RSA has had a tough few years; the subject of a high profile phishing attack in March 2011 resulting in the loss of information related to their SecureID product. They denied it was an issue until three months later when information gained from that attack was used against other companies, including Lockheed Martin, and had to subsequently replace a large number of the tokens.
In September this year they recommended that customers of their BSafe product should stop using the built in, default, encryption algorithm because it contained a weakness that the NSA could exploit using a backdoor and therefore would be vulnerable to interception and reading. How very open and forthright of RSA I thought at the time. Despite the potential damage they may be doing to their brand by giving this information freely out, they are doing so in their customers interests and at the same time offering secure alternatives. It reminded me of the early nineties and the pushback against the Clipper chip, with RSA at the forefront protecting client interests and pushing back against the spooks of the three letter agencies of the USA. Here is what D. James Bidzos said at the time:
“We have the system that they’re most afraid of,” Bidzos says. “If the U.S. adopted RSA as a standard, you would have a truly international, interoperable, unbreakable, easy-to-use encryption technology. And all those things together are so synergistically theatening to the N.S.A.’s interests that it’s driving them into a frenzy.”
Powerful stuff. The newly formed Electronic Frontiers Foundation would have been proud.
Now this is where it gets interesting and has raised the shackles of many in the Twittersphere and internet echo chambers. A few days ago it was revealed that the real reason for RSA to have used a flawed products for so many years was because the NSA paid them to. It wasn’t a huge amount of money although it possibly helped save the division that runs BSafe in RSA that was struggling at the time.
Businesses change. Leadership changes. Market forces steer a company in different direction to one a degree or another. To my mind though, to deliberately weaken your own product for financial gain is extraordinarily unwise. By taking the money, RSA have declared that profit is above patriotism, whatever your view of patriotism is. If they took no money at all, there would be a good defence that the decision was taken in the national interest and to work harmoniously with the governmental agencies that protect the USA from danger. Unfortunately organisations that have relied on RSA’s products to secure their data have been let down simply to make a fast buck,
In October this year Art Coviello spoke about “Anonymity being the enemy of Security” at his Keynote at RSA Europe. That statement takes on a very different viewpoint now.
The response has been fairly unanimous, but here is one that got me thinking about my relationship with RSA:
I personally wouldn’t go this far as I go to network with friends, peers and colleagues, as well as listen to folks from the industry talk and present; I don’t necessarily go to listen to RSA as such. However this kind of reaction is going to have an impact on RSA that is likely to be felt for a number of years to come. Most security people I know are somewhat distrusting in the first place (hence why they are in security very often!). To have these revelations is going to have an impact both in their mainstream business as well as their conference business, so often seen as the gold standard of conferences globally.
If the last few years were tough for RSA, what is the next few years going to be like for a giant in our industry?