TUCoPS :: Crypto :: breakdes.txt

Text on "breaking" DES encryption. Tells about the new decryption techniques, etc.

Newsgroups: sci.crypt
From: kaplan@bpavms.bpa.arizona.edu (Steve... friends don't let friends do DOS.)
Subject: Is DES breakable?
Keywords: DES breakability
Message-ID: <23MAR199319384593@bpavms.bpa.arizona.edu>
Date: 24 Mar 93 02:38:00 GMT
Organization: University of Arizona MIS Department
Lines: 201

Greetings sci.crypters

This is a lengthy posting born of my idea that one good turn deserves
another.  Carl Ellison (cme@ellisun.sw.stratus.com) was kind enough to send
me the out dated, but still useful FAQ for this news group.  So, I figure
that I should add to the positive karma of it by sharing some stuff.  Not
new news - just restatement of what some have already said.  Hope that it
is worthy of your time.  If not - send me mail and complain!  In other
groups I get flamed for not being able to find my butt in the dark with
both hands, so - sorry if I've violated and status quo of which I am not

RayK 8)

(Previously submitted for publication in Wynn Schwartau's Security Insider
newsletter: 1157 Grove St. N., Seminole, FL 34642, 813-393-6600 and the
Computer Security Institute's ALERT newsletter: 600 Harrison St., San
Franciscon, Ca. 94107, 415-905-2370)

Is DES breakable?  Of course.
by Ray Kaplan
Copyright Ray Kaplan 1993 - All rights attempting to be reserved - At
least, please make the site correct if you use it!

Day two of the second annual RSA Data Security Data Security 
Conference in Redwood City, CA (January 15, 1993) was packed 
full of great sessions.  Right out of the can in the 
cryptographer's track was Dr. Martin Hellman presenting a talk 
entitled DES Revisited.  The Data Encryption Standard (DES) was 
first approved in January 1977, so it is now 16 years old.  NIST 
did approve extending it at least once since then, but Rthe DESS 
(as crypto insiders seem to refer to it) is due for a look-see.  

Since Dr. Hellman has been involved with DES from its 
beginning, I trust his critical academic appraisal - especially 
since he and Whit Diffie were embattled with NBS over 
questions of key size and the existence of trap doors when DES 
was being introduced.  In the question of DES breakability, I 
like his approach.  They designed an attack on DES that is based 
on the most intensive cryptanalysis: exhaustive search.  The 
beauty of this theoretical DES solution machine is that is can be 
used for plain text, ciphertext and chosen text attacks on the 
algorithm.  Solve the hardest problems first and the easy ones 
follow quickly, I say.  

He presented their 1976 design for an exhaustive DES solution 
engine and updated it to 1993.  Since the DES algorithm is 
roughly equivalent to 6,000 gates, it is about the complexity of 
a Z80 microprocessor to implement in silicon.  DES uses a 64 bit 
key with 8 bits reserved for parity and that means that there 
are 2**56 (10**17) possible DES keys for any given DES 
encoding.  Building the exhaustive search machine in 1976 
would have required 1,000,000 special DES search engine ICs 
and would have cost $20 million.  Today, this would be10,000 
special DES search engine ICs since IC's are about 100x denser 
than in 1976.  Dr, Hellman points out that the $20M cost figure 
has been criticized as optimistic and he indicates that his 
estimate may have been a bit low.  $50M is a safer figure and 
doesn't change his basic argument about how you go about 
breaking the DES.

In 1976, their solution machine yielded one DES solution per 
day at a cost of $10,000 each.  Updating this to 1993 costs and 
computing speeds, the capital cost of such an exhaustive search 
DES solution machine that would yield one DES solution per day 
would be between $1 and $10 million dollars.  This nets a cost 
per DES solution of only $100.  Dr. Hellman points out that the 
$10M figure is a relatively safe one that includes the design 
cost.  The $1M figure is optimistic if it includes design cost, but 
is safe if it is the replication cost after design.  This, should one 
want to build more than one machine - quite possible 
depending on who one is and how many messages he would 
like to read.  He also indicated the replication cost might go as 
low as $100k per machine.  The $100 figure per solution was 
an order of magnitude estimate.  It could be as high as $1,000 
(using the $10M figure) or as low as $10 (using the $100k 

Such a special DES search engine ICs would be about as complex 
as a modern 386 microprocessor and cost about as much as a 
Z80 to design.  The whole machine has 10,000 such search 
chips.  The reason: the 1976 design (comparable to a Z80) is 
replicated 128 times on the chip, but only needs to be designed 
once.  Using 128 search engines per IC (plus spares) and a 
common data bus (considering the very low I/O level), the DES 
solution machine has only about 10,000 ICs.  

Past the fascinating technical details of his machine were his 
summary comments about DES.  It has many honors: world's 
most widely used, cheapest and public cryptosystem.  Despite 
major incentives, it has not been publicly broken.  For those 
who remember him as a combatant 15 years ago, it might be 
helpful to mention that he indicated that he has recognized that 
in the heat of previous battle, he tended to overlook arguments 
that supported NSA/NBS and was trying now, with the benefit 
of age and a relative peace, to summarize the pros and cons in 
a more unbiased fashion.

His concerns: 1) the 56 bit key size allows exhaustive searches 
by dedicated opponents at a capital cost of between $1 and $10 
million, 2) Biham and Shamir's differential cryptanalysis can 
break an 8 round DES implementation and 3) DES's design 
principals are secret (despite the fact that the algorithm itself 
is public) and may allow trap doors.  His conclusions: there is 
probably no trap door in DES, but the 56 bit key size and 
decades of experience in production cryptanalysis probably 
give the NSA and its foreign counterparts a crude trap door.  
According to Dr. Hellman, this needs a bit of explanation since 
these two ideas two sound counter to one another.  He 
indicated that, while he was very concerned about a possible 
trap door in the 70's, direct denial of NSA pressure on S-box 
design from relevant IBM personnel caused him to doubt their 
presence for some time.  However, he says he could be wrong, 
hence the "may allow" in his statement about possible trap 
doors.  The key appears to be that it is all speculation since the 
design principals of DES (not the algorithm itself) are carefully 

In summary: DES protected data is probably secure against all 
commercial attacks today, but is almost surely vulnerable to 
attack by a major power.  DES will continue to dominate the 
market for a decade.  He recommends immediate triple 
encryption (the use of a 48 round algorithm - Rstandard DESS 
uses a 16 round algorithm.) to defeat differential cryptanalysis.  
Continued federal support of DES is critical to vendors and 

In the end, he admonished NIST/NSA to stop dragging their 
feet on a public key exchange standard but suggests that 
perhaps a de facto standard is better (in which case it doesn't 
matter if NIST/NSA do anything since RSA and Diffie-Hellman 
are filling this de facto role).  Adding some humor, he softened 
the harsh "dragging their feet" in his talk by noting that NIST's 
Dennis Branstad credited his ruckuses for two promotions and 
indicated that Branstad had asked him to help him with a third.  

As is usually the case, the hallway conversations were best.  
We speculated on cheap DES solution machine technology.  The 
fact is that for about $5,000 you can buy a gate array 
programmer and at a cost of about $250 per part, you could 
build your own DES solution machine without the cost and 
complexity of a custom silicon implementation.  Scary, huh?  
Yes.  But, the higher higher cost per part translates into a 
higher cost per solution so you'd have to check the speed, 
density, etc. and see what the associated cost would be.

I asked Hellman how in the hell a layman could possibly keep 
up with this crypto technology and come to trust it.  His answer 
was revealing: read and study it - get politically involved and, 
it will yield to your efforts.  He suggests that you contact your 
congressional rep and let them know you are unhappy at DoD 
(NSA) messing around with your personal privacy (e.g. medical 
records are protected by DES) when Commerce is supposed to 
be setting standards with regard to commercial and individual 
needs, rather than NSA's needs.  He said that a reasonably 
trained EE or CS type can understand the technical details and 
you have a responsibility to help keep the technology on track 
and to help answer some of the hard questions surrounding its 
use.  Go find a trusted member of the community to talk with 
about these important issues.

We also had a spirited discussion of Dr. Hellman's involvement 
with the Russian Institute for Problems of Information 
Transmission (IPPI after the Russian name Institut Problem 
Peredachi Informatsii) in his efforts to help some old friends of 
his and help the budding democratic movement in the former 
Soviet Union.  I agree with him that we need to help them.  I 
was comforted to find that this world-class crypotgrapher is 
quite a humanitarian.  I agree that we do have a responsibility 
to help - lest we see our technology (such as cryptography) 
protect and nurture backward and barbaric customs.  Consider 
that white supremacist groups such as the KKK and the Aryan 
Nation are a similar threat to our humanity right here in our 
own back yard.  Heady stuff.  The IPPI is interested in hard 
currency (e.g.: dollar vs. ruble) contracts for work.  They are 
reported to be quite a bit less expensive that other 
alternatives.  If you are interested in hiring them, you can 
contact Deputy Director Dr. Josef Ovseyevitch at IPPI via Email 
at ovseev@ippi.msk.su.  They are interested in error 
correcting/detecting codes, data compression, crypto, signal 
processing, computer and communications networks, 
computational linguistics and machine translation, and 
experimental data processing.

My thanks to Dr. Hellman for help in writing up this account of 
his talk and to Jim Bidzos from RSA for inviting Dr. Hellman to 
speak at the RSA Data Security Conference.

Ray Kaplan is a principle in the Tucson, Arizona-based 
independent consulting firm Kaplan, Kovara and Associates.  
They specialize in systems and network management, and 
security with an emphasis on Open VMS, UNIX, DECnet and 
TCP/IP.  They are currently producing a series of audio 
teleconferences on contemporary security-related topics.  For a 
catalog of their offerings, contact them at P.O. Box 42650 - 
Tucson, AZ  85733 - FAX (602) 791-3325 - (602) 885-2807.  
They'll be conducting live audio teleconferences on encryption 
and authentication which will include a live interviews and 
Q/A sessions with Dr. Hellman and other experts on April 7 and 
8, 1992. 

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