Global team cracks crypto challenge

An Irish mathematician and his team have cracked the seventh and toughest encryption problem as part of a challenge by Canadian company Certicom Corp to prove that one type of encryption is tougher to break than another.

The challenge involved 97-bit elliptic curve cryptography vs 512-bit RSA (Rivest-Sharmir-Adleman), a more common encryption method.

The solution was discovered by 195 volunteers in 20 countries after 40 days of calculations on 740 computers, Irish mathematician Robert Harley said in a statement. Solving the problem used approximately 16,000 Mips-years of computing, twice as much as solving a 512-bit RSA problem, officials said. One Mips-year is the computing power of one system that can crunch a million instructions per second running for a full year.

The team concluded that the elliptic curve encryption was tougher to crack, but debate continues within the security community on the issue.

Certicom launched a series of increasingly difficult cryptography problems in November 1997 with prizes worth as much as $US100,000. Andrew Odlyzko, head of mathematics and cryptography research at AT&T Labs, said the test "demonstrates the need to keep increasing cryptographic key sizes to protect against growing threats".

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