New internet security system no longer secure

November 1st, 2008 - 12:15 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Nov 1 (IANS) Researchers have cracked the so-called McEliece encryption system, to potentially secure Internet traffic during the age of quantum computing in future.The attack succeeded last month by means of a large number of linked computers throughout the world, informed Eindhoven University of Technology (EUT) Netherlands professor Tanja Lange.

Earlier this year she and her PhD student Christiane Peters, together with Daniel Bernstein, visiting professor (University of Illinois, Chicago), had discovered a way to speed up attacks against the 30-year-old McEliece cryptosystem.

The researchers wrote software that would decrypt a McEliece cipher text in just one week on a cluster of 200 computers, according to an EUT release.

The software was run recently on several dozen computers in Eindhoven, Amsterdam, France, Ireland, Taiwan and the US. A lucky computer in Ireland found the cipher text.

The successful attack was announced recently at a conference in Cincinnati (US) on post-quantum cryptography. The researchers said that the McEliece cryptosystem can be scaled to larger key sizes to avoid their attacks and remains a leading candidate for post-quantum cryptography.

At present, banks use the RSA code from 1977 for securing matters such as electronic transactions. For RSA the currently used key sizes are significantly larger than initially thought: a single PC would need only three weeks to break the parameters from the original paper.

Yet a quantum computer will have no problems cracking even the improved current version. For this reason, anticipating the introduction of the quantum computer (which Lange thinks will take at least 10 more years) and to deal with long-term confidentiality such as health records, researchers are trying to find better encryption systems.

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