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Latest round of factoring competition sets tough test

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RSA Security is running a factoring challenge that offers would-be code breakers a prize of up to $200,000 for finding the two numbers of the kind used to create ultra-secure 2048-bit encryption key.

The idea of the RSA Factoring Challenge, which has been set before with lower-strength ciphers, is to encourage research into computational number theory and the practical difficulty of factoring large integers.

Based on the challenge, RSA and others in the encryption community can chose the kinds of key lengths needed for secure cryptographic systems. There is a trade off between speed and security in choosing key lengths so this kind of research is useful.

Previous RSA Factoring Challenges have revealed that the US-government backed Data Encryption Standard (DES) was vulnerable to a brute force attack that yielded the result of a 56-bit key in a little over 22 hours. This was accomplished by a network of distributed computers, organised by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and served to take forward distributed computing techniques and provide evidence that DES, although fundamentally safe, was in need of an update.

In the latest challenge, RSA Laboratories will award a cash prize to the first person to factor each challenge number. Prizes range from $10,000 for the 576-bit challenge to $200,000 for 2048 bits.

High rewards indeed, but the challenge is particularly tough and calls for some serious number crunching, unlike out own Codebreaker challenges, the key to which has been more to do with problem solving and lateral thinking. In any case, the challenge will attract the same sort of people and we wish anyone who takes up the RSA challenge the best of luck. ®

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RSA factoring challenge

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