Cruising the stacks and finding stuff

Allen netsecurity at
Fri Apr 18 23:02:28 EDT 2008

[Moderator's note: I think Allen's math is rather seriously off here,
but I'll let other people address that --Perry]

Hi gang,

Back in the old days when there were public stacks in the San 
Francisco Library I used to love to just wander and see what came 
to hand. In the early days of the net there was Archie and Gopher 
and they were great fun. The search engines took some of the 
randomness out of that kind of stack searching so I found Peter's 
reference to very nostalgic and 
spent a bit of time wandering around to find, by chance, where they are talking about 
cracking A5/1 GSM in middling real time at about ~7 hours using 
only 64 bits of the stream.

They were doing it using hardware costing less than a few grand, 
I'd guess, given that the core chips are 120 Xilinx 
Spartan3-XC3S1000 FPGAs at a cost of about $10/each. It isn't 
hard to imagine that a three letter agency is reading A5/1 in 
near to real time after a burp to kick start the decryption.

Granted A5/1 is known to be very weak, but how much weaker than 
AES-128? Ten orders of magnitude? I haven't a clue and can't find 
any estimate to compare AES-128 with A5/1 so I'll just use that 
10 orders as a stake in the sand. Next, let's assume that the 
machine, COPACOBANA, cost $10K. Assume non-linear speed 
improvements with more chips so 10 times the size is only 6 times 
as fast. Assuming these metrics then a machine costing ~$10M 
would take ~2 minutes to start spitting out the decrypted stream.

Add Moore's Law, a bigger budget and a more efficient machine, 
how long before AES-128 can be decoded in less than a day?

It does make one ponder.

May your nightmares never survive sunrise,


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