The encryption systems that provide security for banking transactions and other critical Internet communications could be rendered ineffective within the next few years. The culprit: advances in theoretical mathematics. New work by mathematicians could end up allowing hackers to easily break encryption techniques that until now have been regarded as all but unbreakable.
Encryption, or coded messages, have been used for highly confidential communications since ancient times. But the use of encryption has skyrocketed in the Internet age.
The sheer volume of traffic, including confidential traffic, has increased enormously. Moreover, while traditional mail had to be physically intercepted before any attempt to read it, the structure of the Internet makes it much easier to intercept raw message packets. Thus the need to protect sensitive information by encrypting it before sending it online.
And as Stamos notes, breaking these encryption systems could lead to "a total failure of trust on the Internet." These systems are used not only to protect banking data and other sensitive messages, but also to validate automatic updates downloaded by operating systems such as Windows and OSX.
These encryption systems rely on a set of mathematical relationships called the discrete logarithm problem, which are regarded as extremely difficult to solve. Without the key, decrypting messages protected by these systems currently requires enormous computational power, and plenty of time.
But earlier this year a French academic math journal published a pair of articles suggesting that these problems could be solved much more easily than mathematicians previously thought. Moreover, the techniques build on existing methods. If the new theoretical work pans out in a full development, hackers could implement it within days.
Other encryption systems are available that are less vulnerable to the new forms of attack. And encryption by itself is not a complete security solution. Let GRT Corporation show you how to implement holistic, layered security for maximum protection of confidential information.