Competition for new encryption technology
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the USA announced a competition in 2016, calling on developers to submit proposals for new, quantum-resistant encryption standards. The proposed algorithms are expected to resist cyber attacks launched from quantum computers. The NIST has made them publicly accessible to be attacked in order to test their security levels. NIST standards are generally adopted by companies and online services because they are regarded as highly secure.
Of the 69 first-round submissions, 26 made it to the second round and seven reached the final. Shortly before the NIST planned to announce winners, however, four of the finalists came under heavy attack. One of the algorithms actually had to be withdrawn after being defeated within two days by a standard laptop. The vulnerabilities of the remaining candidates were adapted sufficiently for them to remain in the competition.
Despite the many submissions, very few algorithms made it through the knock-out rounds. This shows the importance of standardizing processes that are based on different mathematical problems. This will make it possible to substitute encryption methods if vulnerabilities are identified later.
In the spring of this year the NIST called for submissions of further algorithms. Antonia Wachter-Zeh, a Professor of Coding and Cryptography at TUM, has worked with her team and another research group at TUM and researchers from Universita Politecnica delle Marche in Italy to develop two algorithms based on digital signature schemes. Digital signatures are like an electronic “fingerprint” that ensures that data originate with the expected sender and have not been changed en route.
“There is an urgent need to explore new encryption procedures if we still want our data to be secure a few years from now. We also want to make sure that people cannot decrypt the information that we are sending today,” says Wachter-Zeh.