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New Security Cryptographic Algorithm Recommended in the U.S.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) experts advise the replacement of the SHA-1 algorithm, one of the first widely used methods of protecting electronic data as the algorithm has outlived its usefulness. The agency recommends replacing SHA-1 with more secure algorithms: SHA-2 or SHA-3.

NIST Computer Scientist, Chris Celi said that they “…recommend that anyone relying on SHA-1 for security migrate as soon as possible to SHA-2 or SHA-3”.

SHA-1, which stands for “secure hash algorithm,” has been used as part of the Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 180-1 since 1995. It is a slightly modified version of SHA; the first hash function standardised for widespread use by the federal government in 1993. However, because today’s increasingly powerful computers can attack the algorithm, NIST has announced that SHA-1 will be phased out by December 31, 2030.

SHA-1 has been used as a foundation for many security applications, including website validation — so that when a webpage is loaded people can be confident that its purported source is genuine. It protects data by performing a complex math operation on the characters of a message, resulting in a short string of characters known as a hash.

It is impossible to reconstruct the original message from the hash alone, but knowing the hash allows a recipient to determine whether the original message has been compromised. Even minor changes to the statement drastically alter the resulting hash.

Today’s more powerful computers can generate fraudulent messages with the same hash as the original, potentially jeopardising the message’s authenticity. In recent years, “collision” attacks have undermined SHA-1. NIST stated that federal agencies should stop using SHA-1 when collision attacks are a severe threat, such as when creating digital signatures.

As SHA-1 attacks in other applications have become more severe, NIST will phase out SHA-1 in its remaining specified protocols by December 31, 2030. Accordingly, NIST plans to publish FIPS 180-5 (a revision of FIPS 180) by that date, removing the SHA-1 specification, revising SP 800-131A and other affected NIST publications to reflect the planned withdrawal of SHA-1, and developing and publishing a transition strategy for validating cryptographic modules and algorithms.

The final item is NIST’s Cryptographic Module Validation Program (CMVP), which evaluates whether modules – the building blocks that comprise a functional encryption system – function correctly. IT professionals must validate all cryptographic modules used in federal encryption every five years. Therefore, the status change of SHA-1 will impact companies that develop modules.

“The federal government will not purchase modules that continue to use SHA-1 after 2030,” Celi said. “Companies have eight years to submit updated modules that don’t use SHA-1. Because there is frequently a backlog of submissions before a deadline, we recommend that developers submit their updated modules well ahead of time so that CMVP has time to respond.”

The United States has also been bolstering its cybersecurity measures in financial services. The financial sector has become more vulnerable to cyber threats as it relies more heavily on technology and the internet.

Two reports on ransomware and third-party risk in the financial industry were recently released by the G7 Cyber Expert Group (CEG). The Fundamental Elements of Ransomware Resilience for the Financial Sector provides more substantial building blocks for financial institutions to respond to the ransomware threat.

The CEG also released an updated version of a 2018 report titled The Fundamental Elements of Third-Party Risk Management in the Financial Sector. The G7 CEG deemed this revision necessary to keep up with the ever-changing cyber threat landscape due to financial institutions’ increasing reliance on service providers in central operational functions and the resulting vulnerabilities. The update contains explicit recommendations for tracking supply chain risks, identifying systemically important third-party providers, and identifying concentration risks.

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