Chapter

The New Codebreakers

Volume 9100 of the series Lecture Notes in Computer Science pp 256-281

Date:

Dual EC: A Standardized Back Door

  • Daniel J. BernsteinAffiliated withDepartment of Mathematics and Computer Science, Technische Universiteit EindhovenDepartment of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Chicago Email author 
  • , Tanja LangeAffiliated withDepartment of Mathematics and Computer Science, Technische Universiteit Eindhoven
  • , Ruben NiederhagenAffiliated withDepartment of Mathematics and Computer Science, Technische Universiteit Eindhoven

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Abstract

Dual EC is an algorithm to compute pseudorandom numbers starting from some random input. Dual EC was standardized by NIST, ANSI, and ISO among other algorithms to generate pseudorandom numbers. For a long time this algorithm was considered suspicious – the entity designing the algorithm could have easily chosen the parameters in such a way that it can predict all outputs – and on top of that it is much slower than the alternatives and the numbers it provides are more biased, i.e., not random.

The Snowden revelations, and in particular reports on Project Bullrun and the SIGINT Enabling Project, have indicated that Dual EC was part of a systematic effort by NSA to subvert standards.

This paper traces the history of Dual EC including some suspicious changes to the standard, explains how the back door works in real-life applications, and explores the standardization and patent ecosystem in which the standardized back door stayed under the radar.

Keywords

Random-number generation Back doors NSA ANSI NIST ISO RSA Certicom Undead RNGs