NSA Certified

February 27, 2014

The world of computing has a huge problem with surveillance. Whether you blame the governments doing it or the whistleblowers revealing it, the fact is that consumer adoption and satisfaction is being inhibited by an entirely-justified lack of trust in the systems.

Here’s how the NSA can fix that, increase the safety of Americans, and, I suspect, redeem itself in the eyes of much of the country. It’s a way to act with honor and integrity, without betraying citizens, businesses, or employees. The NSA can keep doing all the things it feel it must to keep America safe (until/unless congress or the administration changes those rules) and by doing this additional thing it would be helping protect us all from the increasing dangers of cyber attacks. And it’s pretty easy.

The proposal is this: establish a voluntary certification system, where vendors can submit products and services for confidential NSA review. In concluding its review, the NSA would enumerate for the public all known security vulnerabilities of the item. It would be under no obligation to discover vulnerabilities. Rather, it would simply need to disclose to consumers all the vulnerabilities of which it happens know, at that time and on an ongoing basis, going forward.

Vendors could be charged a reasonable fee for this service, perhaps on the order 1% gross revenue for that product.

Crucially, the NSA would accept civil liability for any accidental misleading of consumers in its review statements. Even more important: the NSA chain of command from the top down to the people doing the review would accept criminal liability for any intentionally misleading statements, including omissions. I am not a lawyer, but I think this could be done easily by having the statements include sworn affidavits stating both their belief in these statements and their due diligence in searching across the NSA and related entities. I’m sure there are other options too.

If congress wants to get involved, I think it might be time to pass an anti zero day law, supporting NSA certification. Specifically, I’d say that anyone who knows of a security vulnerability in an NSA certified product must report it immediately to the NSA or the vendor (which must tell each other). 90 days after reporting it, the person who reported it would be free to tell anyone / everyone, with full whistleblower protection. Maybe this could just be done by the product TOS.

NSA certified products could still include backdoors and weaknesses of all sorts, but their existence would no longer be secret. In particular, if there’s an NSA back door, a cryptographic hole for which they believe they have the only key, they would have to disclose that.

That’s it. Dear NSA, can you do this please?

For the rest of you, if you work at the kind of company the Snowden documents reveal to have been compromised, the companies who somehow handle user data, would you support this? Would your company participate in the program, regaining user trust?

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