The NSA's encryption-defeating efforts will also lower trust in security standards developed through the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) because of the reports that the NIST helped the NSA tamper with encryption standards, panelists at the encryption forum said.
A NIST spokesman wasn't available for comment Tuesday because of a partial government shutdown, but the agency has denied that it helped build backdoors into encryption standards.
Covertly weakening encryption standards would be "cheating in the worst way," Bankston said.
An NSA spokeswoman defended the agency's work on security standards.
"NSA is responsible for setting the security standards for systems carrying the nation's most sensitive and classified information," she said in an email. "We use the cryptography and standards that we recommend, and we recommend the cryptography and standards that we use. We do not make recommendations that we cannot stand behind for protecting national security systems and data. The activity of NSA in setting standards has made the Internet a safer place to communicate and do business."
The 2002 Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) requires the NIST to work with the NSA on cybersecurity standards, but little is known about how the two agencies have cooperated, said Amie Stepanovich, director of the Domestic Surveillance Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). Stepanovich called on lawmakers to require more transparency in the relationship between the two agencies.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.