SHA-3 encryption contest winner selected

A five-year long competition hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology to establish a new encryption algorithm has come to a close. The Keccak algorithm has been selected ahead of 63 other entries that were submitted in 2007, and the NIST commended Keccak for its performance on a variety of devices and platforms. In addition, the NIST noted that it exhibited higher overall performance than any of the other four finalists.

"The clarity of Keccak’s construction lends itself to easy analysis (during the competition all submitted algorithms were made available for public examination and criticism), and Keccak has higher performance in hardware implementations than SHA-2 or any of the other finalists," NIST wrote.

Although the new hash function is an improvement of the previous standard, NIST computer security expert Tim Polk stressed that SHA-2 is still a viable option. However, Keccak will be able to serve as a safeguard in the event that the older algorithm is compromised.

"Keccak has the added advantage of not being vulnerable in the same ways SHA-2 might be,” Polk said. “An attack that could work on SHA-2 most likely would not work on Keccak because the two algorithms are designed so differently."

Computer security expert Bruce Schneier, one of the competition's other finalists, originally said he had hoped for no award to be given. He wrote in his blog that none of the potential SHA-3 algorithms exhibited enough of an improvement to warrant a change in standard. Despite those initial criticisms, Schneier noted that the contest in general provided value in another way.

"Congratulations to the Keccak team. Congratulations - and thank you - to NIST for running a very professional, interesting, and enjoyable competition," Schneier wrote. "The process has increased our understanding about the cryptanalysis of hash functions by a lot."

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