Researchers Find Weakness in World's Toughest Encryption Standard

A group of Microsoft researchers announced recently that they had cracked a version of the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), the world’s toughest encryption mechanism. Though you might not be aware of it, AES is all around you. Not only is it used in disk encryption systems, but it also secures online transactions, wireless networks and even top-secret government documents. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide come into contact with the encryption, so finding a vulnerability is a bit troubling for almost every sector.

“[This] is the first theoretical break of the Advanced Encryption Standard – the de facto worldwide encryption standard,” said Andrey Bogdanov, one of the researchers who worked out the method of breaking the code. His research partners were Dmitry Khovratovich and Christian Rechberger.

The mechanism came to the forefront as a response to a late-20th-century call by the National Institute of Standards and Technology for an encryption that could protect top-secret documents. After a lengthy review process, NIST accepted declared this version, nicknamed Rijndael, as that standard, certifying it for use in the federal government in 2002.

The key – that is, the information an authorized person can use to decrypt the protected information – can vary in length, with 128, 192 and 256 being typical key lengths. Longer keys provide greater security because each extra digit adds another variable.

After working for years, the researchers found they were able to break the code four times easier than was previously thought possible. But even still, the statistical probability of being able to ascertain the correct key is extremely thin: According to Bogdanov, a trillion computers each testing a billion keys per second would take more than two billion years to discover an AES-128 key.

For this reason, Bogdanov said, we shouldn’t worry about the standard’s robustness. “I do not expect our particular attack to impose any practical threat in applications using AES,” he said. “It is more of scientific value.”

Security blogger Bruce Schneier agrees. “What we're learning is that the safety margin of AES is much less than previously believed,” he wrote on his blog. “And while there is no reason to scrap AES in favor of another algorithm, [NIST] should increase the number of rounds of all three AES variants.”

So don’t worry, your Wi-Fi is still safe. But attacks are always increasing in precision, so sometime in the future, the AES may have to undergo a makeover.

About the Author

Laura Williams is content development editor for Security Products magazine.


  • Progressing in Capabilities

    Progressing in Capabilities

    Hazardous areas within industries like oil and gas, manufacturing, agriculture and the like, have long-sought reliable video surveillance cameras and equipment that can operate safely in these harsh and unpredictable environments. Read Now

  • A Comprehensive Nationwide Solution

    A Comprehensive Nationwide Solution

    Across the United States, manufacturing facilities, distribution centers, truck yards, parking lots and car dealerships all have a common concern. They are targets for catalytic converters. In nearly every region, cases of catalytic converter thefts have skyrocketed. Read Now

  • Planning for Your Perimeter

    Planning for Your Perimeter

    The perimeter is an organization’s first line of defense and a critical element of any security and surveillance program. Even if a building’s interior or exterior security is strong, without a solid perimeter surveillance approach any company or business is vulnerable. Read Now

  • The Key Issue

    The Key Issue

    It is February 2014. A woman is getting ready in her room on a cruise ship when she hears a knock on the door; it is a crewmember delivering breakfast. She is not presentable so she tells him to leave it by the door. Read Now

Featured Cybersecurity

New Products

  • Genetec Security Center

    Genetec Security Center

    This major new release allows more system components to run in the cloud, reducing the gap between cloud and on-premises security systems. It also makes it easier to connect external systems and tap external data for use in dashboards, maps and investigations without relying on complex, specialized integrations. 3

  • VideoEdge 2U High Capacity Network Video Recorder

    VideoEdge 2U High Capacity Network Video Recorder

    Johnson Controls announces a powerful recording solution to meet demanding requirements with its VideoEdge 2U High Capacity Network Video Recorder. This solution combines the powerful capabilities of victor with the intelligence of VideoEdge NVRs, fueled by Tyco Artificial Intelligence, for video management that provides actionable insights to save time, money and lives. 3

  • Connect ONE’s powerful cloud-hosted management platform provides the means to tailor lockdowns and emergency mass notifications throughout a facility – while simultaneously alerting occupants to hazards or next steps, like evacuation.

    Connect ONE®

    Connect ONE’s powerful cloud-hosted management platform provides the means to tailor lockdowns and emergency mass notifications throughout a facility – while simultaneously alerting occupants to hazards or next steps, like evacuation. 3