By Brian Robinson
Jan. 23, 2007
Faced with declining confidence in the decade-old encryption algorithm
that has been the basis for much of the security protecting transactions
on the Internet, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has
begun a competition to define a new standard.
Federal Information Processing Standard 180-1 otherwise known as Secure
Hash Algorithm-1 (SHA-1) has been widely used in government and
industry since 1994. Its the basis for the Secure Sockets Layer
private-key technology that secures online information such as credit
card numbers and other security technologies.
Chip makers also used it for the hardware-based security that is built
into many PCs and other devices.
SHA-1 been considered the gold standard among encryption algorithms, and
because as many as 280 hash operations were considered necessary to find
a weakness in it, it is considered virtually unbreakable.
But that confidence began to slip several years ago when a group of
Chinese researchers published a method for breaking SHA-1 with just 269
operations. In the past two years, the number has been decreased even
If the break point is brought down to about 240 operations, that can
easily be executed on current high-end PCs in a few hours.
That has had little practical effect because SHA-1 has still been
considered adequate for most purposes, and NIST had recommended phasing
out the standard by 2010 anyway. But the Chinese groups findings spurred
it to organize several workshops in 2005 and 2006 to find out if
anything further needed to be done.
As a result of those workshops, NIST said it has decided to develop one
or more additional hash functions through a public competition similar
to the development process used for the Advanced Encryption Standard.
It published a request for comments today on the requirements and
evaluation criteria it set for candidate algorithms that the public will
submit. The eventual winner will be publicly disclosed and available
worldwide on a nonexclusive, royalty-free basis.
According to the NIST notice, the new algorithm must support 224-, 256-,
384- and 512-bit key encryption, with a maximum message length of at
least 264 bits.
Comments on the proposed requirements and criteria must be received by
NIST on or before April 27.
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