- Hardcover: 292 pages
- Publisher: Copernicus; 2005 edition (February 16, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0387201092
- ISBN-13: 978-0387201092
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,717,480 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Brute Force: Cracking the Data Encryption Standard 2005th Edition
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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, UnixReview.com, 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)
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Top customer reviews
3 words: geopolitical, cybersecurity, historical record
The author keeps you engaged, revealing bit by bit (ha!) the history of DES and the movement to change it to a more advanced data encryption standard. The cast of characters is great (like Sun, Macinstosh, MIT, and countless computer science dept at major universities) and their are kernels of insight and wisdom about computer architecture throughout.
4 stars because the writing style seemed overtly dramatic and for a serious computer professional (of which I am not!), one may feel like there is too much fluff.
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. Brute Force: Cracking the Data Encryption Standard is a firsthand account of how DES was broken. Author Matt Curtin was a member of the DESCHALL team, which was created in response to the RSA Security Inc. RSA Secret Key Challenge. The challenge was to break a DES-encrypted message.
Brute Force comprises two interrelated parts. Part 1 is a short overview of cryptography and encryption. It also details how Curtin first became interested in cryptography in the Bexley, Ohio, public library. Part 1 sets the groundwork for the main subject matter of the book, which is Curtin's diary of how DES was broken via DESCHALL.
The unofficial mantra of DESCHALL was that friends didn't let friends have idle computers. DESCHALL was led by Curtin, Rocke Verser, Matt Curtin, and Justin Dolske, and used an Internet-based distributed computing infrastructure. Since brute force attacks are naturally suited to distributed computing, it made for a perfect testing ground to break DES.
Part 2 details the ups and downs of the project. Designing a software system to crunch up to 72 quadrillion is not a easy task, combined with key server crashes, competitive foreign groups, and the U.S. government on your back, made the travails of DESCHALL a challenging endeavor. The success of DESCHALL was to get as many hosts involved as possible. Given the fact that the CPUs of most computers sit idle for most of their lives, such CPUs were of extreme value to DESCHALL.
While Brute Force can be dry at times (remember, this is a book about cryptography), it does have its humorous moments. Much of DESCHALL occurred in the summer of 1997, and many universities had powerful computers that would sit idle all summer. DESCHALL members attempted to harness that power and were astounded when the computer lab manager of Yale University refused to allow the labs computer to run DESCHALL client software. He stated that the computers had the newest processors in them and that he did not want to wear them out. Furthermore, the lab manager thought that running DESCHALL software would void the warranty with the computer manufacturer due to the undue strain it would place on the processor.
The DESCHALL team was victorious in June 1997 when they finally cracked the RSA Secret Key Challenge after processing about 25% of the 72 quadrillion keys. The message was encrypted with the appropriate message "Strong Cryptography Makes the World a Safer Place". DESCHALL succeeding in starting the beginning of the end of DES, which has since been replaced by the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES).
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 a interesting read for any student of cryptography and the crypto wars of the 1990s.
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. Some computer background helps, but you do not need to be a specialist to read and enjoy the book. Truthfully, the book is closer to 4 and a half stars than five-- but Curtin gets some extra credit for all the ways that he could have made it unreadable, but did not.