RSA warns customers to stop using encryption algorithm over possible NSA backdoor

Cyber security firm RSA has told customers to stop using one of the encryption algorithms used in its toolkits following fears that it may contain a backdoor accessible by the NSA. This is the first time a company has alluded that encryption standards may contain flaws inserted by the US agency.

Earlier this month, the Guardian and New York Times published articles derived from documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden in which it was revealed that the NSA has heavily influenced international encryption standards in order to break the vast majority of web security.

In a private memo sent to developer customers, RSA did not explicitly mention the NSA, but referred to a "debate" around encryption. It warned that data encrypted through a default random number generator used in a number of its products including 'Data Protection Manager' may be flawed.

The software uses a standard algorithm known as 'Dual Elliptic Curve Deterministic Random Bit Generation' which was designed by industry along with the NSA and approved by National Institute of Standards and Technology. It has since been adopted by a number of security firms including RSA.

The Guardian and New York Times found that the NSA exerted influence over industry and National Institute of Standards and Technology in order to have its encryption standards widely adopted.

"To ensure a high level of assurance in their application, RSA strongly recommends that customers discontinue use," the firm, a division of EMC, told users. It also explained how settings can be changed and a different algorithm applied.

In a blog post, the company said: "RSA determined it appropriate to issue an advisory to all our RSA BSAFE and RSA Data Protection Manager customers recommending they choose one of the different cryptographic Pseudo-Random Number Generators (PRNG) built into the RSA BSAFE toolkit.

"We are now working with customers to ensure they are using the strongest and safest cryptographic methods possible.

"RSA always acts in the best interest of its customers and under no circumstances does RSA design or enable any backdoors in our products. Decisions about the features and functionality of RSA products are our own."

The backdoor does not affect RSA's flagship SecurID mechanism which is used by thousands of companies to grant employees secure access to corporate networks.