Standards official defends collaboration with NSA

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That standard included vulnerabilities that NSA hackers could later exploit to spy on private communications, The New York Times and The Guardian, which obtained the documents, reported.

The NIST is not a regulatory agency — it only helps private groups agree on voluntary standards and guidelines. If outside groups stop trusting the NIST, it could undermine the agency's usefulness. 

Gallagher said the NIST would continue to work with the NSA because it has a "deep reservoir of knowhow in cybersecurity activities." He noted that the NSA also plays a parallel role to the NIST in protecting federal computer systems.

But he emphasized the importance of earning the trust of the private sector.

"NIST is fully committed to the highest levels of scientific and technical quality and integrity," he said. "This is in our bone marrow at NIST."

He noted that the NIST has reopened the 2006 technical standard for public comment and said the agency is "redoubling" its efforts to be as transparent as possible.  

"If we are to contribute to this dialogue of securing and providing trust to the Internet, everyone has to be confident that our technical work stands on its own merits," he said.