• United States



An FBI backdoor in OpenBSD?

Dec 15, 20105 mins
Data and Information Security

You have to give Theo de Raadt credit: he’s into openness. What other software product would take serious, but questionable allegations about an FBI-planted back door in its code and just go public with them?

That’s what OpenBSD’s de Raadt did Tuesday after a former government contractor named Gregory Perry came forward and told him that the FBI had put a number of back doors in OpenBSD’s IPsec stack, used by VPNs to do cryptographically secure communications over the Internet.

The allegations could make many people think twice about the security of OpenBSD, but the way de Raadt handled the matter will probably have the opposite effect — giving them another reason to trust the software.

Here’s what de Raadt said:

I refuse to become part of such a conspiracy, andwill not be talking to Gregory Perry about this.  Therefore I ammaking it public so that    (a) those who use the code can audit it for these problems,    (b) those that are angry at the story can take other actions,    (c) if it is not true, those who are being accused can defend themselves.

I contacted Perry about his email, and while I couldn’t get him on the telephone, he confirmed that his letter to de Raadt was published without his consent. He gave a few more details on his involvement with the FBI (which, by the way, has no immediate comment on this).

Hello Robert,

I did not really intend for Theo to cross post that message to the rest of the Internet, but I stand by my original email message to him in those regards.

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 was the GSA Technical Support Center, a circa 1999 joint research and development project between the FBI and the NSA; the technologies we developed were Multi Level Security controls for case collaboration between the NSA and the FBI due to the Posse Commitatus Act, although in reality those controls were only there for show as the intended facility did in fact host both FBI and NSA in the same building.

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.  Some of these projects were spun off into other sub projects, JTAG analysis components etc.  I left NETSEC in 2000 to start another venture, I had some fairly significant concerns with many aspects of these projects, and I 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.  The person I reported to at EOSUA was Zal Azmi, who was later appointed to Chief Information Officer of the FBI by George W. Bush, and who was chosen to lead portions of the EOUSA VPN project based upon his previous experience with the Marines (prior to that, Zal was a mujadeen for Usama bin Laden in their fight against the Soviets, he speaks fluent Farsi and worked on various incursions with the CIA as a linguist both pre and post 911, prior to his tenure at the FBI as CIO and head of the FBI’s Sentinel case management system with Lockheed).  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 I wish.

Here is one of the articles I was quoted in from the NY Times that touches on the encryption export issue:

In reality, the Clinton administration was very quietly working behind the scenes to embed backdoors in many areas of technology as a counter to their supposed relaxation of the Department of Commerce encryption export regulations – and this was all pre-911 stuff as well, where the walls between the FBI and DoD were very well established, at least in theory.

 Some people have decided that Perry’s claims are not credible, and at least one person named in his email has come forward to say it’s not true.  But at this point, it seems that nobody but Perry really knows what’s going on.It’s hard to really know what to say at this point. We’re talking about backdoors that probably just look like regular old bugs in code that was written 10 years ago.