ComputerWorld coverage of ECC crack

Rohit Khare (
Tue, 28 Sep 1999 12:17:04 -0700
(Online News, 09/28/99 12:00 PM)

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 [12]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 [13]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
full year.

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."