1994-06-04 - Re: NYT article

Header Data

From: Derek Atkins <warlord@MIT.EDU>
To: Edward Hirsch <diseased@panix.com>
Message Hash: a83243b9176e307b473d9c4d16347adfbad67a05975544f8e40b3e851c46395a
Message ID: <9406040604.AA15209@hal-2000.MIT.EDU>
Reply To: <Pine.3.87.9406032350.A23402-0100000@panix.com>
UTC Datetime: 1994-06-04 06:05:14 UTC
Raw Date: Fri, 3 Jun 94 23:05:14 PDT

Raw message

From: Derek Atkins <warlord@MIT.EDU>
Date: Fri, 3 Jun 94 23:05:14 PDT
To: Edward Hirsch <diseased@panix.com>
Subject: Re: NYT article
In-Reply-To: <Pine.3.87.9406032350.A23402-0100000@panix.com>
Message-ID: <9406040604.AA15209@hal-2000.MIT.EDU>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

Let me preface this with the statement that "this is according to the
NSA personnel who spoke at MIT a day ago"...

Having said that:

The NSA claims that they were asked to design an ecryption algorithm
for government use that can be used security by the government but
cannot be used against the government.  In order to accomplish this
(according to the NSA -- see the pattern yet? ;-) they developed a
secure algorithm (a-t-t-NSA), but put it in a package such that it
cannot be used without the key-escrow system.  It is this key-escrow
system that provides that functionality that "it cannot be used
against the government" (NSA-person's words, not mine).

I think the idea was that the government itself cannot operate without
a government standard, so the NSA was asked to create one, and they
did.  They also said that the key escrow system was not designed to
catch criminals, but to deter criminals from using the Skipjack
encryption algorithm (which they claim has no trap doors, and is very

In a private conversation afterwards, I asked about the fact that once
the two escrowed keys get discovered, say via a legal wiretap, then my
key is no good anymore.  They claimed that you can only read the data
by using a special box such that this box gets inputs from all the
escrow agencies and the law enforcement agency and outputs the
conversation, and that you cannot extract the key information from
this box.  I replied in the standard manner: Show me this box and
prove that is has these properties.  Their response was, of course,
that they could not do so, and that I had to trust them.  When I said
that I couldn't do that, the NSA employee suggested that I use PGP!

Anyways, I hope this sheds a little light (and maybe a little darkness
;-) on the subject.

Flames to me personally, please!


         Derek Atkins, SB '93 MIT EE, G MIT Media Laboratory
       Member, MIT Student Information Processing Board (SIPB)
    Home page: http://www.mit.edu:8001/people/warlord/home_page.html
       warlord@MIT.EDU    PP-ASEL     N1NWH    PGP key available