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Network Working Group                                           S. Kelly
Internet-Draft                                           Talari Networks
Expires: August 3, 2006                                 January 30, 2006

                       DES Security Implications

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   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2006).


   The Data Encryption Standard [DES] is susceptible to brute force
   attacks which are well within the reach of a modestly financed
   adversary.  As a result, DES has been deprecated, and replaced by the
   Advanced Encryption Standard [AES].  Nonetheless, many applications
   continue to rely on DES for security, and designers and implementers
   continue to provide support for it in new applications.  While this
   is not always inappropriate, it frequently is.  This note discusses
   DES security implications, so that designers and implementers can
   make judicious decisions regarding its use.

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Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
   2.  Why Use Encryption?  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  4
   3.  Real-World Applications and Threats  . . . . . . . . . . . . .  5
   4.  Attacking DES  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  7
     4.1.  Brute Force Attacks  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
       4.1.1.  Parallel and Distributed Attacks . . . . . . . . . . .  9
     4.2.  Cryptanalytic Attacks  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  9
     4.3.  Practical Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
   5.  The EFF DES Cracker  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
   6.  Other DES Cracking Projects  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
   7.  Building a DES Cracker Today . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
     7.1.  FPGAs  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
     7.2.  ASICs  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
     7.3.  Distributed PCs  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
       7.3.1.  Willing Participants . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
       7.3.2.  Spyware and Virii and Botnets (oh my!) . . . . . . . . 16
   8.  Why is DES Still Used? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
   9.  Security Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
   10. IANA Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
   11. Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
   12. Informative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
   Author's Address . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
   Intellectual Property and Copyright Statements . . . . . . . . . . 24

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1.  Introduction

   The Data Encryption Standard (referred to below simply as DES) is the
   first encryption algorithm approved by the U.S. government for public
   disclosure.  Brute force attacks became a subject of speculation
   immediately following the algorithm's release into the public sphere,
   and a number of researchers published discussions of attack
   feasibility and explicit brute force attack methodologies, beginning
   with [DH77].

   In the early to mid 1990's, numerous additional papers appeared.
   Frequently cited are Wiener's "Efficient DES Key Search" [WIEN94],
   and "Minimal Key Lengths for Symmetric Ciphers to Provide Adequate
   Commercial Security" [BLAZ96].  While these and various other papers
   discussed the theoretical aspects of DES-cracking machinery, none
   described a specific implementation of such a machine.  In 1998, the
   Electronic Freedom Foundation went much further, actually building a
   device and freely publishing the implementation details for public
   review [EFF98].

   Despite the fact that the EFF clearly demonstrated that DES could be
   brute-forced in an average of about 4.5 days with an investment of
   less than $250,000 in 1998, many continue to rely on this algorithm
   even now, more than 7 years later.  And today, the landscape is
   significantly different: DES can be broken by a broad range of
   attackers using technologies which were not available in 1998,
   including cheap FPGAs and botnets [BOT05].  These and other attack
   methodologies are described in detail below.

   Given that AES has been approved by the U.S. Government (under
   certain usage scenarios) for top secret applications [AES-NSA], and
   that triple DES (aka 3DES) is not susceptible to these same attacks,
   one might wonder: why even bother with DES anymore?  Under more ideal
   circumstances we might simply dispense with it, but unfortunately,
   this would not be so simple today.  DES has been widely deployed
   since its release in the 1970's, and many systems rely on it today.
   Wholesale replacement of such systems would be very costly.  A more
   realistic approach entails gradual replacement of these systems, and
   this implies a term of backward compatibility support of indefinite

   In addition to backward compatiblity, in isolated instances there may
   be other valid arguments for continued DES support.  Still, reliance
   upon this deprecated algorithm is a serious error from a security
   design perspective in many cases.  This note aims to clarify the
   security implications of this choice given the state of technology
   today, so that developers can make an informed decision as to whether
   or not to implement this algorithm.

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2.  Why Use Encryption?

   In order to assess the security implications of using DES, it is
   useful and informative to review the rationale for using encryption
   to begin with.  In general, we encrypt information because we desire
   confidentiality.  That is, we want to limit access to information, to
   keep something private or secret.  In some cases we want to share the
   information within a limited group, and in other cases, we may want
   to be the sole owner of the information in question.

   Sometimes, the information we want to protect has value only to the
   individual (e.g. a diary), and a loss of confidentiality, while
   potentially damaging in some limited ways, would typically not be
   catastrophic.  In other cases, the information might have significant
   financial implications (e.g. a company's strategic marketing plan).
   And in yet others, lives could be at stake.

   In order to guage our confidentiality requirements in terms of
   encryption strength, we must assess the value of the information we
   are trying to protect, both to us and to a potential attacker.  There
   are various metrics we can employ for this purpose:

   o  Cost of confidentiality loss: What could we lose if an adversary
      were to discover our secret?  This gives some measure of how much
      effort we should be willing to expend to protect the secret.

   o  Value to adversary: What does the attacker have to gain by
      discovering our secret?  This gives some measure of how much an
      adversary might reasonably be willing to spend to learn the

   o  Window of opportunity: How long does the information have value to
      an adversary?  This gives some measure of how acceptable a
      weakness might be.  For example, if the information is valuable to
      an attacker for months and it takes only days to break the
      encryption, we probably need much stronger encryption.  On the
      other hand, if the window of opportunity is measured in seconds,
      then an encryption algorithm that takes days to break may be

   There are certainly other factors we would consider in conducting a
   comprehensive security analysis, but these are enough to give a
   general sense of important questions to answer when evaluating DES as
   a candidate encryption algorithm.

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3.  Real-World Applications and Threats

   Numerous commonly used applications rely on encryption for
   confidentiality in today's Internet.  To evaluate the sufficiency of
   a given cryptographic algorithm in this context, we should begin by
   asking some basic questions: what are the real-world risks to these
   applications, i.e. how likely is it that an application might
   actually be attacked, and by whom, and for what reasons?

   While it is difficult to come up with one-size-fits-all answers based
   on general application descriptions, we can easily get some sense of
   the relative threat to many of these applications.  It is important
   to note that what follows is not an exhaustive enumeration of all
   likely threats and attacks, but rather a sampling which illustrates
   that real threats are more prevalent than intuition might suggest.

   Here are some examples of common applications and related threats:

   o  Site-to-site VPNs: often, these are used to connect geographically
      separate corporate offices.  Data traversing such links is often
      business critical, and sometimes highly confidential.  The FBI
      estimates that every year billions of U.S. dollars are lost to
      foreign competitors who deliberately target economic intelligence
      in U.S.industry and technologies [FBI06].  Searching for
      'corporate espionage' in Google yields many interesting links,
      some of which indicate that foreign competitors are not the only
      threat to U.S. businesses.  Obviously, this threat can be
      generalized to include businesses of any nationality.

   o  Remote network access for business: see previous item

   o  Webmail/email encryption: see Site-to-site VPNs

   o  Online banking: currently, the most common threat to online
      banking is in the form of "phishing", which does not rely on
      breaking session encryption, but instead relies on tricking users
      into providing their account information.  In general, direct
      attacks on session encryption for this application do not scale
      well.  However, if a particular bank were known to use a weak
      encryption algorithm for session security, it might become
      worthwhile to develop a broader attack against that bank.  Given
      that organized criminal elements have been found behind many
      phishing attacks, it is not difficult to imagine such scenarios.

   o  Electronic funds transfers - the ability to replay or otherwise
      modify legitimate EFTs has obvious financial incentives (and
      implications).  Also, an industrial spy might see a great deal of
      intelligence value in the financial transactions of a target

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   o  Online purchases (E-Commerce) - the FBI has investigated a number
      of organized attacks on e-commerce applications [FBI01].  If an
      attacker has the ability to monitor e-commerce traffic directed to
      a large merchant which relies on weak encryption, the attacker
      could harvest a great deal of consumer credit information.  This
      is the sort of data "phishers" currently harvest on a much smaller
      scale, so one can easily imagine the value of such a target.

   o  Internet-based VoIP applications (e.g.  Skype) - while many uses
      of this technology are innocuous (e.g. long distance calls to
      family members), VoIP technology is also used for business
      purposes (see discussion of FBI estimates regarding corporate
      espionage above).

   o  Cellular telephony - cell phones are very common, and are
      frequently used for confidential conversations in business,
      medicine, law enforcement, and other applications.

   o  Wireless LAN - wireless technology is used by many businesses,
      including the New York Stock Exchange.  The financial incentives
      for an attacker are significant in some cases.

   o  Sensitive government communications (including military
      applications) - need we say more?

   o  Personal communications (e.g. secure instant messaging) - such
      communication may be used for corporate communications (see
      industrial espionage discussion above), and may also be used for
      financial applications such as stock/securities trading.  This has
      both corporate/industrial espionage and financial implications.

   o  Laptop Hard-drive encryption - See discussion on corporate/
      industrial espionage above

   Clearly, there are real-world threats to every-day encryption
   applications, some of which could be very lucrative to an attacker
   (and by extension, very costly to the victim).  It is important to
   note that if some of these attacks are infrequent today, it is
   precisely because the threats are recognized and appropriate levels
   of encryption are used.  However, were "weak" cryptographic
   algorithms to be used for many of these applications, the
   implications are indeed thought-provoking.

   In keeping with the objectives of this document, it is important to
   note that the U.S. government has never approved the use of DES for
   anything but unclassified applications.  While it is still approved

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   for unclassified uses until May 19, 2007, the U.S. Government clearly
   sees the need to move to higher ground.  For details on NIST DES
   Transition plan see [NIST-TP].  Despite this fact, DES is still
   sometimes chosen to protect some of the applications described above.
   Below, we discuss why this should in many cases be remedied.

4.  Attacking DES

   DES is a 64-bit block cipher having a key size of 56 bits.  The key
   actually has 64 bits (matching the block size), but 1 bit in each
   byte has been designated a 'parity' bit, and is not used for
   cryptographic purposes.  For a full discussion of the history of DES
   along with an accessible description of the algorithm, see [SCHN96].

   A detailed description of the various types of attacks on
   cryptographic algorithms is beyond the scope of this document, but
   for clarity, we provide the following brief descriptions.  There are
   two general aspects of attacks we must consider: the form of the
   inputs/outputs along with how we might influence them, and the
   internal function of the cryptographic operations themselves.

   In terms of input/output form, some of the more commonly discussed
   attack characteristics include the following:

   o  known plaintext - the attacker knows some of the plaintext
      corresponding to some of the ciphertext

   o  ciphertext-only - only ciphertext is available to the attacker,
      who has little or no information about the plaintext

   o  chosen plaintext - the attacker can choose which plaintext is
      encrypted, and obtain the corresponding ciphertext

   o  birthday attacks - relies on the fact that for N elements,
      collisions can be expected in ~sqrt(N) randomly chosen samples;
      for systems using CBC mode with random IVs, ciphertext collisions
      can be expected in about 2^28 samples.  Such collisions leak
      information about the corresponding plaintexts: if the same
      cryptographic key is used, then the xor of the IVs is equal to the
      xor of the plaintexts.

   o  meet-in-the-middle attacks - leverages birthday characteristic to
      precompute potential key collision values

   Due to the limited scope of this document, these are very brief
   descriptions of very complex subject matter.  For more detailed
   discussions on these and many related topics, see e.g.  [SCHN96],

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   [HAC], or [FERG03]

   As for attack characteristics relating to the operational aspects of
   cipher algorithms, there are essentially two broad classes we
   consider: cryptanalytic attacks which exploit some internal structure
   or function of the cipher algorithm, and brute-force attacks, in
   which the attacker systematically tries keys until the right one is
   found.  These could alternatively be referred to as white box and
   black box attacks, respectively.  These are discussed further below.

4.1.  Brute Force Attacks

   In general, a brute force attack consists of trying each possible key
   until the correct key is found.  In the worst case, this will require
   2^n steps for a key size of n bits, and on average, it will require
   2^n-1 steps.  For DES, this implies 2^56 encryption operations in the
   worst case, and 2^55 encryption operations on average, if we assume
   no shortcuts exist.  As it turns out, the complementation property of
   DES provides an attack which yields a reduction by a factor of 2 for
   a chosen plaintext attack, so this attack requires an average of 2^54
   encryption operations.

   Above we refer to 2^n 'steps'; note that what a 'step' entails
   depends to some exent on the first attack aspect described above,
   i.e. what influence and knowledge we have with respect to input/
   output forms.  Remember, in the worst case, we will be performing
   72,057,594,037,927,936 - over 72 quadrillion - of these 'steps'.  In
   the most difficult case, we have ciphertext only, and no knowledge of
   the input, and this is very important.

   If the input is effectively random, we cannot tell by simply looking
   at a decrypted block whether we've succeeded or not.  We may have to
   resort to other potentially expensive computation to make this
   determination.  While the affect of any additional computation will
   be linear across all keys, repeating a large amount of added
   computation up to 72 quadrillion times could have a significant
   impact on the cost of a brute-force attack against the algorithm.
   For example, if it takes 1 additional microsecond per computation,
   this will add almost 101 days to our worst-case search time, assuming
   a serial key search.

   On the other hand, if we can control the input to the encryption
   function (known plaintext), we know precisely what to expect from the
   decryption function, so detecting that we've found the key is
   straightforward.  Alternatively, even if we don't know the exact
   input, if we know something about it (e.g. that it's ASCII), with
   limited additional computation we can infer that we've most likely
   found a key.  Obviously, which of these conditions holds may

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   significantly influence attack time.

4.1.1.  Parallel and Distributed Attacks

   Given that a brute force attack involves systematically trying keys
   until we find the right one, it is obviously a good candidate for
   parallelization.  If we have N processors, we can find the key
   roughly N times faster than if we have only 1 processor.  This
   requires some sort of centralized control entity which distributes
   the work and monitors the search process, but is quite
   straightforward to implement.

   There are at least two approaches to parallelization of a brute force
   attack on a block cipher: the first is to build specialized high-
   speed hardware which can rapidly cycle through keys while performing
   the cryptographic and comparison operations, and then replicate that
   hardware many times, while providing for centralized control.  The
   second involves using many copies of general purpose hardware (e.g. a
   PC), and distributing the load across these while placing them under
   the control of one or more central systems.  Both of these approaches
   are discussed further below in sections 5 and 6.

4.2.  Cryptanalytic Attacks

   Brute force attacks are so named because they don't require much
   intelligence in the attack process - they simply try one key after
   the other, with little or no intelligent keyspace pruning.
   Cryptanalytic attacks, on the other hand, rely on application of some
   intelligence ahead of time, and by doing so, provide for a
   significant reduction of the search space.

   While an in-depth discussion of cryptanalytic techniques and the
   resulting attacks is well beyond the scope of this document, it is
   important to briefly touch on this area in order to set the stage for
   subsequent discussion.  It is also important to note that in general,
   cryptanalysis can be applied to any cryptographic algorithm with
   varying degrees of success.  However, we confine ourselves here to
   discussing specific results with respect to DES.

   Here is a very brief summary of the currently known cryptanalytic
   attacks on DES:

   o  Differential Cryptanalysis - first discussed by Biham and Shamir,
      this technique (putting it very simply) analyzes how differences
      in plaintext correspond to differences in ciphertext.  For more
      detail, see [BIH93]

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   o  Linear Cryptanalysis - first described by Matsui, this technique
      uses linear approximations to describe the internal functions of
      DES.  For more detail, see [MAT93]

   o  Interpolation Attack - this technique represents the S-boxes of
      DES with algebraic functions, and then estimates the coefficients
      of the functions.  For more information, see [JAK97]

   o  Key Collision Attack - this technique exploits the birthday
      paradox to produce key collisions [BIH96]

   o  Differential Fault Analysis - this attack exploits the electrical
      characteristics of the encryption device, selectively inducing
      faults and comparing the results with uninfluenced outputs.  For
      more information, see [BIH96-2]

   Currently, the best publicly known cryptanalytic attacks on DES are
   linear and differential cryptanalysis.  These attacks are not
   generally considered practical, as they require 2^43 and 2^47 known
   plaintext/ciphertext pairs, respectively.  To get a feel for what
   this means in practical terms, consider the following:

   o  For linear cryptanalysis (the more efficient of the two attacks),
      the attacker must pre-compute and store 2^43 ciphertexts; this
      requires 8,796,093,022,208 (almost 9 trillion) encryption

   o  Each ciphertext block is 8 bytes, so the total required storage is
      70,368,744,177,664 bytes, or about 70,369 gigabytes of storage.
      If the plaintext blocks cannot be automatically derived, they too
      must be stored, potentially doubling the storage requirements.

   o  the 2^43 known plaintext blocks must be somehow fed to the device
      under attack, and that device must not change the encryption key
      during this time.

   Clearly, there are practical issues with this attack.  Still, it is
   sobering to look at how much more realistic 70000 gigabytes of
   storage is today than it must have seemed in 1993, when Matsui first
   proposed this attack.  Today, 400GB hard drives can be had for around
   $0.50/gigabyte.  If we only needed to store the known ciphertext,
   this amounts to ~176 hard drives at a cost of ~$35000.  This is
   probably practical with today's technology for an adversary with
   significant financial resources, though it was difficult to imagine
   in 1993.  Still, numerous other practical issues remain.

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4.3.  Practical Considerations

   Above we described several types of attacks on DES, some of which are
   more practical than others.  However, it is very important to note
   that brute force represents the very worst case, and cryptanalytic
   attacks can only improve on this.  While an attacker might consider
   using a cryptanalytic attack instead of brute force if it improves
   the outcome, as defenders, we must adopt a slightly different point
   of view: if brute force attacks can be accomplished within an
   expected attacker's budget, there really is nothing more to discuss:
   we need a new algorithm.

   To clarify, if a brute force attack against a given DES application
   really is feasible, then worrying about the practicality of the other
   attack modes is little more than a distraction.  In such cases,
   speculating on the practicality of cryptanalytic attacks against DES
   is really just an academic exercise.  The bottom line is this: if DES
   can be brute-forced at a cost the attacker can stomach today, this
   cost will invariably come down as technology advances.  The question
   of the feasibility of more sophisticated cryptanalytic techniques is
   largely moot: if compromise would be costly, it is probably time to
   change course.

5.  The EFF DES Cracker

   On the question as to whether DES is susceptible to brute force
   attack from a practical perspective, the answer is a resounding and
   unequivocal "yes".  In 1998, the Electronic Freedom Foundation
   financed the construction of of a "DES Cracker", and subsequently
   published "Cracking DES" [EFF98].  For a cost of less than $250,000,
   this system can find a 56-bit DES key in the worst case time of
   around 9 days, and in 4.5 days on average.

   Quoting from [EFF98],

   "The design of the EFF DES Cracker is simple in concept.  It consists
   of an ordinary personal computer connected with a large array of
   custom chips.  Software in the personal computer instructs the custom
   chips to begin searching, and interacts with the user.  The chips run
   without further help from the software until they find a potentially
   interesting key, or need to be directed to search a new part of the
   key space.  The software periodically polls the chips to find any
   potentially interesting keys that they have turned up.

   "The hardware's job isn't to find the answer. but rather to eliminate
   most of the answers that are incorrect.  Software is then fast enough
   to search the remaining potentially-correct keys, winnowing the false

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   positives" from the real answer.  The strength of the machine is that
   it replicates a simple but useful search circuit thousands of times,
   allowing the software to find the answer by searching only a tiny
   fraction of the key space.

   "As long as there is a small bit of software to coordinate the
   effort, the problem of searching for a DES key is "highly
   parallelizable".  This means the problem can be usefully solved by
   many machines working in parallel, simultaneously.  For example, a
   single DES-Cracker chip could find a key by searching for many years.
   A thousand DES-Cracker chips can solve the same problem in one
   thousandth of the time.  A million DES-Cracker chips could
   theoretically solve the same problem in about a millionth of the
   time, though the overhead of starting each chip would become visible
   in the time required.  The actual machine we built contains 1536

   This project clearly demonstrated that a practical system for brute-
   force DES attacks was well within reach of many more than previously
   assumed.  Practically any government in the world could easily
   produce such a machine, and in fact, so could many businesses.  And
   that was in 1998 - the technological advances since then have greatly
   reduced the cost of such a device - this is discussed further below.

6.  Other DES Cracking Projects

   In the mid-1990's, many were interested in whether or not DES was
   breakable in a practical sense.  RSA sponsored a series of DES
   Challenges over a 3 year period beginning January of 1997.  These
   challenges were created in order to help underscore the point that
   cryptographic strength limitations imposed by the U.S. government's
   export policies was far too modest to meet the security requirements
   of many users.

   The first DES challenge was solved by the DESCHALL group, led by
   Rocke Verser, Matt Curtin, and Justin Dolske [RSA1].  They created a
   loosely-knit distributed effort staffed by volunteers and backed by
   Universities and corporations all over the world who donated their
   unused CPU cycles to the effort.  They found the key in 90 days.

   The second DES challenge was announced on December 19, 1997 [RSA2],
   and on February 26, 1998 RSA announced a winner.  This time, the
   challenge was solved by group called distributed.net working together
   with the EFF, in a total of 39 days [RSA3].  This group coordinated
   22000 participants and over 50000 CPUs

   The third DES challenge was announced on December 22, 1998 [RSA4],

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   and on January 19, 1999 RSA announced the winner.  This time, the
   challenge was again solved by distributed.net working together with
   the EFF, in a total of 22 hours [RSA5].  This was a dramatic
   improvement over the second challenge, and should give some idea of
   where we're headed with respect to DES.

7.  Building a DES Cracker Today

   We've seen what was done in the late 1990's - what about today?  A
   survey of the literature might lead one to conlude that this topic is
   no longer interesting to cryptographers.  Hence, we are left to infer
   the possibilities based on currently available technologies.  One way
   to derive an approximation is to apply a variation on "Moore's Law":
   assume that the cost of a device comparable to the one built by the
   EFF would be halved roughly every N months.  If we take N=18, then
   for a device costing $250,000 at the end of 1998, this would predict
   the following cost curve:

   o  mid-2000............: $125,000

   o  beginning of 2002...: $62,500

   o  mid-2003............: $31,250

   o  beginning of 2006...: $15,625

   It's important to note that strictly speaking, "Moore's Law" is
   actually an informal approximation, rather than a "law", although it
   has proven to be uncannily accurate over the last 40 years or so.
   Also, some would disagree with use of an 18 month interval,
   preferring a more conservative 24 months instead.  So, these figures
   should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt.

   Given that such calculations roughly hold for other computing
   technologies over the same time interval, the estimate above does not
   seem too unreasonable, and is probably within a factor of two of
   today's costs.  Clearly, this would seem to indicate that DES
   cracking hardware is within reach of a much broader group than in
   1998, and it is important to note that this assumes no design or
   algorithm improvements since then.

   To put this in a slightly different light, let's consider the typical
   rendition of Moore's Law for such discussions.  Rather than
   considering shrinking cost for the same capability, let us consider
   increasing capability for the same cost (i.e. doubling circuit
   densities every N months).  Again choosing N=18, our DES cracking
   capability (in worst-case time per key) could be expected to have

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   approximately followed this performance curve over the last 7 or so

   o  1998................: 9 days

   o  mid-2000............: 4.5 days

   o  beginning of 2002...: 2.25 days

   o  mid-2003............: 1.125 days

   o  beginning of 2006...: 0.5625 days

   That's just over a half-day in the worst case for 2006, and under 7
   hours on average.  And this, for an investment of less than $250,000.
   It's also very important to note that we are talking about worst-case
   and average times here - sometimes, keys will be found much more
   quickly.  For example, using such a machine, 1/4 of all possible DES
   keys will be found within 3.375 hours. 1/8 of the keys will be found
   in less than 1 hour and 42 minutes.  And this assumes no algorithmic
   improvements have occurred.  And again, this is an estimate; your
   actual mileage may vary, but the estimate is probably not far from

7.1.  FPGAs

   Since the EFF device first appeared, Field Programmable Gate Arrays
   (FPGA's) have become quite common, and far less costly than they were
   in 1998.  These devices allow low-level logic programming, and are
   frequently used to prototype new logic designs prior to the creation
   of more expensive custom chips (also known as Application Specific
   Integrated Circuits, or ASICs).  They are also frequently used in
   place of ASICs due to their lower cost and/or flexibility.  In fact,
   a number of embedded systems implementing cryptography have employed
   FPGAs for this purpose.

   Due to their generalized nature, FPGAs are naturally slower than
   ASICs.  While the speed difference varies based on many factors, it
   is reasonable for purposes of this discussion to say that well-
   designed FPGA implementations typically perform cryptographic
   operations at perhaps 1/4 the speed of well-designed ASICs performing
   the same operations, and sometimes much slower than that.  The
   significance of this comparison will become obvious shortly.

   In our Moore's Law estimate above, we noted that the cost
   extrapolation assumes no design or algorithm improvements since 1998.
   It also implies that we are still talking about a brute force attack.
   In a different section above (entitled "Attacking DES"), we discussed

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   several cryptanlytic attacks, including an attack which employs
   linear cryptanysis [MAT93].  In general, this attack has been
   considered impractical, but in 2002, a group at Universite Catholique
   de Louvain in Belgium built a DES cracker based on linear
   cryptanalysis which, employing a single FPGA, returns a DES key in
   12-15 hours [FPL02].

   While there are still some issues of practicality in terms of
   applying this attack in the real world (i.e. the required number of
   known plaintext-ciphertext pairs), this gives a glimpse of where
   technology is taking us with respect to DES attack capabilities.

7.2.  ASICs

   Application Specific Integrated Circuits are specialized chips,
   typically optimized for a particular set of operations (e.g.
   encryption).  There are a number of companies who are in the business
   of designing and selling cryptographic ASICs, and such chips can be
   had for as little as $15 each at the low end.  But while these chips
   are potentially much faster than FPGAs, they usually do not
   reprepesent a proportionally higher threat when it comes to DES-
   cracking system construction.

   The primary reason for this is cost: it currently costs more than
   $1,000,000 to produce an ASIC.  There is no legitimate market for
   crypto-cracking ASICs, so the number a manufacturer could expect to
   sell is small.  Likewise, a single attacker is not likely to require
   more than a few of these.  The bottom line: per-chip costs would be
   very high; when compared to the costs of FPGAs capable of similar
   performance, the FPGAs are clear winners.  This doesn't mean such
   ASICs have never been built, but the return is probably not worth the
   investment today, given the other available options.

7.3.  Distributed PCs

   Parallel processing is a powerful tool for conducting brute force
   attacks against a block cipher.  Since each key can be tested
   independently, the keyspace can easily be carved up and distributed
   across an arbitrary number of processors, all of which are running
   identical code.  A central "control" processor is required for
   distributing tasks and evaluating results, but this is
   straightforward to implement, and this paradigm has been applied to
   many computing problems.

   While the EFF demonstrated that a purpose-built system is far
   superior to general purpose PCs when applied to cracking DES, the
   DESCHALL effort [RSA1] aptly demonstrated that the idle cycles of
   every-day users' PCs could be efficiently applied to this problem.

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   As noted above, distributed.net teamed with the EFF group to solve
   the third RSA DES Challenge using a combination of PCs and the EFF's
   "Deep Crack" machine to find a DES key in 22 hours.  And that was
   using 1999 technologies.

   Clearly, PCs have improved dramatically since 1999.  At that time,
   state of the art desktops ran at around 800Mhz. Today, desktop PCs
   commonly run at 3-4 times that speed, and supporting technologies
   (memory, cache, storage) offer far higher performance as well.  Since
   the distributed.net effort used a broad spectrum of computers (from
   early 1990's desktops to state of the art (in 1999) multiprocessors,
   according to [DIST99]), it is difficult to do a direct comparison
   with today's technologies.  Still, we know that performance has in
   general followed the prediction of Moore's Law, so we should expect
   an improvement on the order of a factor of 8-16 by now, even with no
   algorithmic improvements

7.3.1.  Willing Participants

   It is important to note that the distributed.net efforts have relied
   upon willing participants.  That is, participants must explicitly and
   voluntarily join the effort.  It is equally important to note that
   only the idle cycles of the enrolled systems are used.  Depending on
   the way in which "idle" is defined, along with the user's habits and
   computing requirements, this could have a significant effect on the
   contribution level of a given system.

   These factors impose significant limitations in terms of scale.
   While distributed.net was able to enlist over 100,000 computers from
   around the world for the third RSA DES Challenge, this is actually a
   rather small number when compared to 2^56 (over 4 trillion) possible
   DES keys.  And when you consider the goal (i.e. to prove DES can be
   cracked), it seems reasonable to assume these same participants would
   not willingly offer up their compute cycles for a more nefarious use
   (like attacking the keys used to encrypt your online banking
   session).  Hence, this particular model does not appear to pose a
   significant threat to most uses of encryption today.  However, below
   we discuss a variation on this approach which does pose an immediate

7.3.2.  Spyware and Virii and Botnets (oh my!)

   "Spyware" is popular topic in security news feeds these days.  Most
   of these applications are intended to display context-sensitive
   advertisements to users, and some actually modify a user's web
   browsing experience, directing them to sites of the distributor's
   choice in an effort to generate revenue.  There are many names for
   this type of software, but for our purposes we will refer to it

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   simply as "spyware".  And while there are some instances in which
   rogue software actually does spy on hapless users and report things
   back to the issuer, we do not focus here on such distinctions.

   Indeed, what we are more interested in is the broader modality in
   which this software functions: it is typically installed without the
   explicit knowledge and/or understanding of the user, and typically
   runs without the user's knowledge, sometimes slowing the user's PC to
   a crawl.  One might note that such behavior seems quite surprising in
   view of the fact that displaying ads to users is actually a light-
   weight task, and wonder what this software is actually doing with all
   those compute cycles.

   Worms and viruses are also very interesting: like spyware, these are
   installed without the user's knowledge or consent, and they use the
   computer in ways the user would not voluntarily allow.  And unlike
   the spyware which is most common today, this malware usually contains
   explicit propagation technology by which it automatically spreads.
   It is not difficult to imagine where we are going with this: if you
   combine these techniques, forcible induction of user machines into an
   "army" of systems becomes possible.  In fact, this is being done

   Botnets [BOT05] represent a relatively recent phenomena.  Using well-
   know propagation techniques, malware is distributed across a range of
   systems, where it lies in wait for a trigger of some sort.  These
   "triggers" may be implemented through periodic polling of a
   centralized authority, the arrival of a particular date, or any of a
   large number of other events.  Upon triggering, the malware executes
   its task, which may involve paricipating in a Distributed Denial of
   Service (DDoS) attack, or it may involve some other (typically
   illegal) activity.

   Criminal groups are currently renting out botnets for various uses
   [CNN01].  While reported occurrences have typically involved using
   these rogue networks for DDoS attacks, we would be naive to think the
   system authors have not considered other uses (e.g. breaking
   encryption keys).  Botnets greatly mitigate the scaling problem faced
   by distributed.net, i.e. it is no longer a volunteer-only effort, and
   user activity no longer significantly impedes the application's
   progress.  This should give us pause.

   It is very important to clearly recognize the implications of this:
   botnets are cheap, and there are lots of PCs out there.  You don't
   need the $15,625 that we speculated above would be enough to build a
   copy of the EFF system today - you only need a commodity PC on which
   to develop the malware, and the requisite skills.  Or, you need
   access to someone with those things, and a relatively modest sum of

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   cash.  The game has changed dramatically.

8.  Why is DES Still Used?

   Obviously, DES is not secure by most measures - why is it still used
   today?  There are probably many reasons, but here are perhaps the
   most common:

   o  Backward compatibility - numerous deployed systems support DES,
      and rather than replace those systems, new systems are implemented
      with compatibility in mind

   o  Performance - many early VPN clients provided DES as the default
      cryptographic algorithm, because PCs of the day suffered a
      noticeable performance hit when applying stronger cryptography
      (e.g. 3DES).

   o  Ignorance - people simply do not understand that DES is no longer
      secure for most uses

   While there are probably other reasons, these are the most frequently

   Performance arguments are easily dispensed with today.  PC's have
   more than ample power to implement stronger cryptography with no
   noticeable performance impact, and for systems which are resource
   constrained, there are strong algorithms which are far better
   performers than DES (e.g.  AES-128).  And while backward
   compatibility is sometimes a valid argument, this must be weighed
   carefully.  At the point where the risk is higher than the cost of
   replacement, legacy systems should be abandoned.

   With respect to the third reason (ignorance), this document attempts
   to address this, and we should continue to make every effort to get
   the word out.  DES is not secure for most uses, and it requires
   significant security expertise to evaluate those small number of
   cases in which it might be acceptable.  Technologies exist which put
   DES cracking capability within reach of a modestly financed or
   modestly skilled motivated attacker.  There are stronger, cheaper,
   faster encryption algorithms available.  It is time to move on.

9.  Security Considerations

   This entire document deals with security considerations.  Still, it
   makes sense to summarize a few key points here.  It should be clear
   by now that the DES algorithm offers little deterrence to a

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   determined adversary.  While it might have cost $250,000 to build a
   dedicated DES cracker in 1998, nowadays it can be done for
   considerably less.  Indeed, botnets are arguably free, if you don't
   count the malware author's time in your cost computation.

   Does this mean DES should never be used?  Well, no - but it does mean
   that if it is used at all, it should be used with extreme care.  It
   is important to carefully evaluate the value of the information being
   protected, both to its owner and to an attacker, and to fully grasp
   the potential risks.  In some cases, DES may still provide an
   acceptable level of security, e.g. when you want to encrypt a file on
   the family PC, and there are no real threats in your household.

   However, it is important to be cognizant that in such cases, DES is
   much like a cheap suitcase lock: it usually helps honest people
   remain honest.  However, even this depends on the capabilities and
   motivation of those having access to your PC.  If you have a
   technically savvy teen who is very curious, it's not clear how safe
   this choice will turn out to be.

   Given that strong, more efficient cryptographic algorithms (e.g.
   AES) are available, it seems the only rational reason to continue
   using DES today is for compulsory backward compatibility.  In such
   cases if there is no plan for for gradually phasing out such
   products, then as a security implementer you can do the following:

   o  Recommend a phased upgrade appoach

   o  If possible, use 3DES rather than DES

   o  Replace keys before exceeding 2^32 blocks per key (to avoid
      various cryptanalytic attacks).

   o  If there is a user interface, make users aware of the fact that
      the cryptography in use is not _strong_, and for your particular
      application, make appropriate recommendations in this regard.

   The bottom line: it is simpler to not use this algorithm than it is
   to come up with narrow scenarios in which it might be okay.  If you
   have legacy systems relying on DES, it makes sense to begin phasing
   them out as soon as possible.

10.  IANA Considerations

   There are no protocol numbers defined by this document.

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11.  Acknowledgements

   The author gratefully acknowledges the contributions of Doug Whiting,
   Eric Rescorla, and Bob Baldwin.  Their reviews, comments, and advice
   immeasurably improved this note.  And of course, we all have the EFF
   and all those involved with the "Deep Crack", DESCHALL, and
   distributed.net efforts to thank for their pioneering research and
   implementations in this area.

12.  Informative References

   [AES]      "The Advanced Encryption Standard", November 2001, <http:/

   [AES-NSA]  "CNSS Policy No. 15, Fact Sheet No. 1", June 2003,

   [BIH93]    Biham, E. and A. Shamir, "Differential Cryptanalysis of
              the Data Encryption Standard", 1993.

   [BIH96]    Biham, E., "How to Forge DES-Encrypted Messages in 2^28
              Steps", 1999.

   [BIH96-2]  Biham, E. and A. Shamir, "A New Cryptanalytic Attack on
              DES", 1996.

   [BLAZ96]   Blaze, M., Diffie, W., Rivest, R., Schneier, B.,
              Shimomura, T., Thompson, E., and M. Wiener, "Minimal Key
              Lengths for Symmetric Ciphers to Provide Adequate
              Commercial Security", January 1996.

   [BOT05]    "Know Your Enemy: Tracking Botnets", March 2005,

   [CNN01]    News Report, CNN., "'Botnet' hacker pleads guilty",
              January 2006, <http://www.cnn.com/2006/TECH/internet/01/

   [DES]      "Data Encryption Standard", January 1977,

   [DH77]     Hellman, M. and W. Diffie, "Exhaustive Cryptanalysis of
              the NBS Data Encryption Standard", June 1977.

   [DIST99]   Press Release, distributed., "US GOVERNMENT'S ENCRYPTION
              STANDARD BROKEN IN LESS THAN A DAY", 1999,

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   [EFF98]    EFF, "Cracking DES", July 1998.

   [FBI01]    "NIPC Advisory 01-003", March 2001,

   [FBI06]    "FBI Webpage: Focus on Economic Espionage", January 2006,

   [FERG03]   Ferguson, N. and B. Schneier, "Practical Cryptography",

   [FPL02]    Koeune, F., Rouvroy, G., Standaert, F., Quisquater, J.,
              David, J., and J. Legat, "An FPGA Implementation of the
              Linear Cryptanalysis", 2002, <www.dice.ucl.ac.be/crypto/

   [HAC]      Menezes, A., van Oorschot, P., and S. Vanstone, "Handbook
              of Applied Cryptography", 1997.

   [JAK97]    Jakobsen, T. and L. Knudsen, "The Interpolation Attack on
              Block Ciphers", 1997.

   [MAT93]    Matsui, M., "Linear Cryptanalysis Method for DES Cipher",

   [NIST-TP]  "DES Transition Plan", May 2005,

   [RSA1]     Press Release, RSA., "Team of Universities, Companies and
              Individual Computer Users Linked Over the Internet Crack
              RSA's 56-Bit DES Challenge", 1997, <http://

   [RSA2]     Press Release, RSA., "RSA to Launch "DES Challenge II" at
              Data Security Conference", 1998, <http://

   [RSA3]     Press Release, RSA., "Distributed Team Collaborates to
              Solve Secret-Key Challenge", 1998, <http://

   [RSA4]     Press Release, RSA., "RSA to Launch DES Challenge III
              Contest at 1999 Data Security Conference", 1998, <http://

   [RSA5]     Press Release, RSA., "RSA Code-Breaking Contest Again Won
              by Distributed.Net and Electronic Frontier Foundation",
              1999, <http://www.rsasecurity.com/

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   [SCHN96]   Schneier, B., "Applied Cryptography, Second Ed.", 1996.

   [WIEN94]   Wiener, M., "Efficient DES Key Search", August 1993.

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Author's Address

   Scott G. Kelly
   Talari Networks
   150 W. Iowa Ave Ste 208
   Sunnyvale, CA  94086

   Email: scott@hyperthought.com

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