NSA Suite B Cryptography
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NSA Suite B Cryptography was a set of cryptographic algorithms promulgated by the National Security Agency as part of its Cryptographic Modernization Program. It was to serve as an interoperable cryptographic base for both unclassified information and most classified information.
Suite B was announced on 16 February 2005. A corresponding set of unpublished algorithms, Suite A, is "used in applications where Suite B may not be appropriate. Both Suite A and Suite B can be used to protect foreign releasable information, US-Only information, and Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI)."
Suite B's components were:
- Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) with key sizes of 128 and 256 bits. For traffic flow, AES should be used with either the Counter Mode (CTR) for low bandwidth traffic or the Galois/Counter Mode (GCM) mode of operation for high bandwidth traffic (see Block cipher modes of operation) – symmetric encryption
- Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (ECDSA) – digital signatures
- Elliptic Curve Diffie–Hellman (ECDH) – key agreement
- Secure Hash Algorithm 2 (SHA-256 and SHA-384) – message digest
- NIST, Recommendation for Pair-Wise Key Establishment Schemes Using Discrete Logarithm Cryptography, Special Publication 800-56A
- Suite B Cryptography Standards
- RFC 5759, Suite B Certificate and Certificate Revocation List (CRL) Profile
- RFC 6239, Suite B Cryptographic Suites for Secure Shell (SSH)
- RFC 6379, Suite B Cryptographic Suites for IPsec
- RFC 6460, Suite B Profile for Transport Layer Security (TLS)
These RFC have been downgraded to historic references per RFC 8423.
Certicom Corporation of Ontario, Canada, which was purchased by BlackBerry Limited in 2009, holds some elliptic curve patents, which have been licensed by NSA for United States government use. These include patents on ECMQV, but ECMQV has been dropped from Suite B. AES and SHA had been previously released and have no patent restrictions. See also RFC 6090.
As of October 2012, CNSSP-15 stated that the 256-bit elliptic curve (specified in FIPS 186-2), SHA-256, and AES with 128-bit keys are sufficient for protecting classified information up to the Secret level, while the 384-bit elliptic curve (specified in FIPS 186-2), SHA-384, and AES with 256-bit keys are necessary for the protection of Top Secret information.
However, as of August 2015, NSA indicated that only the Top Secret algorithm strengths should be used to protect all levels of classified information.
In 2018 NSA withdrew Suite B in favor of the CNSA.
Quantum resistant suite
In August 2015, NSA announced that it is planning to transition "in the not too distant future" to a new cipher suite that is resistant to quantum attacks. "Unfortunately, the growth of elliptic curve use has bumped up against the fact of continued progress in the research on quantum computing, necessitating a re-evaluation of our cryptographic strategy." NSA advised: "For those partners and vendors that have not yet made the transition to Suite B algorithms, we recommend not making a significant expenditure to do so at this point but instead to prepare for the upcoming quantum resistant algorithm transition." New standards are estimated to be published around 2024.
Using an algorithm suitable to encrypt information is necessary not sufficient for properly encrypting information. The algorithm must be executed within an appropriately approved module within an appropriately approved device. For example, using AES-256 within an FIPS 140-2 validated module is sufficient to encrypt only US Government sensitive, unclassified data. This same notion applies to the other algorithms.
- "Suite B Cryptography". National Security Agency.
- Gardner, W. David (11 February 2009). "BlackBerry Maker Acquires Certicom For $106 Million". Information Week.
- "CNSSP-15 National Information Assurance Policy on the Use of Public Standards for the Secure Sharing of Information Among National Security Systems". Committee on National Security Systems.
- Langley, Adam (2018-12-12). "CECPQ2". Imperial Violet Blog.