Multinational team cracks crypto puzzle

Mathematicians from Europe and North America use 100 workstations to solve RSA Security's latest challenge--and win $10,000.

RSA Security on Tuesday said that over three months of consistent effort helped a team of mathematicians from Europe and North America solve the company's latest encryption puzzle.

The multinational team of eight experts used about 100 workstations to crack the code that won them a $10,000 prize.

The contestants' task was to determine the two prime numbers that have been used to generate eight "challenge" numbers, which are central to RSA?s 576-bit encryption code.

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RSA's contest is designed to help test the robustness of the lengthy algorithms used for electronic security. The competition is intended to encourage research into computational number theory and the practical difficulty of factoring large integers.

"The information received during these challenges is a valuable resource to the cryptographic community and can be helpful for organizations in choosing appropriate cryptographic measures for a desired level of security," said Burt Kaliski, chief scientist and director at the RSA Laboratories.

RSA-576 is a smaller-scale example of the types of cryptographic keys that are recommended for securing Internet and wireless transactions. Typical keys are at least 1,024 bits (310 decimal digits); RSA-576 is 576 bits (174 decimal digits). Larger numbers are considered to provide significantly greater security. The next challenge number in the series is RSA-640.

The experts involved in the project represented two German research groups, the Scientific Computing Institute and the Pure Mathematics Institute, and one from the Netherlands, the National Research Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science. Number theorists from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom also participated.

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