin —the most senior US intelligence official in the country. ISO delegates are now thought to be working on a revised plan to keep some of ANSI’s proposed standards but enhance them with stronger layers of encryption, said Reuters.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 September 2017 | Permalink