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By Joseph Menn. National Security Agency is rebuffing efforts by a leading Congressional critic to determine whether it is continuing to place so-called back doors into commercial technology products, in a controversial practice that critics say damages both U. The NSA has long sought agreements with technology companies under which they would build special access for the spy agency into their products, according to disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and reporting by Reuters and others.

These so-called back doors enable the NSA and other agencies to scan large amounts of traffic without a warrant. Agency advocates say the practice has eased collection of vital intelligence in other countries, including interception of terrorist communications.

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The agency developed new rules for such practices after the Snowden leaks in order to reduce the chances of exposure and compromise, three former intelligence officials told Reuters. The agency declined to say how it had updated its policies on obtaining special access to commercial products. NSA officials said the agency has been rebuilding trust with the private sector through such measures as offering warnings about software flaws.

Three former senior intelligence agency figures told Reuters that the NSA now requires that before a back door is sought, the agency must weigh the potential fallout and arrange for some kind of warning if the back door gets discovered and manipulated by adversaries. The continuing quest for hidden access comes as governments in the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere seek laws that would require tech companies to let governments see unencrypted traffic.

In at least one instance, a foreign adversary was able to take advantage of a back door invented by U. In a ly unreported statement to members of Congress in July seen by Reuters, Juniper said an unnamed national government had converted the mechanism first created by the NSA. NSA and Juniper declined to comment on the matter.

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The NSA has pursued many means for getting inside equipment, sometimes striking commercial deals to induce companies to insert back doors, and in other cases manipulating standards - namely by setting processes so that companies unknowingly adopt software that NSA experts can break, according to reports from Reuters and other media outlets. The tactics drew widespread attention starting inwhen Snowden leaked documents referencing these practices. Tech companies that were later exposed for having cut deals that allowed backdoor access, including security pioneer RSA, lost credibility and customers.

Other U. All of that prompted a White House policy review. The White House did not publicly embrace that recommendation, instead beefing up review procedures for whether to use newly discovered software flaws for offensive cyber operations or get them fixed to improve defense, Daniel and others said. The secret government contracts for special access remained outside of the formal review.

The intelligence agency worked with the Commerce Department to get the technology accepted as a global standard, but cryptographers later showed that the NSA could exploit Dual EC to access encrypted data. RSA said publicly that it would not have knowingly installed a back door, but its reputation was tarnished and the company was sold.

Juniper Networks got into hot water over Dual EC two years later.

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At the end ofthe maker of internet switches disclosed that it had detected malicious code in some firewall products. Juniper said little about the incident.

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Isaacson and other researchers believe that customer was a U. Juniper has never identified the customer, and declined to comment for this story. Likewise, the company never identified the hackers. But two people familiar with the case told Reuters that investigators concluded the Chinese government was behind it. They declined to detail the evidence they used. The Chinese government has long denied involvement in hacking of any kind. It is extremely irresponsible to make accusations of hacker attacks without complete and conclusive evidence. At the same time, we also noticed that the report mentioned that it was the U.

Wyden remains determined to find out exactly what happened at Juniper and what has changed since as the encryption wars heat up. This July, in ly unreported responses to questions from Wyden and allies in Congress hereJuniper said that an unidentified nation was believed to be behind the hack into its firewall code but that it had never investigated why it installed Dual EC in the first place. A former senior NSA official told Reuters that many tech companies remain nervous about working covertly with the government. Legal News Updated.

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By Joseph Menn 9 Min Read. Meade, Maryland, U. January 29,

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