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SHA-3 hash contest enters second round

Crypto Olympiad hots up

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The competition for the next generation of cryptographic hash algorithms has moved on to its second stage.

Fourteen candidates have been selected by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which is running the contest, to progress onto the next round in the competition to define the algorithm that will underpin SHA-3 (Secure Hash Algorithm 3). NIST expects to competition, which began in 2008, to climax after four years in 2012.

Of 51 entries submitted to NIST in round one, around a third remain. The others have been rejected for reasons such as the discovery of cryptographic weaknesses, performance issues or voluntary withdrawal. The 14 remaining candidates are: BLAKE, Blue Midnight Wish, CubeHash, ECHO, Fugue, Grøstl, Hamsi, JH, Keccak, Luffa, Shabal, SHAvite-3, SIMD, and Skein.

Hash functions are important in digital signatures and other cryptographic functions. Recent advances in the cryptanalysis of hash functions, together with improvements in computing performance, mean that older hash functions (such as MD5 and even SHA-1) are no longer secure, prompting a decision to launch the new competition.

Teams of competing cryptographers are being invited to take a bash at cracking each others algorithms, or at least unearthing potential flaws in their opponents' approaches.

The overall competition is similar to the contest for the algorithm to underpin the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). ®

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