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RSA brushes off crypto research findings that RSA algorithm is flawed

Plus, researcher Dan Kaminsky expresses skepticism about study conclusions

By , Network World
February 16, 2012 06:07 PM ET

Network World - After having its flagship RSA crypto system called flawed this week by prominent researchers in a paper they made available online, EMC's RSA security division struck back by saying the paper's results don't indicate a fundamental flaw in the RSA algorithm but more likely a problem with implementing it.

"On Feb. 14th, a research paper was submitted for publication stating that an alleged flaw has been found in the RSA encryption algorithm," RSA said Thursday in a statement. "Our analysis confirms to us that the data does not point to a flaw in the algorithm, but instead points to the importance of proper implementation, especially regarding the exploding number of embedded devices that are connected to the Internet today."

UPDATE: Crypto researcher Arjen Lenstra shares thoughts on paper blasting RSA cryptosystem

Ari Juels, chief scientist for RSA, told Network World that "the study is useful" as it pertains to the "failures of crypto protocols during random-number generation." But he faults its core idea that the RSA algorithm is somehow fundamentally flawed.

"I'd say all cryptography relies on good true random-number generation. And when that goes wrong, the protocol breaks," Juels says. He faults the conclusions of the paper that there was something intrinsically wrong with the RSA algorithm. The paper might have found that the RSA algorithm "might be a little less robust than another one," but "it's obviously not a problem with the RSA algorithm, it's the way the keys were generated."

He said this is not an issue that goes unrecognized today in industry, and Intel is in fact building a fast random-number generator in its upcoming Ivy Bridge chip.

RSA was not apprised of the paper before it appeared online.

In its formal statement, RSA did not dispute specifics in the paper, which was authored by Arjen Lenstra, James Hughes, Maxime Augier, Joppe Bos, Thorsten Kleinjung and Christophe Wachter. The paper sought to look at the security tied to millions of public X.509 certificates that they collected across the web. Based on the data they collected, they concluded "1,024-bit RSA provides 99.8% security at best."

BACKGROUND: Crypto experts analyze millions of X.509 certificates, call RSA crypto flawed

The research group of cryptographers said they collected 6.4 million distinct X.509 certificates and PGP keys containing RSA moduli, and in analyzing their enormous cache, found duplicate RSA-moduli keys about 1% of the time.

"More seriously, we stumbled upon 12,720 different 1,024-bit RSA moduli that offer no security," the researchers said in their paper, which is titled "Ron was wrong, Whit was right" a reference to Ron Rivest, co-inventor of the RSA algorithm, and noted cryptographer Whitfield Diffie. The paper leveled a devastating critique against RSA as fundamentally flawed.

In its retort against the researchers' paper, RSA said, "We welcome this form of research" because it "contributes to better overall security for everyone," but emphasized "the RSA algorithm has withstood such scrutiny for decades from multiple sources."

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