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The 140 series of Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) are U.S. government computer security standards that specify requirements for cryptography modules. As of December 2016[update], the current version of the standard is FIPS 140-2, issued on 25 May 2001.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) issues the 140 Publication Series to coordinate the requirements and standards for cryptographic modules which include both hardware and software components for use by departments and agencies of the United States federal government. FIPS 140 does not purport to provide sufficient conditions to guarantee that a module conforming to its requirements is secure, still less that a system built using such modules is secure. The requirements cover not only the cryptographic modules themselves but also their documentation and (at the highest security level) some aspects of the comments contained in the source code.
User agencies desiring to implement cryptographic modules should confirm that the module they are using is covered by an existing validation certificate. FIPS 140-1 and FIPS 140-2 validation certificates specify the exact module name, hardware, software, firmware, and/or applet version numbers. For Levels 2 and higher, the operating platform upon which the validation is applicable is also listed. Vendors do not always maintain their baseline validations.
The Cryptographic Module Validation Program (CMVP) is operated jointly by the United States Government's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Computer Security Division and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) of the Government of Canada. The use of validated cryptographic modules is required by the United States Government for all unclassified uses of cryptography. The Government of Canada also recommends the use of FIPS 140 validated cryptographic modules in unclassified applications of its departments.
FIPS 140-2 defines four levels of security, simply named "Level 1" to "Level 4". It does not specify in detail what level of security is required by any particular application.
In addition to the specified levels, Section 4.1.1 of the specification describes additional attacks that may require mitigation, such as differential power analysis. If a product contains countermeasures against these attacks, they must be documented and tested, but protections are not required to achieve a given level. Thus, a criticism of FIPS 140-2 is that the standard gives a false sense of security at Levels 2 and above because the standard implies that modules will be tamper-evident and/or tamper-resistant, yet modules are permitted to have side channel vulnerabilities that allow simple extraction of keys.
FIPS 140 imposes requirements in eleven different areas:
FIPS 140-1, issued on 11 January 1994, was developed by a government and industry working group, composed of vendors and users of cryptographic equipment. The group identified the four "security levels" and eleven "requirement areas" listed above, and specified requirements for each area at each level.
FIPS 140-2, issued on 25 May 2001, takes account of changes in available technology and official standards since 1994, and of comments received from the vendor, tester, and user communities. It was the main input document to the international standard ISO/IEC 19790:2006 Security requirements for cryptographic modules issued on 1 March 2006.
FIPS 140-3 is a new version of the standard which is currently under development. In the first draft version of the FIPS 140-3 standard, NIST introduced a new software security section, one additional level of assurance (Level 5) and new Simple Power Analysis (SPA) and Differential Power Analysis (DPA) requirements. The draft issued on 11 Sep 2009, however, reverted to four security levels and limits the security levels of software to levels 1 and 2.
Due to the way in which the validation process is set up, a software vendor is required to re-validate their FIPS-140-validated module for every change, no matter how small, to the software; this re-validation is required even for obvious bug or security fixes. Since validation is an expensive process, this gives software vendors an incentive to postpone changes to their software and can result in software that does not receive security updates until the next validation. The result may be that validated software is less safe than a non-validated equivalent.