A Dispatch from the Crypto Wars (Review of Matt Curtin, Brute Force: Cracking The Data Encryption Standard (2005))
2 I/S: J. of L. & Pol. for the Info. Soc'y 345 (2006)
20 Pages Posted: 16 Jan 2016
Date Written: 2006
Matt Curtin's Brute Force is a primarily personal account of one early effort to harness the power of distributed computing. In 1997, Mr. Curtin and other members of the DESCHALL (DES Challenge) project built, distributed, and managed software that united thousands of computers, many of them ordinary personal computers, in the search for a single decryption key among 72 quadrillion possibilities. The DESCHALL project sought to demonstrate that DES, then the U.S. national standard encryption algorithm, was no longer as secure as advertised. While Brute Force also offers some background on encryption regulation, export control policy, and other aspect of the Crypto Wars, it succeeds best as an almost diaristic account of the technical and organizational challenges at the heart of one of the earliest large- scale widely dispersed volunteer computing projects. The DES cracking project chronicled in Brute Force exemplifies the interplay between technology and politics. More importantly, Brute Force reminds us that although we survived one round of the Crypto Wars without actual controls on the use of cryptography, and indeed with some substantial relaxation of the export control regime that stood in the way of the routine adoption of strong crypto in many types of software, that result was not inevitable – and might again come under threat.
Keywords: cryptography, crypto wars, cyberlaw
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