One of the potential encryption algorithms that was a serious candidate to be used in the quantum computing world has been defeated worryingly simply.

The algorithm in question is called SIKE (Supersingular Isogeny Key Encapsulation), and made it through the encryption algorithm competition set up by the US Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). In other words, it came quite close to becoming the standard encryption algorithm in a quantum computing world.

However, it took researchers roughly an hour to break through it and steal encryption keys, using nothing but a single-core PC, and the power of mathematics.

Attacking the math
Even though SIKE did quite well during the government’s analysis, researchers with the Computer Security and Industrial Cryptography group (CSIS) at KU Leuven needed roughly an hour to obtain the encryption key.

The report says that they did not try to find a flaw in the code, but instead attacked the very math that makes up the algorithm, Supersingular Isogeny Diffie-Hellman (SIDH). The algorithm, the researchers explain, is vulnerable to the “glue-and-split” theorem, with the attack using genus 2 curves, to attack genus 1 curves.

“The newly uncovered weakness is clearly a major blow to SIKE,” confirmed SIKE co-inventor David Jao, a professor at the University of Waterloo.

For their efforts, Microsoft awarded the researchers, which published their findings in the paper titled “An efficient key recovery attack on SIDH (Preliminary version)”, with $50,000.

SIKE was one of four algorithms with the potential to replace the ones currently in use: RSA, Diffie-Hellman, and elliptic curve Diffie-Hellman, the publication claims. Despite their perceived strength, they can be easily cracked once quantum computers take off. And given that these devices are expected to hit the mainstream by the end of the decade, the time to find a replacement for the algorithms is now.

Quantum computers are infinitely more powerful than today’s best devices, and have the ability to break through today’s toughest encryption algorithms. That prompted governments and scientists around the world to come up with a solution.

Via: Tom’s Hardware (opens in new tab)