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Exposing the vulnerability of DES was the key to tightening the standards.

  • Dec 11, 2008
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In many ways reviewing Matt Curtin's "Brute Force: The Cracking of the Data Encryption Standard" is a real challenge for me. That is because I am not particularly well versed in computer technology.  As such I did not recognize nor did I understand the meaning of a great many of the technical terms that were necessarily used throughout this book.  I must admit that I really struggled with this reality at times.  But having said that I still found "Brute Force" to be a very worthwhile read.

In order to fully appreciate the magnitude of the issues involved here it is extremely important to understand the prevailing political climate in this country back in 1997.  As new and more elaborate uses for computers and the internet were emerging it seems that the U.S. government was content to continue with inferior encryption standards.  DES (Data Encryption Standard) was a 56-bit key cryptographic system that had been the standard in this country since 1977.  Even during those early years many computer experts were warning that this rather weak system would soon have to be replaced.  The risk of data being compromised was simply too great!  In 1997, as the battle lines were being drawn over replacing DES with a much stronger standard our government wanted access to virtually all information--even if encrypted.  On the other hand private industry and individual citizens were clamoring for a much tougher encryption standard to replace DES. This battle could have gone either way.  "Brute Force" tells the amazing story about how a group of like-minded people banded together to prove once and for all that DES was extremely vulnerable to attack.  Matt Curtin tells the story of the unique competition that would emerge and ultimately lead to tougher and more secure encrytion that would benefit just about everyone in this country.  What occured in the Spring of 1997 is a truly remarkable story and Matt Curtin tells it very well.

As I indicated earlier "Brute Force: The Cracking of the Data Encryption Standard" contains a lot of technical jargon that many folks would not be familiar with.  It is probably safe to say that the more you know about computers the more you will glean from this book.  But I was able to follow the story line pretty well and learned an awful lot about a topic I knew virtually nothing about.  In the end it was well worth the effort.   Recommended.
Exposing the vulnerability of DES was the key to tightening the standards.

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Paul Tognetti ()
Ranked #2
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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In the 1960s, it became increasingly clear that more and more information was going to be stored on computers, not on pieces of paper. With these changes in technology and the ways it was used came a need to protect both the systems and the information. For the next ten years, encryption systems of varying strengths were developed, but none proved to be rigorous enough. In 1973, the NBS put out an open call for a new, stronger encryption system that would become the new federal standard. Several years later, IBM responded with a system called Lucifer that came to simply be known as DES (data encryption standard).

The strength of an encryption system is best measured by the attacks it is able to withstand, and because DES was the federal standard, many tried to test its limits. (It should also be noted that a number of cryptographers and computer scientists told the NSA that DES was not nearly strong enough and would be easily hacked.) Rogue hackers, usually out to steal as much information as possible, tried to break DES. A number of "white hat" hackers also tested the system and reported on their successes. Still others attacked DES because they believed it had outlived its effectiveness and was becoming increasingly vulnerable. The sum total of these efforts to use all of the possible keys to break DES over time made for a brute force attack.

In 1996, the supposedly uncrackable DES was broken. In this captivating and intriguing book, Matt Curtin charts DES’s rise and fall...

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ISBN-10: 0387201092
ISBN-13: 978-0387201092
Author: Matt Curtin
Publisher: Springer
Date Published: February 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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