Doomsday is close to! NIST rolls out new encryption requirements in preparation

Conceptual computer artwork of an electronic circuit with blue and red light passing through it, representing how data can be controlled and stored in a quantum computer.
Enlarge / Conceptual computer artwork of an electronic circuit with blue and red light passing through it, representing how data can be controlled and stored in a quantum computer.

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In the not-too-distant future — perhaps just a decade, no one knows exactly how long — cryptography protects your banking, chat messages, and medical records from prying eyes. will make a spectacular breakthrough with the advent of quantum computing. On Tuesday, a US government agency named four cryptographic alternatives to start this crypto war.

Some of the most widely used public key encryption systems — including those using RSA, Diffie-Hellman, and Diffie-Hellman elliptic curves — rely on math to protect sensitive data. These math problems include (1) computing the large composite number of a key (usually denoted N) to deduce its two factors (usually denoted P and Q) and (2) compute the discrete logarithm on which the keys are based.

The security of these cryptosystems depends entirely on the difficulty of classical computers in solving these problems. While it is very easy to generate keys that can encrypt and decrypt data at will, from a practical standpoint it is impossible for an adversary to compute the numbers that make them work.

In 2019, a team of researchers validated a 795-bit RSA key, making it the largest key size ever solved. The same pool also computes a discrete logarithm of another key of the same size.

The researchers estimate that the total computation time for both new records is about 4,000 core years using an Intel Xeon Gold 6130 CPU (running at 2.1GHz). Like previous records, they are implemented using a complex algorithm called Number Field Sieve, which can be used to perform both integer computations and finite-field discrete logarithms.

Quantum Computation It’s still in beta, but the results have clearly shown that it can solve similar math problems instantly. Increasing the size of the keys doesn’t help either, because Shortcut Algorithma quantum computing technique developed in 1994 by American mathematician Peter Shor that works by orders of magnitude faster in solving discrete integer and logarithmic factorization problems.

Researchers have known for decades that these algorithms are vulnerable and have warned the world to prepare for the day when all data that has been encrypted using them can be decrypted. Chief among the proponents is the US Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which is leading the charge for post-quantum cryptography (PQC).

On Tuesday, NIST said it had selected four candidate PQC algorithms to replace those expected to be eliminated by quantum computing. These are: CRYSTALS-Kyber, CRYSTALS-Dilithium, FALCON and SPHINCS+.

CRYSTALS-Kyber and CRYSTALS-Dilithium are probably the two most widely used substitutes. CRYSTALS-Kyber is used to establish a digital key that two computers that have never interacted with each other can use to encrypt data. Meanwhile, the remaining three are used to digitally sign the encrypted data to identify who sent it.

“CRYSTALS-Kyber (key setup) and CRYSTALS-Dilithium (digital signature) were both chosen for their strong security and great performance, and NIST expects them to work well in most applications” , NIST officials wrote. “FALCON will also be standardized by NIST as there may be use cases where CRYSTALS-Dilithium signatures are too large. SPHINCS+ will also be standardized to avoid relying solely on network security for signatures. NIST requires request public feedback on a version of SPHINCS+ with a lower maximum number of signatures.”

Selections announced today are likely to have significant influence in the future.

Graham Steel, CEO of Cryptosense, a company that makes cryptographic management software, said: “NIST choices are certainly important because many large companies have to comply with NIST standards even when their primary cryptographers disagree with their choice. “But having said that, I personally believe their choice is based on sound reasoning, on what we know right now about the security of these various mathematical problems and the trade-offs. by performance.”

Nadia Heninger, associate professor of computer science and engineering at the University of California, San Diego, agrees.

“The algorithms that NIST chooses will be the de facto international standard, preventing any unexpected last-minute developments,” she wrote in an email. “A lot of companies have been waiting for so many selections to be announced so they can implement them as soon as possible.”

While no one knows exactly when quantum computers will appear, it is imperative to switch to PQC as soon as possible. It is likely that criminals and national spies are recording large amounts of encrypted communications and storing them for the day they can be decrypted, many researchers say.

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