random numbers

NIST drops crypto algorithm

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has removed a cryptographic algorithm from a draft list of recommended random number generators used to develop secure keys for data encryption.

The decision to remove the algorithm from its approved list followed reports from commenters that the keys developed through use of the algorithm might be vulnerable to hackers.

NIST’s draft guidance on the use of the crypto algorithms said it will retain three out of four previously available options for generating the “pseudorandom” bits needed to build secure keys for data encryption.

The withdrawn algorithm is called the Dual Elliptic Curve Deterministic Random Bit Generator, also known as Dual_EC_DRBG. It its place, NIST suggests that users move to one of the other three approved algorithms “as soon as possible.”

Concerns about of the algorithm date back to September of 2013, when reports appeared questioning the trustworthiness of encryption generated by the tool. At the time, NIST immediately recommended the algorithm not be used and asked for a round of public comment.

Some of the comments addressed a weakness in the tool that would allow hackers to resolve the secret cryptographic keys and defeat its protections, according to NIST. Based on the comments and the dwindling confidence in the tool, NIST removed it from its draft list of recommended algorithms.

Before implementing change, NIST is asking for final public comments on the revised document, Recommendation for Random Number Generation Using Deterministic Random Bit Generators (NIST Special Publication 800-90A, Rev. 1).

The revised SP 800-90A is available at http://csrc.nist.gov/news_events/index.html#apr21 along with instructions for submitting comments. The public comment period closes on May 23, 2014.

The agency recommends vendors now using Dual_EC_DRBG and “who want to remain in compliance with federal guidance,” choose an alternative algorithm and not wait for further revision of guidance.

NIST also suggested that federal agencies ask their vendors if their cryptographic modules rely on Dual_EC_DRBG and if so, ask them to reconfigure their products.

NIST published a list of cryptographic modules that include Dual_EC_DRBG.

The agency also said its primary federal advisory committee, the Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology, has been asked to review NIST's cryptographic standards process.The committee plans to produce a public report of its findings and recommendations, according to NIST.

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