A former contractor accused the FBI of planting backdoors and side-channel key leaking mechanisms into the OpenBSD Cryptographic Framework 10 years ago.
An e-mail touched off a bit of a firestorm when a former government
contractor alleged the FBI put backdoors and side-channel key leak
mechanisms in the OpenBSD Cryptographic Framework some 10 years ago.
The e-mail, which was posted online here
by OpenBSD founder Theo de Raadt, came from Gregory Perry, who is now CEO of GoVirtual Education.
"If you will recall, a while back I was the CTO at NETSEC and
arranged funding and donations for the OpenBSD Crypto Framework," Perry
wrote in the Dec. 11 e-mail to de Raadt. "At that same time I also
did some consulting for the FBI, for their GSA Technical Support
Center, which was a cryptologic reverse engineering project aimed at
backdooring and implementing key escrow mechanisms for smart card and
other hardware-based computing technologies."
Stating that his non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with the FBI had ended, he told de Raadt the law enforcement agency had "implemented a number of backdoors
side channel key leaking mechanisms into the OCF, for the express
purpose of monitoring the site to site VPN encryption system
implemented by EOUSA, the parent organization to the FBI."
In an e-mail to eWEEK today, Perry wrote that the OCF was a
"target for side channel key leaking mechanisms, as well as pf (the
stateful inspection packet filter), in addition to the gigabit Ethernet
driver stack for the OpenBSD operating system; all of those projects
NETSEC donated engineers and equipment for, including the first
revision of the OCF hardware acceleration framework based on the HiFN
line of crypto accelerators."
"The project involved," he continued, "was the GSA Technical Support
Center, a circa 1999 joint research and development project between the
FBI and the NSA [National Security Agency]... We were tasked
with proposing various methods used to reverse engineer smart card
technologies, including Piranha techniques for stripping organic
materials from smart cards and other embedded systems used for key
material storage, so that the gates could be analyzed with Scanning
Electron and Scanning Tunneling Microscopy. We also developed proposals
for distributed brute force key cracking systems used for DES/3DES
cryptanalysis, in addition to other methods for side channel leaking
and covert backdoors in firmware-based systems."
Perry wrote that he left NETSEC in 2000 to start another venture and
"had some fairly significant concerns with many aspects of these
projects." He added that he was the lead architect for "the
site-to-site VPN project developed for Executive Office for United
States Attorneys, which was a statically keyed VPN system used at 235+
US Attorney locations and which later proved to have been backdoored by
the FBI so that they could recover (potentially) grand jury information
from various US Attorney sites across the United States and abroad."
"After I left NETSEC, I ended up becoming the recipient of a
FISA-sanctioned investigation, presumably so that I would not talk
about those various projects; my NDA recently expired so I am free to
talk about whatever," he wrote.
In announcing the e-mail, de Raadt noted that since the first IPSEC
stack was available for free, large parts of the code can be found in
many projects and products.
"Over 10 years, the IPSEC code has gone through many changes and
fixes, so it is unclear what the true impact of these allegations are,"
So far, there is mixed opinion about Perry's accusations
"Governments around the world would want this type of access due to
the realities of economic espionage and traditional espionage evolving
into cyberspace," said Tom Kellermann, vice president of security
awareness at Core Security. "The Chinese have been utilizing this form
of tradecraft for years."
Still, Andrew Hay, an analyst with The 451 Group, said the
ability to slip something malicious into the OpenBSD code is possible
but unlikely due to the possible political and social ramifications
of the backdoor being discovered.
"As for those people leveraging the OCF in their own software I
suspect that it would be quite difficult for them to audit the code for
anomalies," he said. "Software engineers typically rely on the scrutiny
provided by the Open Source community (not to mention the project
handlers) to audit the shared libraries and code prior to its release.
Unless the end-application owners have detailed knowledge of what to
look for, or guidance from the OpenBSD team, these anomalies will
likely be as difficult to detect as looking for a particular needle in
a stack of needles."