Finally breaking his ten year NDA enforced silence, former NETSEC CTO Gregory Perry has revealed that devs (allegedly) helped the FBI plant “a number of backdoors” in the OpenBSD cryptographic framework.
Perry confirmed the backdoor hacks in an e-mail to Theo de Raadt, OpenBSD project leader in the 90s.
The email said, “I wanted to make you aware of the fact that the FBI implemented a number of backdoors and 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.”
Perry goes on to talk about the year 2003 when OpenBSD lost millions of dollars of grant funding from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that develops new military technology.
“This is also probably the reason why you lost your DARPA funding, they more than likely caught wind of the fact that those backdoors were present and didn’t want to create any derivative products based upon the same.”
Immediately after receiving the e-mail, Theo de Raadt forwarded its contents to everyone on the OpenBSD mailing list asking for code audits to ensure security.
In a statement De Raadt said, “It is alleged that some ex-developers (and the company they worked for) accepted US government money to put backdoors into our network stack.”
He continued, “Since we had the first IPSEC stack available for free, large parts of the code are now found in many other projects/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.”
It’s true, technologists wonder if this email is legit or just plain rubbish. Perry claims to have been the CTO for NETSEC ten years ago. NETSEC was apparently the professional services firm dealing with security architecture and engineering as well as a 24/7 computer emergency response team for the Executive Office of the United States Attorneys.
Strangely, attempts to contact the site have failed and there is no official proof that Perry was indeed the company’s CTO.
“There’s a few things that don’t make sense,” Wysopal said. “One is that, if the government had a contract with an organization to put in a backdoor, that would be a government secret that wouldn’t expire after a certain amount of time. So I can’t see how an NDA about this would expire.”
But Wysopal admits it would be difficult to detect backdoors if they exist.
“You need to do an in-depth analysis line by line of the code and look for different side effects that the code might have,” Wysopal explained. “If you’re not a crypto expert, I don’t think you’d find the backdoor by just eyeballing the code,” he added.
Rumors do exist that the government has put backdoor code into encrypted algorithms in the past, which does add some validity to Perry’s claims.
Regardless of whether it’s true or not, de Raadt hopes the community will find any problems in the code, but plans to take no further legal action on the matter.