Feeds

Maths boffins topple Certicom crypto

Not a small task

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

What do you get if you cross 109-bit elliptical curve cryptography with a very determined mathematician? If you have 2600 computers and 17 months and few more maths wizards to throw into the mix, you get a cracked key.

Chris Monico, an assistant professor at Texas Tech university, and his team have solved the Certicom Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC)2-109 Challenge. There are three reasons that this is good news: firstly, the algorithm is still sound, as Monico explains below. Secondly the CPU power it took to break the key is equivalent to an Athlon XP 3200+ working nonstop for about 1200 years. Lastly, commercial grade crypto uses 163-bit keys. To solve one of those is around one hundred million times harder.

Monico told El Reg: "We used a collision-based version of the well-known Pollard-rho algorithm. While this is much better than brute-force, which would have required about 4.5 quadrillion times as much work, it is still exponential - every two bits added to the keysize make the attack take twice as long."

The same team also solved the ECCp-109 challenge in 2002. In this contest, the key was the same length, but was solved over a field of characteristic 2 rather than a prime field. As well as the professional acknowledgement, Monico and his team win $10,000 for cracking the key.

But money is not the prime motivator. "I think public-key cryptography based on ECC is what we should and will be moving toward," Monico argued. "And besides, the fact that this is likely the last of the ECC challenges to be solved in the next few years was a big motivator. The only way to get at the 130-bit level challenges are by a combination of Moore's Law (wait around for computers to get faster) and gathering more computers. Personally, I think it's unlikely to happen soon."

The Certicom challenge was first issued in 1997, and has three levels, starting with some more basic crypto exersizes. This solution, impressive as it is, is just the first part of Level I. Level I also includes 131-bit challenges; and Level II involves 163-bit, 191-bit and 359-bit challenges. The 131-bit challenges are 2000 times more difficult than the 109 bit challenges, and the level II challenges are considered computationally unfeasible. Bring on the quantum processors... ®

Related stories

109-bit Elliptic Curve Cryptography knocked over with brute force
IT security to become political battleground
Cable modem hackers conquer the co-ax
Crypto booster tech for mobile phones

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
Russian hackers exploit 'Sandworm' bug 'to spy on NATO, EU PCs'
Fix imminent from Microsoft for Vista, Server 2008, other stuff
FYI: OS X Yosemite's Spotlight tells Apple EVERYTHING you're looking for
It's on by default – didn't you read the small print?
Microsoft pulls another dodgy patch
Redmond makes a hash of hashing add-on
'LulzSec leader Aush0k' found to be naughty boy not worthy of jail
15 months home detention leaves egg on feds' faces as they grab for more power
Kill off SSL 3.0 NOW: HTTPS savaged by vicious POODLE
Pull it out ASAP, it is SWISS CHEESE
Facebook slurps 'paste sites' for STOLEN passwords, sprinkles on hash and salt
Zuck's ad empire DOESN'T see details in plain text. Phew!
China is ALREADY spying on Apple iCloud users, watchdog claims
Attack harvests users' info at iPhone 6 launch
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.