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Brute Force: Cracking the Data Encryption Standard [Hardcover]

Matt Curtin
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 17, 2005 0387201092 978-0387201092 2005

In 1996, the supposedly uncrackable US federal encryption system was broken. In this captivating and intriguing book, Matt Curtin charts the rise and fall of DES and chronicles the efforts of those who were determined to master it.

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Editorial Reviews


From the reviews:

An excellent story about the thousands of volunteers who battled to prove that the aging standard for date encryption was too weak and to wrestle strong cryptography from the control of the U.S. government...It is a worthy book for almost anyone who has a computer.

-Louis Kruh, Cryptologia, Volume 30, 2006

Brute Force is about as entertaining a read as you will get on cryptography. It provides a detailed account of how DES was taken down and is an interesting read for any student of cryptography and the crypto wars of the 1990s.

-Ben Rothke,, September 2005

Matt Curtin was right at the heart of the Deschall cracking effort, and his book is excellent in describing the day-to-day progress towards the goal...

-Richard Clayton, Times Higher Education Supplement (U.K.), October 2005

"This book is an exciting popular account of an important event nearly ten years ago in the social history of cryptography. … The book is written to tell the story of how the DESCHALL (Des challenge) project came together, to encourage interest in cryptography amongst the young and to make the subject more accessible to people. It would seem to be successful on all counts." (P. D. F. Ion, Mathematical Reviews, Issue 2006 j)

"DESCHALL’s goal was to search through 72 quadrillion keys to demonstrate the feasibility of a brute force attack on DES … . Curtin starts with the genesis of DES … . he manages to keep interest alive with a taut but lively prose, a focus on the human element of the story … . the non-technical reader will appreciate the evocative similes … . Perhaps most intriguing in Curtin’s narrative are … the human and social aspect of divvying up the workload … ." (Daniel Bilar, MathDL, November, 2005)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 292 pages
  • Publisher: Copernicus; 2005 edition (March 17, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0387201092
  • ISBN-13: 978-0387201092
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,578,068 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Matt Curtin is the founder of Interhack Corporation, a forensic computing and information assurance professional services firm based in Columbus, Ohio, as well as a Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at The Ohio State University. He is a frequent lecturer on computing and security as well as the author of 'Brute Force: Cracking the Data Encryption Standard' (Copernicus Books, 2005) and 'Developing Trust: Online Privacy and Security' (Apress, 2001).

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great story of the life and death of DES October 2, 2005
Brute Force: Cracking the Data Encryption Standard is the story of the life and death of DES (data encryption standard). In the early 1970s, the U.S. government put out an open call for a new, stronger encryption algorithm that would be made into a federal standard, known as FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standard.). Numerous solutions were submitted as the DES candidate, including one from IBM. The IBM solution, originally called Lucifer, was chosen to be used as the encryption algorithm. After that, it became known as DES.

DES is the most widely used method of symmetric data encryption ever created. Its 56-bit key size means that there are roughly 72,000,000,000,000,000 (72 quadrillion) possible encryption keys for any given message. DES was always considered a strong encryption method, but strength is relative.

The strength of an encryption system is measured by how resilient it is against attack. From the outset, it was known that DES was susceptible to brute force attacks. A brute force attack, also known as an exhaustive search is an attack against a cryptosystem in which all possible values for the key are attempted - the bigger the key, the more difficult the attack.

It must be remembered that DES was developed long before desktop computers, so the feasibility of a computer that could perform a brute force attack against DES was rendered so expensive and infeasible that the 56-bit key space (in a 64-bit block) of DES was considered strong enough. In reality, Lucifer actually had an original design of a 128-bit block size and 112-bit key size, but politics got in the way, and DES was created in a crippled state from the onset.

By 1997, DES was cracked, and the start of its downfall had commenced.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
When approached by the author as to whether I was interested in reading Brute Force, I was-- with some reservations. It has been a while since I hung up my tech strategy hat to go work in the non-IT world. Also, even though I'm reasonably technical, I'm a long way from a Cypherpunk. I was a little concern that it would get too technical for me to really appreciate.

To be honest, I was also curious whether there was enough material about DESCHALL to really warrant a full book. I had been aware of the crack when it happened, and had honestly not looked much further than the "brute force. took several months. ho hum." attitude that the press seemed to be applying to the story.

I am pleased to say that I was wrong to be worried on both counts.

First of all, Curtin is a blessedly clear writer. As he covers topics which are cryptography specific, he explains them. Furthermore, he explains them using simple language so that I had no problem understanding. You do not need to be a cryptographer to read this book.

Second, there apparently is enough material for a full book. Curtin manages to set up a really interesting story that is fully placed in a political and social context. Bonus because he does that without rehashing ground that has been covered about PGP and Zimmerman in other books. I found myself really interested in the DESCHALL efforts. It was particularly interesting to start drawing the analogy with later distributed computing efforts that were essentially tested with this effort.

The foreward by Gilmore was fun enough-- but then, I like his writing and I really like the EFF.

I would recommend this book for someone interested in the history of computing, or for someone with a special interest in security issues.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Matt Curtin has written a fascinating book that courses through the history of cryptography, the power of social networks and the Internet to bring them into being, conquering a technological challenge through altruistic cooperation, the competitive spirit, the government's desire to intrude on its citizen's privacy and battle against government in behalf of individual freedom. It sounds like a lot and it is --- but Curtin is blessed with the ability to write in plain English, thus rendering even the most esoteric technology understandable.

The central story revolves around DES, a 56-bit Data Encryption Standard, adopted by the U.S. government in the early 1980s. Proponents argued that DES was unbreakable because there were 76 quadrillion possible keys. Curtin does a masterful job of providing a brief, but thorough history of cryptography through the ages. He deserves an accolade for this. Cryptography is not simple subject and many writers on the subject presume the reader already knows cryptography. Curtin doesn't make this mistake.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, technologists and civil libertarians became increasingly concerned that 56-bit DES wasn't secure enough; that it could be defeated and supposedly confidential data compromised. At the same time, the Clinton administration had banned the export of powerful encryption technology hurting businesses and was demanding that all producers of cryptographic systems provide the government with a key, literally a backdoor, so the government at its whim could access encrypted data. The Clinton White House, of course, claimed that law enforcement needed these powers to protect children from pornography, fight terrorism and the war on drugs.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars great story
Really enjoyed this read!

3 words: geopolitical, cybersecurity, historical record

The author keeps you engaged, revealing bit by bit (ha! Read more
Published on June 27, 2012 by falmvtex
5.0 out of 5 stars Several timeless lessons about advances in computing technology
There are several very significant lessons in this book that describes the effort to crack a 56-bit Digital Encryption Standard (DES) message. Read more
Published on March 16, 2009 by Charles Ashbacher
3.0 out of 5 stars If you've already...
If you've already looked up cryptography and/or DES in several encyclopedias (i.e. Britannica, Wiki, Google... Read more
Published on April 11, 2007 by Asan
4.0 out of 5 stars Chronicle of a Distributed Computing Project
This book chronicles the history of how the DESCHALL team won the RSA Data Security, Inc.'s contest to crack a message encrypted with 56-bit cryptography. Read more
Published on June 9, 2006 by Erika Mitchell
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary book, manages to explain complex concepts in simple...
In 1997 Matt Curtin along with a small team of like minded white-hat hackers set out to prove that the security encryption standard DES, (Data Encryption Standard) was no longer... Read more
Published on June 6, 2006 by A. Woodley
5.0 out of 5 stars There's nothing brutal about it
This is a complex book, touching on topics in technology, civil liberties, volunteerism and cooperation, and the profound gap between what lawmakers and computer programmers are... Read more
Published on May 25, 2006 by wiredweird
5.0 out of 5 stars About DES, government policy and power of the people
A detailed and readable story of how people armed with knowledge and technology can work and win together. In 1997 the U.S. Read more
Published on April 8, 2006 by Ed
4.0 out of 5 stars meet some cryptographers
Curtin gives us a peek into how cryptographers work. He describes the DES, which stood for over 10 years as the definitive method for encrypting data. Read more
Published on August 6, 2005 by W Boudville
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