Skip the navigation

Feds aren't 'knowingly' weakening encryption, says U.S. official

Recent Snowden leaks rattle NIST

September 10, 2013 05:05 PM ET

Computerworld - WASHINGTON - A U.S. official Tuesday defended the government's encryption efforts in response to disclosures that the National Security Agency (NSA) has the ability to crack encryption protections.

There were a number of published accounts last week, based on documents leaked by former government contractor Edward Snowden, that suggest encryption algorithms used by the commercial sector aren't stopping the agency from snooping.

These encryption technologies were developed with the help of National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which serves as a quasi-national laboratory for the private sector on encryption.

In commenting on the Snowden leaks, Patrick Gallagher, undersecretary of commerce for standards and technology and director of NIST, said that the leaks "would appear to attack our integrity."

Gallagher, speaking at an Amazon Web Services Public Sector Summit here, said that NIST's role "is to support a technical understanding of the strongest, most secure computer security, including encryption that we can.

"We are not deliberately, knowingly, working to undermine or weaken encryption technologies," said Gallagher.

But Bruce Schneier, a security expert and author, said he gives little weight to Gallagher's denial. "What is it about him that makes him different from other government and corporate officials who have been lying about what the NSA does?" said Schneier.

Gallagher said the NIST work on encryption is done "in the full light" of the public. Its work is published in technical bulletins and is subject to broad public comment.

"We're committed that any time a new issue or potential vulnerability is identified, that we address that in a forthcoming way," said Gallagher. "This is part of the business of the arms race of cyber security," he said.

covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at Twitter @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed Thibodeau RSS. His e-mail address is

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on

Read more about Security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.

Our Commenting Policies
Internet of Things: Get the latest!
Internet of Things

Our new bimonthly Internet of Things newsletter helps you keep pace with the rapidly evolving technologies, trends and developments related to the IoT. Subscribe now and stay up to date!