Posts Tagged ‘DES

Limitations of Modern Cryptosystems

Before exploring quantum key distribution, it is important to understand the state of modern cryptography and how quantum cryptography may address current digital cryptography limitations. Since public key cryptography involves complex calculations that are relatively slow, they are employed to exchange keys rather than for the encryption of voluminous amounts of date. For example, widely deployed solutions, such as the RSA and the Diffie-Hellman key negotiation schemes, are typically used to distribute symmetric keys among remote parties. However, because asymmetric encryption is significantly slower than symmetric encryption, a hybrid approach is preferred by many institutions to take advantage of the speed of a shared key system and the security of a public key system for the initial exchange of the symmetric key. Thus, this approach exploits the speed and performance of a symmetric key system while leveraging the scalability of a public key infrastructure.

However, public key cryptosystems such as RSA and Diffie-Hellman are not based on concrete mathematical proofs. Rather, these algorithms are considered to be reasonably secure based on years of public scrutiny over the fundamental process of factoring large integers into their primes, which is said to be “intractable”. In other words, by the time the encryption algorithm could be defeated, the information being protected would have already lost all of its value. Thus, the power of these algorithms is based on the fact that there is no known mathematical operation for quickly factoring very large numbers given today’s computer processing power.

Secondly, there is uncertainty whether a theorem may be developed in the future  or perhaps already available that can factor large numbers into their primes in a timely manner. At present, there is no existing proof stating that it is impossible to develop such a factoring theorem. As a result, public key systems are thus vulnerable to the uncertainty regarding the future creation of such a theorem, which would have a significant affect on the algorithm being mathematical intractable. This uncertainty provides potential risk to areas of national security and intellectual property which require perfect security.

In sum, modern cryptography is vulnerable to both technological progress of computing power and evolution in mathematics to quickly reverse one way functions such as that of factoring large integers. If a factoring theorem were publicized or computing became powerful enough to defeat public cryptography, then business, governments, militaries and other affected institutions would have to spend significant resources to research the risk of damage and potentially deploy a new and costly cryptography system quickly.

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Security a New Dimension in Embedded System Design

Embedded systems, which will be ubiquitously used to capture, store, manipulate, and access data of a sensitive nature, pose several unique and interesting security challenges. Security has been the subject of intensive research in the areas of cryptography, computing, and networking. However, security is often mis-construed by embedded system designers as the addition of features, such as specific cryptographic algorithms and security protocols, to the system. In reality, it is an entirely new metric that designers should consider throughout the design process, along with other metrics such as cost, performance, and in one form or another is a requirement for an increasing number of embedded systems, ranging from low-end systems such as PDAs, wireless handsets, networked sensors, and smart cards, to high-end systems such as routers, gateways, firewalls, storage servers, and web servers. Technological advances that have spurred the development of these electronic systems have also ushered in seemingly parallel trends in the sophistication of security attacks. It has been observed that the cost of insecurity in electronic systems can be very high. For example, it was estimated that the “I Love You” virus caused nearly one billion dollars in lost revenues worldwide.
With an increasing proliferation of such attacks, it is not surprising that a large number of users in the mobile commerce world (nearly 52% of cell phone users and 47% of PDA users, according to a survey by Forrester Research) feel that security is the single largest concern preventing the successful deployment of next-generation mobile services. With the evolution of the Internet, information and communications security has gained significant attention. For example, various security protocols and standards such as IPSec, SSL, WEP, and WTLS, are used for secure communications. While security protocols and the cryptographic algorithms they contain address security considerations from a functional perspective, many embedded systems are constrained by the environments they operate in, and by the resources they possess. For such systems, there are several factors that are moving security considerations from a functioncentric perspective into a system architecture (hardware/software) design issue.

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Direct Cryptanalytic Attacks

During a cryptanalytic attack the adversary observes the output and tries to gain any information about the inner state or future output of the generator. Many RNGs (Random Number Generators) use cryptographic primitives like hash functions (e.g. SHA-1 or MD5) or block ciphers (DES,Triple-DES, AES) to prevent this kind of attacks. The underlying assumption is that the cryptographic security of the primitives transfers to the generators which employ them.Generally, the con dence into the security of this primitives is based only partially on mathematical analysis but mainly on empirical results and statistical tests. Since most of the applications that apply cryptographic RNGs rely on those primitives, we may have con dence in their security as well.

Nevertheless, it is not advisable to blindly trust generators that are built on cryptographic primitives as we will see by the example of the Kerberos 4 session key generator. The speci c method of employing the primitives has a main impact on the security of the generator as well. The Kerberos 4 generator produces a 56-bit key fora DES block cipher by two successive calls of the UNIX random function which uses onlya 32 bit key. The random function is seeded every time a key is requested. Consequently,the strength of the encryption and, thus, the resistance against cryptanalytic attacks is reduced from 56 to 32 bits. It still takes about 6 hours on a DEC Alpha to gain the proper key of a plain text-cipher text pair by brute force, but we see that the 56 bit strength of the encryption is only an illusion. It is the weakest link in the chain that counts.

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