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Advanced Encryption Standard, The Latest Encryption Algorithm

Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is the latest encryption standard used to protect confidential information like financial data for government and commercial use. It is a stronger symmetric encryption algorithm that was approved by NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) to replace the Data Encryption Standard (DES) and Triple DES encryption algorithm. DES is arguably the most important and widely used cryptographic algorithm in the world. However, its usefulness is now quite limited after years of advances in computational technology. A DES key can now be easily cracked after several hours of number crunching. By using dedicated hardware, Electronic Frontier Foundation manages to break it in 22 hours (http://www.rsasecurity.com/rsalabs/des3/).

With that hindsight, NIST was commissioned to oversee the development of the next generation symmetric cryptographic algorithm called Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). On January 2, 1997, NIST announced the initiation of the AES development effort and made a formal call for algorithms on September 12, 1997. The call stipulated that the AES must implement symmetric key cryptography as a block cipher and (at a minimum) support block sizes of 128-bit and key sizes of 128-bit, 192-bit, and 256-bit. On October 2000, NIST had selected Rijndael (pronounced as Rain-Doll) algorithm to be the proposed AES due to its high security strength, computational and memory efficiency, high configurability and simplicity. It can be implemented in wide ranges of devices from low memory devices like smart card to high-end workstations. Rijndael is finalized as the AES standard in November 2001 as FIPS 197 (http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/fips/). It is a 128-bit (16 byte) block cipher with variable key sizes ranging from 128 bits to 256 bits. It offers much higher security strength as compared to the DES standard that supports only 56-bit keys.

Government, e-businesses and enterprises can use AES to strengthen the privacy and security of a wide variety of online transactions, ranging from cash-machine withdrawals to Internet shopping to sensitive e-mails. Its performance definitely surpasses both DES and Triple-DES standards as shown in the performance comparison table below:

A Comparison Between AES and DES with a Pentium Pro 200Mhz machine

Algorithm Speed (Mb/s)
DES (56 bits) 28
Triple-DES (112 bits) 10
AES (128 bits) 70.2
AES (256 bits) 51.2

We can clearly see that the performance of DES and Triple-DES is significantly slower than AES. Today, Triple-DES is the algorithm commonly used to protect highly sensitive information and is widely used in financial sectors and networking protocols like S/MIME, SSL, IPSEC etc. The adoption of the AES algorithm in these areas will immediately boost overall performance while providing a much higher security assurance for many years to come.


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