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A Few Thoughts on Cryptographic Engineering: A riddle wrapped in a curve

A Few Thoughts on Cryptographic Engineering A riddle wrapped in a curve


What is Suite B, and what do you mean by NSA ‘freaking out’?

For most of the past century, the NSA (and its predecessors) have jealously guarded a monopoly on advanced cryptography. This approach worked reasonably well through the 1980s, then rapidly became unsustainable. There were a couple of reasons for this. First, the PC revolution made it impossible for the NSA to keep encryption out of the hands of ordinary users and industry -- as much as the NSA tried to make this so. Second, Congress got fed up with paying for expensive bespoke computer systems, and decided the DoD should buy its computing equipment off the shelf like everyone else.

The result was the Cryptographic Modernization Program, and Suite B — the first public cryptography standard to include non-classified algorithms certified for encrypting Secret and Top Secret data. Suite B was standardized for industry in the mid/late 1990s, and was notable for its exclusive reliance on (then new) field of elliptic curve cryptography (ECC) for public key encryption and key agreement.

At the time of Suite B’s adoption, ECC was relatively new to the non-classified world. Many industry and academic cryptographers didn’t feel it had been reasonably studied (Koblitz and Menezes’ anecdotes on this are priceless). ECC was noteworthy for using dramatically shorter keys than alternative public-key algorithms such as RSA and “classical” Diffie-Hellman, largely because new sub-exponential attacks that worked in those settings did not seem to have any analogue in the ECC world. 

The NSA pushed hard for adoption. Since they had the best mathematicians, and moreover, clearly had the most to lose if things went south, the standards bodies were persuaded to go along. The algorithms of Suite B were standardized and — aside from a few intellectual property concerns — have been gradually adopted even by the non-classified community.

Then, in August of this year, NSA freaked out.

Stashed in: Hackers!

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It's rare to see the NSA freaking out. 

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