April 10, 2001 11:10 AM PDT

Encryption gurus praise government

SAN FRANCISCO--The government finally did something right.

That seemed to be the common theme at the RSA Data Security Conference on Monday afternoon with encryption experts praising the U.S. government's selection of an Advanced Encryption Standard, or AES.

"I would like to say that after all this time that people bashed the government, it's nice that they did something right for once," said Adi Shamir, a professor in the applied mathematics department of Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science and the "S" in RSA, a popular encryption algorithm.

Shamir and six other crypto gurus shared the stage to reveal their thoughts on the past and future of encryption in a panel discussion held at the conference here.

At the top of the list of past successes: The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology's selection last summer of the Rijndael Algorithm as the AES, or the standard way to encrypt government content in the future.

"AES is a great algorithm," said Paul Kocher, president of Cryptography Research and co-founder of ValiCert. "If the only thing I had to worry about is someone breaking AES, that would be great."

The crypto experts went so far as to give the NIST selection committee the annual RSA Public Policy award.

Whitfield Diffie, who many consider the father of public-key cryptography and who has an algorithm named after him, said the last year was a turning point for encryption.

"The process of convincing people and the government has gone really slowly, but in the last year it seems to have finally come to fruition," said Diffie, who holds tenure at Sun Microsystems as a "distinguished" engineer.

At the same time, he added, the government has a way to go and public policy is behind the curve.

"You still have a set of regulations that reminds me that the generals are always trying to fight the last war."

 

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