The National Security Agency says it did not know about a critical security bug until it became public earlier this month.
The NSA was responding to a report from Bloomberg that the agency had known about the vulnerability known as “Heartbleed” for two years and instead of alerting the tech community, it exploited the bug to “gather critical intelligence.”
Just to catch you up: The Heartbleed bug has led tech experts to call on Internet users worldwide to change the passwords they use on popular and sensitive sites, like that of their bank or email provider. As NPR’s Jeremy Bower explained, the bug allowed an attacker to receive the encryption keys used to transmit information like your username and password. In other words, the bug allowed access to the “crown jewels.”
In a statement, the NSA said Bloomberg’s report was simply “wrong.” The U.S., the NSA said, would reveal this kind of vulnerability to developers if it ever came upon it. The statement goes on:
“The Federal government relies on OpenSSL to protect the privacy of users of government websites and other online services. This Administration takes seriously its responsibility to help maintain an open, interoperable, secure and reliable Internet. If the Federal government, including the intelligence community, had discovered this vulnerability prior to last week, it would have been disclosed to the community responsible for OpenSSL.
“When Federal agencies discover a new vulnerability in commercial and open source software – a so-called ‘Zero day’ vulnerability because the developers of the vulnerable software have had zero days to fix it – it is in the national interest to responsibly disclose the vulnerability rather than to hold it for an investigative or intelligence purpose.
“In response to the recommendations of the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, the White House has reviewed its policies in this area and reinvigorated an interagency process for deciding when to share vulnerabilities. This process is called the Vulnerabilities Equities Process. Unless there is a clear national security or law enforcement need, this process is biased toward responsibly disclosing such vulnerabilities.”