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This is a copy of the C2Net Press Release from 18 Jun 1997


Oakland, California (June 18, 1997)-The 56-bit DES encryption standard, long claimed "adequate" by the U.S. Government, was shattered yesterday using an ordinary Pentium personal computer operated by Michael K. Sanders, an employee of iNetZ, a Salt Lake City, Utah-based online commerce provider. Sanders was part of a loosely organized group of computer users responding to the "RSA $10,000 DES Challenge." The code-breaking group distributed computer software over the Internet for harnessing idle moments of computers around the world to perform a 'brute force' attack on the encrypted data.

"That DES can be broken so quickly should send a chill through the heart of anyone relying on it for secure communications," said Sameer Parekh, one of the group's participants and president of C2Net Software, an Internet encryption provider headquartered in Oakland, California (http://www.c2.net/). "Unfortunately, most people today using the Internet assume the browser software is performing secure communications when an image of a lock or a key appears on the screen. Obviously, that is not true when the encryption scheme is 56-bit DES," he said.

INetZ vice president Jon Gay said "We hope that this will encourage people to demand the highest available encryption security, such as the 128-bit security provided by C2Net's Stronghold product, rather than the weak 56-bit ciphers used in many other platforms."

Many browser programs have been crippled to use an even weaker, 40-bit cipher, because that is the maximum encryption level the U.S. government has approved for export. "People located within the US can obtain more secure browser software, but that usually involves submitting an affidavit of eligibility, which many people have not done," said Parekh. "Strong encryption is not allowed to be exported from the U.S., making it harder for people and businesses in international locations to communicate securely," he explained.

According to computer security expert Ian Goldberg, "This effort emphasizes that security systems based on 56-bit DES or "export-quality" cryptography are out-of-date, and should be phased out. Certainly no new systems should be designed with such weak encryption.'' Goldberg is a member of the University of California at Berkeley's ISAAC group, which discovered a serious security flaw in the popular Netscape Navigator web browser software.

The 56-bit DES cipher was broken in 5 months, significantly faster than the hundreds of years thought to be required when DES was adopted as a national standard in 1977. The weakness of DES can be traced to its "key length," the number of binary digits (or "bits") used in its encryption algorithm. "Export grade" 40-bit encryption schemes can be broken in less than an hour, presenting serious security risks for companies seeking to protect sensitive information, especially those whose competitors might receive code-breaking assistance from foreign governments.

According to Parekh, today's common desktop computers are tremendously more powerful than any computer that existed when DES was created. "Using inexpensive (under $1000) computers, the group was able to crack DES in a very short time," he noted. "Anyone with the resources and motivation to employ modern "massively parallel" supercomputers for the task can break 56-bit DES ciphers even faster, and those types of advanced technologies will soon be present in common desktop systems, providing the keys to DES to virtually everyone in just a few more years."

56-bit DES uses a 56-bit key, but most security experts today consider a minimum key length of 128 bits to be necessary for secure encryption. Mathematically, breaking a 56-bit cipher requires just 65,000 times more work than breaking a 40-bit cipher. Breaking a 128-bit cipher requires 4.7 trillion billion times as much work as one using 56 bits, providing considerable protection against brute-force attacks and technical progress.


C2Net is the leading worldwide provider of uncompromised Internet security software. C2Net's encryption products are developed entirely outside the United States, allowing the firm to offer full-strength cryptography solutions for international communications and commerce. "Our products offer the highest levels of security available today. We refuse to sell weak products that might provide a false sense of security and create easy targets for foreign governments, criminals, and bored college students," said Parekh. "We also oppose so-called "key escrow" plans that would put everyone's cryptography keys in a few centralized locations where they can be stolen and sold to the highest bidder," he added. C2Net's products include the Stronghold secure web server and SafePassage Web Proxy, an enhancement that adds full-strength encryption to any security-crippled "export grade" web browser software.

Pentium is a registered trademark of Intel Corporation.

Netscape and Netscape Navigator are registered trademarks of Netscape Communications Corporation

Stronghold and SafePassage are trademarks of C2Net Software, Inc.