[ISN] Encryption Discovery Advances Code Breaking

From: cult hero (jerichoat_private)
Date: Sun May 02 1999 - 13:17:50 PDT

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    May 2, 1999
    Israeli Scientist Reports Discovery of Advance in Code Breaking
    An Israeli computer scientist is expected to shake up the world of
    cryptography this week when he introduces a design for a device that could
    quickly unscramble computer-generated codes that until now have been
    considered secure enough for financial and government communications. 
    In a paper to be presented Tuesday in Prague, the computer scientist, Adi
    Shamir, one of the world's foremost cryptographers, will describe a
    machine, not yet built, that could vastly improve the ability of code
    breakers to decipher codes thought to be unbreakable in practical terms.
    They are used to protect everything from financial transactions on the
    Internet to account balances stored in so-called smart cards. 
    Shamir's idea would combine existing technology into a special computer
    that could be built for a reasonable cost, said several experts who have
    seen the paper. It is scheduled to be presented at an annual meeting of
    the International Association for Cryptographic Research, which begins on
    The name of Mr. Shamir, a computer scientist at Weizmann Institute of
    Science in Rehovoth, Israel, is the "S" in R. S. A., the encryption design
    that has become the international standard for secure transmissions. He is
    a co-inventor of R.S.A. -- with Ronald Rivest of the Massachusetts
    Institute of Technology and Leonard Adleman of the University of Southern
    R.S.A. is known as public-key cryptography. In this system, a person has a
    public key and a private key. The public key is used to scramble a message
    and may be used by anyone, so it can, even should, be made public. But the
    private key that is needed to unscramble the message must be kept secret
    by the person who holds it. 
    R.S.A., like many public-key systems, is based on the fact that it is
    immensely difficult and time-consuming for even the most powerful
    computers to factor large numbers. But Mr. Shamir's machine would make
    factoring numbers as long as about 150 digits much easier, thus making it
    much simpler to reveal messages scrambled with public-key encryption
    A number of advances in factoring have been made in the last five years.
    But most of them are the result of applying brute force to the problem. 
    When R.S.A. was created in 1977, Mr. Shamir and his colleagues challenged
    anyone to break the code. Employing 1970's technology, they said, a
    cryptographer would need 40 quadrillion years to factor a public key, and
    they predicted that even with anticipated advances in computer science and
    mathematics, no one would be able to break the code until well into the
    next century. 
    In fact, a message the trio had encoded with a 129-digit key successfully
    withstood attack for only 17 years. It was factored by an international
    team of researchers in 1994. 
    Using Mr. Shamir's machine, cracking the 140-digit number would be reduced
    to the difficulty of cracking a key about 80 digits long -- relatively
    easy by today's standards. 
    Researchers said that if his machine worked it would mean that
    cryptographic systems with keys of 512 bits or less -- that is, keys less
    than about 150 digits long -- would be vulnerable in the future, an
    exposure that would have seemed unthinkable only five years ago. The
    longer 1,024-bit keys that are available today would not be vulnerable at
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