NIST issues standards for cryptographic routines; U.S. government agencies
are required to use them, and the private sector often adopts them as well.
In January 1977, NIST declared DES (see Question 3.5.1) the
official U.S. encryption standard and published it as FIPS Publication 46;
DES soon became a de facto standard throughout the U.S.
A few years ago, NIST was asked to choose a set of cryptographic
standards for the U.S.; this has become known as the Capstone project
(see Section 6). After a few years of rather secretive deliberations,
and in cooperation with the NSA, NIST issued proposals for various
standards in cryptography, including digital signatures (DSS) and data
encryption (the Clipper chip); these are pieces of the overall Capstone
NIST has been criticized for allowing the NSA too much power in setting cryptographic standards, since the interests of the NSA conflict with that of the Commerce Department and NIST. Yet, the NSA has much more experience with cryptography, and many more qualified cryptographers and cryptanalysts, than does NIST; it would be unrealistic to expect NIST to forego such available assistance.