Global team cracks crypto challenge
By Stacy Collett
An Irish mathematician and his team have cracked the seventh and
toughest encryption problem as part of a challenge by Canadian
firm 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 MIPSyear is the computing power of one
system that can crunch a million instructions per second running for a
The team concluded that the elliptic curve encryption was tougher to
crack, but debate continues within the security community on the
Certicom launched a series of increasingly difficult cryptography
problems in November 1997 with prizes worth up to $100,000. 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."