Essays Tagged "Byte"

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The Crypto Bomb Is Ticking

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Byte
  • May 1998

Today’s faster, less expensive computers can crack current encryption algorithms easier than ever before. So what’s next?

Cryptographic algorithms have a way of degrading over time. It’s a situation that most techies aren’t used to: Compression algorithms don’t compress less as the years go by, and sorting algorithms don’t sort slower. But encryption algorithms get easier to break; something that sufficed three years ago might not today.

Several things are going on. First, there’s Moore’s law. Computers are getting faster, better networked, and more plentiful. The table “Cracking for Dollars” on page 98 illustrates the vulnerability of encryption to computer power. Cryptographic algorithms are all vulnerable to brute force—trying every possible encryption key, systematically searching for hash-function collisions, factoring the large composite number, and so forth—and brute force gets easier with time. A 56-bit key was long enough in the mid-1970s; today that can be pitifully small. In 1977, Martin Gardner wrote that 129-digit numbers would never be factored; in 1994, one was…

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.