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Coviello: RSA Security's Work With NSA 'A Matter Of Public Record'

RSA chairman calls for global intelligence community reforms, spinning IAD off from NSA

RSA CONFERENCE 2014 -- San Francisco -- RSA Security executive chairman Art Coviello in his keynote address here today addressed publicly for the first time the security company's relationship with the National Security Agency (NSA), which he said mainly has entailed working with NSA's Information Assurance Directorate (IAD), the cyberdefense arm of the agency.

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Coviello stopped short of specifically addressing details of the December Reuters report that the NSA in 2006 had paid RSA $10 million in a secret contract to use the Dual EC DRBG random-number generator algorithm in its Bsafe software in order to facilitate the NSA's spying programs. The encryption algorithm reportedly was one that the NSA was able to crack.

"We've been doing business with the NSA for a long time. It's a matter of public record," Coviello said in an interview with Dark Reading after his keynote. "We have worked with the IAD on the defense side of the house. My purpose in the speech was to really get us past the NSA issue and the raise the level of the dialogue."

In a Dec. 22 blog post responsing to allegations of an NSA secret contract, RSA dismissed reports that it had a secret pact with the NSA, stating that "we have never entered into any contract or engaged in any project with the intention of weakening RSA's products, or introducing potential 'backdoors' into our products for anyone's use."

Coviello in his keynote today said RSA supports NIST's new proposal for creating encryption standards, as well as the recommendation by the President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies that calls for spinning off the NSA's IAD. The goal of removing IAD from the spy agency is to narrow the NSA's role as a foreign intelligence agency.

"Sadly, much of the great work of the IAD is getting lost in the feeding frenzy around this controversy," Coviello said in his speech. "It's not only sad, it's dangerous for the country. However it's done, creating greater separation between the offensive and defensive roles of the NSA would go far to repair relations and to rebuild trust."

The RSA executive also called for several reforms to the international intelligence community. "All intelligence agencies around the world need to adopt a governance model that enables them to do more to defend us and less to offend us," he said.

Coviello called for some "societal norms" for the digital world: the rejection of the use of cyberweapons and for using the Internet for war; international cooperation in the investigation, arrest, and prosecution of cybercriminals; the protection of commerce and intellectual property on the Net; and the preservation of privacy of individuals.

"It's not just NSA. All of the intelligence agencies have to come to grips that these digital norms don't exist and they need to be created," he told Dark Reading.

He says the NSA "missed the opportunity" to provide transparency of its operations. "If they need to encroach on privacy in some form or fashion, it needs to be strictly governed, and so people feel comfortable about that process, it needs to be transparent so people can get visibility into how that governance model is actually being acted upon," he said in the interview. "The NSA missed the opportunity to give people that transparency. A lot in the press about the NSA is just not accurate."

Coviello's keynote kicked off an RSA Conference abuzz with isolated speaker boycotts of the event due to the RSA-NSA allegations and an alternative conference, called TrustyCon, planned for Thursday next door to the convention center housing the RSA Conference. Many of the speakers and discussions have centered around the debate over the scope of the NSA's surveillance programs in the wake of NSA documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

In September, NIST recommended that software developers refrain from using the Dual EC DRBG algorithm in the wake of the Snowden leaks, and RSA "immediately ... took steps to remove the algorithm from use," Coviello said in his keynote.

Marc Maiffret, CTO of BeyondTrust, says most security firms have worked with NSA's IAD in security standards efforts, for example, and he doesn't think there was any conspiracy associated with the NSA's involvement in security standards work.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Kelly Jackson Higgins is Senior Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, ... View Full Bio

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