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56-bit crypto code cracked in a day

Previous record of 56 hours beaten hands down

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and a worldwide team of Web users has succeeded in cracking the 56-bit Data Encryption Standard (DES) in under 23 hours. That record-setting figure beats the previous attempt, made by the EFF alone, which took 56 hours by around 33 hours 45 minutes. The code was broken using the EFF's specially designed code-cracking computer, Deep Crack, plus an Internet-connected network of 100,000 PCs, collectively known as Dsitributed.net. The operation was promoted by encryption specialist RSA Data Security, which offered $10,000 to anyone who could crack the 56-bit code in under 24 hours. The company's aim was to drive home its claims that 56-bit cryptography, the maximum strength that the US government permits for export, isn't sufficiently secure to protect sensitive data. Cracking the code isn't a subtle process -- essentially the system runs through all the possible combinations of bits in the key until it hits upon the right one -- but the EFF and Distributed.net's efforts show that the technology now exists to make that trial and error process run sufficiently quickly to make this approach feasible. Still, as RSA president put it, "any key size will eventually run out of life", which is why it believes the rules on powerful encryption should be relaxed to allow it to export software that uses much longer keys. The 56-bit DES system was introduced in 1977, and it's now past its sell-by date, says the RSA. ®

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