Encryption Policy and Market Trends

Dorothy E. Denning

May 17, 1997

Copyright � 1997 Dorothy E. Denning

This paper reviews encryption policy and market trends and the driving forces behind them. Focus is the use of encryption for confidentiality protection, as this has been the area of greatest controversy. Emphasis is also on U.S. policy, although major developments outside the U.S. are briefly summarized.

Driving Forces

The driving forces behind encryption policy and technology are served by two opposing functions: code making and code breaking.

Code Making

The term “code making” is used here loosly to to refer to the use as well as development of encryption products. Code making serves several purposes, including:

  1. Protecting proprietary information from corporate and economic espionage. This includes protecting communications from eavesdroppers and protecting stored data (documents, e- mail messages, databases, etc.) from insiders and outsiders who gain unauthorized access.
  2. Protecting individual privacy, including private communications and personal records.
  3. Protecting military and diplomatic secrets from foreign espionage, and information relating to criminal and terrorist investigations from those being investigated.
  4. Preventing crimes which might be facilitated by eavesdropping. For example, after intercepting a password to a system, an intruder might log into the system and perform a fraudulent financial transaction, delete files, or plant a virus. Or, after intercepting a credit card number, the perpetrator might make illegal purchases against the cardholder’s account.
  5. Selling encryption products and services.
  6. Pursuing the intellectual aspects of code making and advancing the state of the field.

The stakeholders include corporations as users and vendors, government agencies, academics, hobbyists, and other organizations and individuals as users. The underlying goals are both economic and social. They include information security, economic strength at the corporate and national level, national security, public safety, crime prevention, privacy, and academic freedom.

Although needs vary, users generally want strong, robust encryption that is easy to use and maintain. They want encryption to be integrated into their application and networking environments. They want products they can trust, and they want communications products to interoperate globally so that their international communications are protected from foreign governments and competitors. The encryption, however, must be cost effective. Users are not willing to pay more for encryption, both in terms of direct expenditures and overhead costs, than needed to balance the perceived threat.

Manufacturers want to be able to build products at the lowest possible cost, unencumbered by government regulations. They seek cost-effective methods for building encryption into their products and policies that permit sales of their products in as broad a market as possible. Academics, researchers, and hobbyists want to study encryption without constraints on what they can do, what they can publish, and whom they can teach. They wish to contribute to the knowledge base on cryptography.

Code Breaking

The term “code breaking” is also used here loosely, in this case to mean acquiring access to the plaintext of encrypted data by some means other than the normal decryption process used by the intended recipient(s) of the data. Code breaking is achieved either by obtaining the decryption key through a special key recovery service or by finding the key through cryptanalysis (e.g., brute force search). It can be employed by the owner of encrypted data when the decryption key has been lost or damaged, or by an adversary or some other person who was never intended to have access. The objectives of code breaking are complimentary to those of code making and include:

  1. Protecting corporate information from loss in case the decryption keys are lost or damaged. From a corporate perspective, losing access to valuable information can be just as serious as losing control over who has access to it. Corporate interest in code breaking applies primarily to stored data, but there is some interest in being able to tap into communications when an employee is under investigation for wrongful acts.

  2. Protecting personal records from loss of keys.

  3. Acquiring the military and diplomatic secrets of foreign governments, particularly rogue governments.

  4. Conducting lawful communications intercepts (wiretaps) and searches of computer files in criminal and terrorist investigations, including investigations of corporate espionage, fraud, and other economic crimes, many of which are now transnational. These crimes can harm individual companies, or worse, the economic stability of nations. Evidence obtained through wiretaps and searches is among the most valuable because it captures the subject's own words. In some cases, intercepted communications provide intelligence in advance of a criminal or terrorist act so that the act can be averted.

  5. Selling code breaking products and services to the owners of data and governments.

  6. Pursuing the intellectual aspects of code breaking, including participation in large-scale demonstration projects.

  7. Testing whether one's own codes are strong. It is not possible to develop good products without a thorough understanding of code breaking.

As with code making, the stakeholders include corporations as users and vendors, government agencies, academics, hobbyists, and other organizations and individuals as users. The underlying goals are also similar: information security, economic strength at the corporate and national level, national security, public safety, crime prevention and investigation, privacy, and academic freedom. Although code breaking is normally considered antithetical to privacy, in some situations it is not, for example when it uncovers a plan to kidnap, abduct, molest, or take hostage innocent persons -- acts which completely destroy the privacy of their victims.

The above shows that national interests, including those of corporations, government agencies, and individual citizens, are served by both code making and code breaking efforts. At the same time, these interests are threatened by the code making and code breaking activities of adversaries. Hence, encryption policy must deal with opposing capabilities and objectives. This is what makes it so difficult. Although the dilemma is often characterized as one of governments vs. corporations and citizens, or of national security and law enforcement against security, privacy, and economic competitiveness as illustrated in Figure 1, the actual dilemma is considerably more complex. It is how to effectively serve national, corporate, and individual interests in both code making and code breaking. Figure 2 illustrates.

Many countries, including the United States, have historically approached encryption policy by regulating exports of encryption technology [1] but not their import and use (some countries, including France, Israel, China, and Russia, have also regulated these functions). This made sense given that most code breaking efforts were performed by governments against foreign governments. Encryption was seldom used domestically, so there was little need for governments or corporations to break domestic codes. However, the growth of telecommunications and electronic commerce has changed all that. Use of encryption, both internationally and domestically, is skyrocketing. There are now strong reasons for corporations and governments to break domestic codes in limited circumstances, and for manufacturers to sell strong encryption products internationally in support of global electronic commerce. These changes demand a new approach to encryption policy.

Market Trends

Global Proliferation

Encryption is spreading worldwide. As of December 1996, Trusted Information Systems of Glenwood, Maryland, identified 1393 encryption products worldwide produced and distributed by 862 companies in at least 68 countries [2]. Of these, 823 (56%) are produced in the U.S. The remaining 570 (44%) are produced in 28 different countries. Implementations are in hardware, software, firmware, or some combination. Hardware products include smart cards and PCMCIA cards, which are used for user authentication, encryption, and digital signatures. Almost half (44%) of the products implement the Data Encryption Standard (DES). Although the number of product instances in the field is unknown, at their annual conference in January 1997, RSA Data Security, Inc. reported that they expected the number of RSA crypto engines to surpass 100 million in the first quarter of 1997.

Software encryption is also spreading through the Internet and other computer networks. It can be freely downloaded by anyone from international sites which do not control exports. One web site contains links for all the algorithms in Bruce Schneier's book, Applied Cryptography [3]. The widespread use of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), an e-mail and file encryption program developed in the United States, is due in part to its worldwide availability on the Internet (despite U.S. export controls).

While encryption software currently accounts for only about 1-3% of the total software market, the market is beginning to expand exponentially with the development of electronic commerce, public networks, and distributed processing [4]. Also, whereas the majority (75%) of general-purpose software products available on foreign markets are of U.S. origin, this is generally not the case with encryption software, where the markets tend to be more national (see Table 1).

The use of encryption is expected to rise rapidly. Based on a survey of 1600 U.S. business users, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Telecommunications Task Force estimated that 17% of companies used encryption for confidentiality in 1995. They projected an annual growth rate of 29%, which would bring this figure to 60% by the year 2000. The 1996 Ernst & Young and Information Week annual security survey of 1300 information security managers found that 26% used file encryption, 17% telecommunications encryption, and 6% public-key cryptography [5].

The use of encryption on the World Wide Web is still quite low. A report released in December, 1996 showed that of the 648,613 publicly visible web sites, only 10% offered SSL encryption (see next section) to protect web communications and only 5% of those offered third-party certificates for strong authentication [6].

As encryption is coming into greater use, law enforcement agencies are encountering it more often in criminal and terrorist investigations. The Computer Analysis and Response Team at FBI Headquarter reported that the number of cases they handled involving encryption increased from 2% of 350 cases in 1994 to 5-6% of 500 cases in 1996. This is a fourfold increase over the two-year period.

Application and Network Integration

Encryption is being integrated into software applications, including word processors, database systems, and spreadsheets. It is also forming an important building block in the development of network protocols, which operate at various layers in the protocol stack [7]. Examples are:

These protocols are used to build secure network applications for electronic commerce, home banking, electronic mail, distributed computation and databases, and virtual private Intranets. The effect is to make encryption ready at hand and easy to use. It can be automatic or at the push of a button.

Integration of encryption has been facilitated by the development of Cryptographic Application Programming Interfaces (CAPIs), which have made it possible to build applications and systems which are independent of any particular method or implementation. Examples include:

These interfaces support a variety of hardware and software cryptographic engines which implement the low-level cryptographic algorithms and hash functions (e.g, DES, RC4, SKIPJACK, RSA, Digital Signature Algorithm (DSA), Diffie-Hellman key exchange, Secure Hash Algorithm-1 (SHA-1), and MD5). CAPIs are used to build higher-level APIs which provide confidentiality, authentication, integrity, non-repudiation, certificate management, directory services, key recovery, audit, and so forth in support of applications. Examples include

The International Cryptography Experiment (ICE) is using CAPIs to demonstrate the development of flexible, cost-effective, and exportable computer software applications. [8]

Multiple Methods and Interoperability

CAPI's and other security-related APIs have made it relatively easy to build products that support multiple methods of encryption. It is not uncommon to find support for at least a half dozen different algorithms and modes of operation, some of which may be proprietary. For example, a domestic product might offer a choice of 56-bit DES, 168-bit triple-DES, 40-bit and 128-bit RC4, and so forth. A product might also support multiple public-key certificate formats (e.g., X.503, Secure DNS resource records, and hashed public keys) and multiple protocols and infrastructures for managing and distributing certificates. Finally, it might support methods with built-in key archive and recovery capabilities as well as methods that do not provide key recovery.

Interoperability between products is achieved not by universal adoption of any single method, but rather by protocols that negotiate to find the strongest method they have in common or by mechanisms that let the user pick among several options. This is similar to the way in which modem protocols negotiate transmission speed or that word processors, spreadsheet programs, and graphics tools handle multiple data formats. One consequence of supporting multiple methods is that domestic versions of products can interoperate with their exportable counterparts using exportable methods (e.g., algorithms with 40-bit keys). Also, through open standards, the domestic products of one country can be designed to interoperate with those of another. Thus, global interoperability is possible with both exportable and non-exportable encryption products. In some cases, the cryptographic strength provided by an exportable product can be brought to the level of a domestic product through a foreign-made security plug-in. For example, foreign users of Netscape's or Microsoft's 40-bit web browser can install a 128-bit plug-in (SafePassage) that acts as a proxy between their 40-bit browser and a 128-bit web server [6]

Key Length

Domestic versions of products often use key lengths far in excess of what is needed to prevent compromise. For example, the domestic version of Netscape's Navigator 3.0 offers 128-bit RC4 and 168-bit Triple-DES. Breaking such keys by brute force is totally infeasible and could remain so forever.

One reason for the long keys is that advances in computer technology continually reduce the security afforded by any given key length [9]. Users want key sizes that will remain secure for the lifetime of the data and the systems they are using. Another reason is that it is relatively easy to design and use algorithms with long keys. For example, RC4 and RC5 take a variable length key and Triple-DES is constructed out of standard DES by using three keys and triple encryption. In many application contexts, the performance degradation from using longer keys is not consequential. Perhaps the most important factor, however, has been public perception.

When the DES was adopted in 1977, two well-know cryptographers, Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman, argued that 56-bit keys were not secure [10]. They estimated that they could build a search machine that would crack keys at a cost of $100 each by 1994. In 1993, Michael Wiener described a special-purpose architecture for cracking DES keys. He estimated that a machine with 57,600 search chips and costing $1 million could break a key in 3.5 hours [11]. Neither of these machines was built, but Wiener's design in particular was put forth as proof that DES was crackable.

Concern about key length was heightened when a 40-bit key was cracked by a French student, Damien Doligez, in 8 days using 120 workstations and a few supercomputers [12]. Even though a 56-bit key would take 65 thousand times longer to break and a 64-bit key 17 million times longer, the perception was that much longer keys were needed for adequate protection.

In 1996, a group of seven cryptographers issued a report recommending that keys be at least 75-90 bits to protect against a well-funded adversary [13]. The cryptographers estimated that a 40-bit key could be cracked in 12 minutes and a 56-bit key in 18 months using a $10,000 machine consisting of 25 Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) chips. Each chip would cost $200 and test 30 million keys per second. For $10 million, a machine with 25,000 FPGA chips could crack a 56-bit DES key in 13 hours; one with 250,000 Application-Specific Integrated Circuits costing $10 each could do it in 6 minutes. By comparison, the National Security Agency estimated it would take 10 minutes to crack a 40-bit key and 1 year and 87.5 days to crack a 56-bit key on a Cray T3D supercomputer with 1024 nodes and costing $30 million. Table 2 shows the estimates for the FPGA and ASIC architectures and for the Cray (row 3). The first row corresponds to the actual attack carried out by the French student.

At their January 1997 conference, RSA Data Security announced a set of challenge ciphers with prizes for the first person breaking each cipher [14]. These included $1,000 for breaking a 40-bit RC5 key, $5,000 for breaking a 48-bit RC5 key, and $10,000 for breaking a 56-bit RC5 or DES key. The challenges extend to 128-bit RC5 keys in increments of 8 bits each. The 40-bit prize was won shortly thereafter by Ian Goldberg, a student at Berkeley, who cracked it in 3.5 hours using a network of 250 computers that tested 100 billion keys per hour. The 48-bit prize was won a few weeks later by Germano Caronni, a student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Caronni harnessed the power of over 3,500 computers on the Internet to achieve a peak search rate of 1.5 trillion keys per hour. The key was found after 312 hours (13 days).

Because DES is nearing the end of its useful lifetime, the Department of Commerce is in the process of finding a successor. In January, 1997, they requested comments on proposed draft minimum acceptability requirements and evaluation criteria [15].

Key length is also a factor with public-key algorithms. The driving force for longer keys here is not only faster hardware, but also much faster algorithms for factoring. Whereas only 30- to 60-digit numbers could be factored in 1980, a 129-digit RSA key was factored in 1995 and a 130-digit key in 1996. Both numbers were factored by harnessing compute cycles from Internet users. The 130-digit number was actually factored with about 10 times fewer operations than the 129-digit number by using a much faster method. RSA Laboratories recommends that keys be at least 230 digits (or more than 768 bits) [16]. Elliptic curve implementations of public-key algorithms, which are believed to provide comparable security (and faster execution) with fewer bits, will allow for shorter keys as they become available.

Although key length is significant to the strength of an algorithm, weaknesses in key management protocols or implementation can allow keys to be cracked that would be impossible to determine by brute force. For example, shortly after the French student cracked the 40-bit key in 8 days, Ian Goldberg and David Wagner found that the keys generated for Netscape could be hacked in less than a minute because they were not sufficiently random [17]. Paul Kocher showed that under suitable conditions, a key could be cracked by observing the time it took to decrypt or sign messages with that key [18]. Richard Lipton, Rich DeMillo, and Dan Boney at Bellcore showed that public-key cryptosystems implemented on smart cards and other tamperproof tokens hardware were potentially vulnerable to hardware fault attacks if the attacker could induce certain types of errors on the card and observe their effect [19]. Eli Biham and Adi Shamir showed that the strategy could also work against single-key systems such as DES and Triple-DES [20]. Thus, while key length is a factor in security, it is by no means the only one.

Key Recovery

Manufacturer's of encryption products are building key recovery capabilities into products, particularly those used to encrypt stored data, to protect users and their organizations from lost or damaged keys [21]. Several different approaches are used, but all involve archiving individual or master keys with officers of the organization or with a trusted third party. The archived keys are not used to encrypt or decrypt data, but only to unlock the data encryption keys under exigent circumstances. They may be entrusted with a single person (or agency) or split between two or more parties. In one approach, the data encryption key K in encrypted under a public key owned by the organization and then stored in the message or file header. In another, the private key establishment keys of users (that is, the keys used to distribute or negotiate data encryption keys) are archived. Whenever a message is sent to a user, the data encryption key K is passed in the header encrypted under the user's private key establishment key. Both of these approaches can accommodate lawful access by law enforcement officials as well as by the owners of the data.

There is less user demand for key recovery with systems used only for transient communications and not stored data, for example, systems used to encrypt voice communications or to encrypt the transmission of a credit card on the Internet. The reason is that there is no risk of losing information. However, some companies, for example Shell Group enterprises, have established corporate-wide key recovery mechanisms for all encrypted data. The advantage to key recovery in this context is that it enables criminal investigations of employees. For example, an employee could use the company network to transmit proprietary documents to a competitor or to engage in fraud.

There are several national and international efforts to develop and use key recovery systems. The Clinton Administration plans to develop a federal key management infrastructure with key recovery services. In July 1996, the Administration announced the formation of a Technical Advisory Committee to Develop a Federal Information Processing Standard for the Federal Key Management Infrastructure (TACDFIPSFMKI), which began meeting in December. The Administration also initiated an Emergency Access Demonstration Project, with 10 pilots selected to test approaches to key recovery in federal systems.

The European Commission has been preparing a proposal to establish a European-wide network of Trusted Third Parties (ETS) that would be accredited to offer services that support digital signatures, notarization, confidentiality, and data integrity. The trust centers, which would operate under the control of member nations, would hold keys that would enable them to assist the owners of data with emergency decryption or supply keys to their national authorities on production of a legal warrant. The proposal is currently undergoing further consideration within the Commission before it can be brought before the Council of the European Union for adoption. Eight studies and pilot projects are planned for 1987.

Canada is building its public-key infrastructure using the Nortel Entrust product line for its underlying security architecture. Entrust supports optional key archive and recovery through the certificate authorities. The certificate authority for an organization, which may be internal to the organization, holds the private keys of users when recovery is desired.

The Open Group (formerly X/Open and OSF) is pursuing standards for a public-key infrastructure. It is working with law enforcement and other government agencies, as well as with the international business community, to build an infrastructure that would support key archive and recovery.

Because not all encryption systems have built-in key recovery mechanisms, there is also a market for recovering keys (and ultimately the plaintext) by other means, for example, brute-force attacks against short keys or attacks that exploit weaknesses in design or implementation. Many systems contain flaws, for example, in key management, that allow them to be cracked despite using long keys. In some cases, the key may be stored on a disk encrypted with a password that can be cracked. AccessData Corp., a company in Orem, Utah, provides software and services to help law enforcement agencies and companies recover data that has been locked out by encryption. In an interview with the Computer Security Institute, Eric Thompson, founder of AccessData, reported that they had a recovery rate of about 80-85% with large-scale commercial commodity software applications [23]. Thompson also noted that former CIA spy Aldrich Ames had used off-the-shelf software that could be broken.

United States Policy

Clinton Administration Initiatives

Beginning with the Clipper chip in 1993 [24], the Clinton Administration has embraced an encryption policy based on key recovery, initially called "key escrow." This policy includes development of federal standards for key recovery and adoption of key recovery systems within the federal government as outlined in the preceding section. It also includes liberalization of export controls for products that provide key recovery. The objective has been to promote the use of encryption in a way that effectively balances national goals for information security, economic strength, national security, public safety, crime prevention and investigation, privacy, and freedom, and to do so through export controls and government use of key recovery rather than mandatory controls on the use of encryption. Key recovery is seen as a way of addressing the fundamental dilemma of encryption. It allows the use of robust algorithms with long keys, but at the same time accommodates code breaking under very tightly controlled conditions, in particular, by the owners of encrypted data and by government officials with a court order or other lawful authorization.

When the Clipper chip was announced, products which used the RC2 and RC4 encryption algorithms with 40-bit keys were readily exported through general licensing arrangements. Products with longer keys, however, were subject to much tighter restrictions. 56-bit DES, for example, could not be exported except under special circumstances. Given the perceived weakness of 40-bit keys, industry was lobbying hard for longer keys to meet the demands of foreign customers.

The Clipper chip, which was the Administration's initial offering, allowed export of 80-bit keys in an NSA-designed microchip which implemented the SKIPJACK encryption algorithm and a built-in key recovery mechanism. However, it was sharply criticized for several reasons: the classified SKIPJACK algorithm was not open to public scrutiny, it required special purpose hardware, the government held the keys, it did not provide user data recovery, and it did not accommodate industry-developed encryption methods. In response to these criticisms, in August 1995 the Administration announced that it would also allow for exports of 64-bit software encryption when combined with an acceptable key recovery system [25]. The algorithms could be public or proprietary, and the keys could be held by non-government entities. This proposal, however, fell short of industry demands for unlimited key lengths and immediate export relief.

On October 1, 1996, the Administration announced that vendors could export DES and other 56-bit algorithms provided they had a plan for implementing key recovery and for building the supporting infrastructure internationally, with commitments to explicit benchmarks and milestones [26]. In some cases, organizations could operate their own internal key recovery services. Temporary licenses would be granted for six-month periods up to two years, with renewals contingent on meeting milestones. After two years, 56-bit products without key recovery would no longer be exportable. However, beginning immediately, products with acceptable key recovery systems would be readily exportable regardless of algorithm, key length, or hardware or software implementation. In addition, encryption products would no longer be classified as munitions under the International Trafficking and Arms Limitation (ITAR) [27]. Jurisdiction for commercial export licenses would be transferred from the Department of State to the Department of Commerce.

On November 15, President Clinton signed an Executive Order transferring certain encryption products from the United States Munitions List administered by the Department of State to the Commerce Control List administered by the Department of Commerce [28]. He also appointed Ambassador David L. Aaron, the United States Permanent Representative to the Organization for Economic and Cooperation Development, as Special Envoy for Cryptography. As Special Envoy, Ambassador Aaron is to promote international cooperation, coordinate U.S. contacts with foreign officials, and provide a focal point on bilateral and multilateral encryption issues. On December 30, 1996, the Commerce Department issued an interim rule amending the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) in accordance with the Executive Order and the policy announced in October [29]. The interim regulations went into effect immediately, with a comment period for proposing revisions..

Following the October announcement, eleven major information technology firms, led by IBM and including Apple, Atalla, Digital Equipment Corp., Groupe Bull, Hewlett-Packard, NCR, Sun, Trusted Information Systems, and UPS, announced the formation of an alliance to define an industry-led standard for flexible cryptographic key recovery [30]. By the end of January 1997, forty-eight companies had joined the alliance. The Computer Systems Policy Project (CSPP), a coalition of the chief executive officers of the twelve leading U.S. computer systems companies, issued a statement acknowledging the progress that had been made in removing export restrictions on cryptography and supporting the Administration's decision to encourage the development of voluntary, industry-led key recovery techniques [31]. Hitachi Ltd. and Fujitsu Ltd. announced a plan to jointly develop key recovery technology under the new policy [32].

By the end of January 1997, three companies had received general licenses to export strong encryption under the new regulations: Trusted Information Systems, Digital Equipment Corporation, and Cylink. TIS received licenses to export their Gauntlet Internet firewall with both DES and Triple-DES in a global virtual private network mode and to export their Microsoft CryptoAPI-compliant Cryptographic Service Providers [33].

In May 1997, the Commerce Department announced that it will allow export of non-recoverable encryption with unlimited key length for products that are specifically designed for financial transactions, including home banking[34]. They will also allow exports, for two years, of non- recoverable general-purpose commercial products of unlimited key length when used for interbank and similar financial transactions, once the manufacturers file a commitment to develop recoverable products. The reason key recovery is not required with financial transactions is that financial institutions are legally required and have demonstrated a consistent ability to provide access to transaction information in response to authorized law enforcement requests.

The Department of Commerce has also announced the formation of a President’s Export Council Subcommittee on Encryption. The subcommittee is to advise the Secretary on matters pertinent to the implementation of an encryption policy that supports the growth of commerce while protecting the public safety and national security. The subcommittee is to consist of approximately 25 members representing the exporting community and government agencies responsible for implementing encryption policy.

The Clinton Administration has drafted a bill intended to promote the establishment of a key management infrastructure (KMI) with key recovery services. The bill is based on the premise that in order to fully support electronic commerce, encryption products must interface with a KMI which issues and manages certificates for users’ public keys. The bill would create a program under the Secretary of Commerce for registering certificate authorities and key recovery agents wishing to participate in the KMI enabled by the act. Certificate authorities registered under the act would be permitted to issue certificates for public encryption keys only if the corresponding decryption keys were stored with a registered key recovery agent (private signature keys would not be stored). Participation in the registered KMI would be voluntary. Certificate authorities could operate without registration, and encryption products could interface with infrastructures supported by unregistered CA’s. Users would be free to acquire certificates from unregistered CA’s without depositing their keys

The bill specifies the conditions under which recovery information can be released to government agencies or other authorized parties, and criminalizes various acts relating to the abuse of keys or the KMI. The bill also establishes liability protections for key recovery agents acting in good faith. Certificate authorities and key recovery agents registered under the act will be required to meet minimum standards for security and performance. Thus, users of the KMI should have strong assurances that their keys are adequately safeguarded and that public keys acquired from the KMI can be trusted. The bill would also add a fine or up to five years of imprisonment for persons knowingly encrypting information in furtherance of the commission of a criminal offense when there is not a key recovery system allowing government access to plaintext.

Congressional Bills to Liberalize Export Controls

Three bills were introduced in the 2nd session of the 104th Congress (1996) to liberalize export controls on encryption, two in the Senate and one in the House of Representatives. Although none of the bills was brought to the floor for a vote, all three were reintroduced in February 1997. The current bills are as follows:

These bills would all lift export controls on encryption software independent of whether the products provide key recovery. They have been strongly supported by many people in the private sector on the grounds that export controls harm the competitiveness of U.S. industry in the global market and make it more difficult for consumers and businesses to get products with strong encryption. S. 1587 and H.R. 3011 would also make unlawful the use of encryption to obstruct justice.

It is extremely difficult to measure the economic impact of export controls on U.S. business. The CSPP estimated that as much as $30-60 billion in revenues could be at stake by the year 2000 [35]. However, the National Research Council committee on cryptography policy concluded that "The dollar cost of limiting the availability of cryptography abroad is hard to estimate with any kind of confidence, since even the definition of what counts as a cost is quite fuzzy. At the same time, a floor of a few million dollars per year for the market affected by export controls on encryption seems plausible, and all indications are that this figure will only grow in the future." [36].

The NRC study agreed that export controls should be relaxed, but suggested a more cautious approach. Their recommendations included allowing ready export of DES, allowing exports of products with longer keys to a list of approved companies that would be willing to provide access to decrypted information upon legal authorization, and streamlining the export process [37].

Challenges to the Constitutionality of Export Controls

There have been three lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of export controls on encryption software. The first was filed on behalf of Philip Karn in February 1994 after the State Department denied his request to export a computer disk containing the source code for the encryption algorithms in Bruce Schneier's book Applied Cryptography. Karn claimed that export restrictions on the disk violated his First Amendment right to free speech. He also claimed that because the book was exportable, treating the disk differently from the book violated his Fifth Amendment right to substantive due process. The suit was filed against the State Department in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. In March 1996, Judge Charles Richey filed an opinion [38] stating that the plaintiff "raises administrative law and meritless constitutional claims because he and others have not been able to persuade the Congress and the Executive Branch that the technology at issue does not endanger the national security." The Court granted the defendant's motion to dismiss the plaintiff's claims. Karn appealed the decision, but in January 1997, the DC Court of Appeals sent the case back to the District Court for reconsideration under the new Commerce Department encryption regulations.

In February 1995, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a lawsuit against the State Department on behalf of Daniel Bernstein, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. The suit, which was filed in the Northern District of California, claims that export controls on software are an "impermissible prior restraint on speech, in violation of the First Amendment." Bernstein had been denied a commodity jurisdiction request to export the source code for an algorithm he had developed called Snuffle. The Department of Justice filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that export controls on software source code were not based on the content of the code but rather its functionality. In December 1996 Judge Marilyn Patel ruled that the ITAR licensing scheme acted as an unconstitutional prior restraint in violation of the First Amendment [39]. It is not clear how the ruling affect the new regulatory regime.

A third lawsuit was filed on behalf of Peter Junger, a law professor at Case Western Reserve Law School in Cleveland, Ohio [40]. Junger claims that export controls impose unconstitutional restraints on anyone who wants to speak or write publicly about encryption programs, and that the controls prevent him from admitting foreign students to his course or from publishing his course materials and articles with cryptographic software. But in fact the government does not restrict academic courses in cryptography or the admission of foreign students to these courses. Professors can give lectures, publish papers, speak at conferences, and make software available to their students without licenses. Licenses are needed only to make that software available internationally in electronic form (e.g., by posting it on an FTP or web site on the Internet).

I personally question the claim that export licenses impose an impermissible prior restraint on speech. Export controls on encryption software are concerned with its operational behavior -- with the fact that encryption software loaded onto a computer is an encryption device. They are not targeted at speech or ideas about the software [41].

International Policy

The following summarizes recent developments.


In recognition of the need for an internationally coordinated approach to encryption policy to foster the development of a secure global information infrastructure, the Organization for Economic Cooperation Development (OECD), has recently issued guidelines for cryptography policy [42]. The guidelines represent a consensus about specific policy and regulatory issues. While not binding to OECD's 29 member countries, they are intended to be taken into account in formulating policies at the national and international level.

The guidelines were prepared by a Group of Experts on Cryptography Policy under a parent Group of Experts on Security, Privacy, and Intellectual Property Protection in the GII. The committee received input from various sectors, with the Business-Industry Advisory Council (BIAC) to the OECD participating in the drafting process

The guidelines expound on eight basic principles for cryptography policy:

  1. trust in cryptographic methods
  2. choice of cryptographic methods
  3. market driven development of cryptographic methods
  4. standards for cryptographic methods
  5. protection of privacy and personal data
  6. lawful access
  7. liability protection
  8. international cooperation

The principal of lawful access states: "National cryptography policies may allow lawful access to plaintext, or cryptographic keys, of encrypted data. These policies must respect the other principles contained in the guidelines to the greatest extent possible."


France has waived its licensing requirement on the use of encryption when keys are escrowed with government-approved key holders, effectively trading licenses on the use of encryption for licenses governing the operation of key archive and recovery services [43]. To get a license, an organization providing key archive services would have to do business in France and have stock honored by the French government. The service providers would have to be of French nationality. Under the new law, licenses are still needed for all imports and exports of encryption products.

United Kingdom

The British government considers it essential that security, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies preserve their ability to conduct effective legal interception of communications, while at the same time ensuring the privacy of individuals. Accordingly, they have issued a draft proposal to license trusted third parties (TTPs) providing encryption services to the general public [44]. The TTPs would hold and release the encryption keys of their clients; appropriate safeguards would be established to protect against abuse and misuse of keys. The licensing regime would seek to ensure that TTPs meet criteria for liability coverage, quality assurance, and key recovery. It would allow for relaxed export controls on encryption products that work with licensed TTPs. It would be illegal for an unlicensed entity to offer encryption services to the public, however, the private use of encryption would not be regulated.


Japan recently tightened their export controls on encryption by requiring that businesses obtain a license for any order exceeding 50,000 yen, or about $450. The previous limit was 1 million yen. According to officials from the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), the change resulted from sensitivity to what is going on in the international community regarding encryption, and not pressure from the U.S. government. The Japanese Justice Ministry is also seeking legislation that would authorize court-ordered wiretaps in criminal investigations [45]. Finally, the Hitachi/ Fujitsu plan to jointly develop key recovery technology in conformance with U.S. policy has the backing of MITI.


Encryption is spreading worldwide, with nearly 1400 products produced and distributed by over 800 companies in at least 68 countries. It is becoming a standard feature of applications and systems software, facilitated in part by the development of application programming interfaces and industry standards. Many products support a variety of encryption methods and interoperate using the strongest methods they have in common. Through internationally accepted open standards, products manufactured in one country will be able to interoperate with those made in foreign countries even if they cannot be exported to those countries.

Commercial products for domestic markets now use algorithms with key lengths that are totally infeasible to crack by brute force, for example 128-bit RC4 and 168-bit Triple-DES. At the same time, code breakers on the Internet are pooling resources to break ever longer keys, most recently 48 bits. Although many commercial products are breakable through flaws in design and implementation, the trend is to build products with stronger security and to provide emergency decryption, both for the owners of the data and for lawfully authorized government officials, through a key recovery system.

The encryption market and government policies are driven by several interests including information security, privacy, freedom, crime prevention and investigation, public safety, economic strength, and national security. The stakeholders are governments, industry, and citizens. What makes encryption policy so hard is that all of these interests are simultaneously served by and threatened by both code making and code breaking. Key recovery is seen as a potential way of effectively balancing national, corporate, and individual interests in these opposing activities.

Several governments are adopting encryption policies that favor key recovery systems. The Clinton Administration's policy is to leave the U.S. domestic market unregulated and to ease export controls on products with acceptable key recovery systems. So far, three companies have obtained licenses to export strong encryption with key recovery under regulations established at the end of 1996. Because key recovery provides much stronger protection than short keys, which can be broken by anyone, while also being valuable to customers, other vendors are expected to follow suit and put key recovery capabilities into the export versions of products rather than using short keys. To reduce product development, maintenance, and management costs, vendors may produce a single product line, based on key recovery, for both domestic and international use. However, some companies are ignoring the international market entirely. The Administration's policy has been challenged both by Congressional bills that would lift export controls for products with or without key recovery and by lawsuits claiming that export controls on encryption software are unconstitutional.

The use of encryption is expected to rise rapidly, reaching 60% of U.S. business users by the year 2000. Because organizations have a need to recover the keys to stored encrypted data, including files and saved electronic mail, the use of key recovery with stored data could become standard business practice. Companies will either operate their own key recovery services or use trusted third parties. Self escrow will be allowed with export versions of products sold to approved organizations. Pilot projects in the U.S. and elsewhere are testing different approaches to key recovery.

To mitigate potential risks, efforts are underway to develop strong technical, procedural, and legal safeguards to protect organizations and individuals who use key recovery services from improper use of those services and to provide liability protection for key recovery service providers when properly releasing keys. Efforts are also underway to establish bilateral and multilateral key release agreements so that a government can conduct an investigation within its jurisdiction even when the keys needed for decryption are held outside its borders. I expect these agreements to have safeguards that protect corporations and individuals from espionage by foreign governments. A foreign government might be required to submit a request for decryption assistance to the government of the country where the keys are held so that the home government can review the request and any plaintext before it is released to the foreign government.

Whether governments will be able to access communications and stored records in criminal investigations will depend on three factors: the knowledge and sophistication of criminals, the breakability of common commercial products, and the adoption of key recovery systems. The latter in turn will depend on whether key recovery is a standard feature of commercial products, either as a result of market forces or government policies. Even if key recovery becomes commonplace with stored data, it may be less common with transient communications such as phone calls (voice and fax), communications on the World Wide Web, and communications over virtual private networks, where there is less user demand.


Country U.S. Other
Argentina > 60% Israel, France, Swiss.
Australia some Australia, Japan, Taiwan, France, U.K.
Austria 20% Siemens-Nixdorf: 80%
Canada 42% Canada: 40%, other: 18%
Czech Rep. small -
Denmark 10% bank, 0 other -
Finland 60-80% mass mkt U.K.: 20-30%, Germany: 20%
Germany < 20% Germany: most
India 35% India: 42%, UK: 10%, Germany: 8%, Sing: 5%
Israel small Israel: most
Italy no security specific Italy
Japan 6% software mkt Japan
The Netherlands 50% The Netherlands: 10%, Germany, UK, France
New Zealand second UK: largest
Norway largest Sweden, Germany, Israel
South Africa 71% of imports S.Africa, France, Israel, Germany, Swiss, Italy, UK
Switzerland 10% Swiss: 55%, Europe: 35%
Taiwan 56% -
United Kingdom 15% UK: 80%

Table 1. Market Shares in Encrytpion Software. Source: U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Security Agency, A Study of the International Market for Computer Software with Encryption. Arrows indicate whether U.S. share has been increasing or decreasing.

Budget Tool Time (Cost) to crack a 40-bit key Time (Cost) to crack a 56-bit key Recommended Length 1996-2018
tiny scavenged resources 1 week infeasible 45 - 60
$400 FPGA - 1 chip 5 hrs ($.08) 38 yrs ($5,000) 50 - 65
$30,000,000 Cray T3D - 1024 nodes 10 min 15 mo -
$10,000 FPGA - 25 chips 12 min ($.08) 18 mo ($5,000) 55 - 70
$300,000 FPGA - 750 chips

ASIC - 15,000 chips

24 sec ($.08)

.18 sec ($.001)

19 days ($5,000)

3 hrs ($38)

60 - 75
$10,000,000 FPGA - 25,000 chips

ASIC - 500,000 chips

.7 sec ($.08)

.005 sec ($.001)

13 hrs ($5,000)

6 min ($38)

70 - 85
$300,000,000 ASIC - 1,500,000 chips .0002 sec ($.001) 12 sec ($38) 75 - 90

Table 2. Brute Force Attacks on 40-bit and 56-bit Keys.

FPGA = Field Programmable Gate Array - a $200 AT&T ORCA chip can test 30 million 56-bit DES keys per second.

ASIC = Application-Specific Integrated Circuits - a $10 chip can test 200 million keys per second.

Estimates for 2018 based on Moore's law: cost halved every 18 months.

Source: Data for the row with the Cray T3D are from the National Security Agency, 1996. The remaining data are from M. Blaze, W. Diffie, R. Rivest, B. Schneier, T. Shimomura, E. Thompson, M. Weiner, "Minimal Key Lengths for Symmetric Ciphers to Provide Adequate Commercial Security," Jan. 1996.

References and Notes

1. Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States adopted common rules governing exports under the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM). COCOM was replaced by the New Forum in 1995. For a summary of foreign regulations of cryptography, see James Chandler, "Identification and Analysis of Foreign Laws and Regulations Pertaining to the Use of Commercial Encryption Products for Voice and Data Communications," Proceedings of the International Cryptography Institute 1995: Global Challenges, National Intellectual Property Law Institute, September 21-22, 1995.

2. TIS Worldwide Survey of Cryptographic Products, June 1996. http://www.tis.com/.

3. http://www.openmarket.com/techinfo/applied.htm.

4. A Study of the International Market for Computer Software with Encryption, U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Security Agency, Washington, DC, 1996.

5. Ernst &Young and Information Week Security Survey, http://techweb.cmp.com/iw/602/02mtsec.htm

6. The State of Web Commerce, O'Reilly & Associates and Netcraft, Ltd., December 1996.

7. Computer communications are implemented through a hierarchy of network protocols called the protocol stack. The OSI model has seven layers, which from top to bottom are: application, presentation, session, transport, network, link, and physical. In the Internet, the protocols are centered around TCP/IP (Transmissions Control Protocol/Internet Protocol). TCP/IP handles message transmission and delivery and corresponds roughly to the transport and network layers.

8. More information on ICE and CAPIs is available at http://www.tis.com/crypto/ice.html

9. Under the current rate of advancement, an additional bit is needed every 18 months to stay even.

10. Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman, "Exhaustive Cryptanalysis of the NBS Data Encryption Standard," Computer, June 1977, pp. 74-84.

11. M. J. Wiener, "Efficient DES Key Search," presented at the rump session of CRYPTO '93, Aug. 1993 and later published as TR-244, School of Computer Science, Carleton Univ., May 1994.

12. Jared Sandberg, "French Hacker Cracks Netscape Code, Shrugging Off U.S. Encryption Scheme," Wall St. J., Aug. 17, 1995, at B3.

13. Matt Blaze, Whitfield Diffie, Ronald L. Rivest, Bruce Schneier, Tsutomu Shimomura, Eric Thompson, and Michael Wiener, "Minimal Key Lengths for Symmetric Ciphers to Provide Adequate Commercial Security," Jan. 1996.

14. Information about the challenge ciphers and prizes awarded is on the RSA home page at http://www.rsa.com/.

15. Department of Commerce, National Institute of Technology, "Announcing Development of a Federal Information Processing Standard for Advanced Encryption Standard," Federal Register, Jan. 2, 1997.

16. Cryptobytes, RSA Laboratories, Summer 1996, pp. 7.

17. Steven Levy, "Wisecrackers," Wired, Mar. 1996, pp. 128+.

18. Paul Kocher, "Cryptanalysis of Diffie-Hellman, RSA, DSS, and Other Systems Using Timing Attacks," Dec. 7, 1995.

19. "Now, Smart Cards Can Leak Secrets," http://www.bellcore.com/PRESS/ADVSRY96/medadv.html.

20. Eli Biham and Adi Shamir, Research announcement: A new cryptanalytic attack on DES, Oct. 18, 1996.

21. Systems that provide key recovery have been called key recovery systems, data recovery systems, key escrow systems, and key archive systems . For a taxonomy of the features and options in such systems and descriptions of different products and approaches, see Dorothy E. Denning and Dennis K. Branstad, "A Taxonomy of Key Escrow Encryption," Communications of the ACM, Vol. 39, No. 3, March 1996, pp. 34-40. Available through the Cryptography Project at http://www.cs.georgetown.edu/~denning/crypto.

22. deleted

23. "Can your crypto be turned against you? A CSI interview with Eric Thompson of AccessData, Computer Security Alert, No. 167, Feb. 1997, pp. 1+.

24. The White House, Statement by the Press Secretary, April 16, 1993.

25. National Institute of Standards and Technology, "Commerce's NIST Announces Process for Dialogue on Key Escrow Issues," NIST 95-24, Aug. 17, 1995.

26. The White House, Office of the Vice President, Statement of the Vice President, Oct. 1, 1996.

27. Cryptographic systems or software with the capability of providing secrecy or confidentiality protection are included in Category XIII(b) of the U.S. Munitions List, CFR 121.1. The Office of Defense Trade Controls of the Department of State has jurisdiction over all items on the Munitions List (ML). The ML is part of the International Traffic and Arms Regulations (ITAR).

28. The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, Executive Order, Administration of Export Controls on Encryption Products, Nov. 15, 1996.

29. Federal Register, Vol. 61, No. 251, Dec. 30, 1996. Available at http://jya.com/bxa123096.txt.

30. The press release is available at http://www.ibm.com/.

31. CSPP Position Statement, "Updating Export Controls for Encryption and Developing Key Recovery Technologies," Oct. 1, 1996

32. EPLR Alert, Vol. 1, No. 4, The Bureau of National Affairs Inc., Washington DC, Oct. 28,1996.


33. Trusted Information Systems, Inc., “TIS’ Key Recovery Technology First to Enable General Purpose Export for Very Strong Encryption,” Dec. 16, 1996. http://www.tis.com.

34. U.S. Department of Commerce News, Bureau of Export Administration, Encryption Exports Approved for Electronic Commerce, May 8, 1997.

35. Emerging Security Needs and U.S. Competitiveness: Impact of Export Controls on Cryptographic Technology, The Computer Systems Policy Project, Dec. 1995.

36. Cryptography's Role in Securing the Information Society, Kenneth Dam and Herbert Lin, Eds., Committee to Study National Cryptography Policy, Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, National Research Council, National Academy Press, May 30, 1996, pp. 165.

37. Ibid. Recommendations 4.1-4.3, pp. 8-9.

38. Philip R. Karn, Jr., Plaintiff, v. U.S. Department of State and Thomas B. McNamara, Defendants, Memorandum Opinion of Charles R. Richey, United States District Court Judge, United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 95-01812, Mar. 22, 1996.

39. Daniel J. Bernstein, Plaintiff, v. United States Department of State et al., Defendants, Opinion of U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, United States District Court for the Northern District of California, No. C-95-0582.

40. Press release, Plaintiff Seeks Summary Judgment in Cleveland Case Challenging Licensing of "Exports" of Cryptographic Information, Cleveland, OH, Oct. 1, 1996. http://samsara.law.cwru.edu/comp_law/jvc/.

41. Dorothy E. Denning, "Export Controls, Encryption Software, and Speech," statement for the RSA Data Security Conference, Jan. 28, 1997. At http://www.cs.georgetown.edu/~denning/crypto.

42. OECD News Release, OECD Guidelines for Cryptography Policy,” March, 1996. http://www.oecd.org/dsti/iccp/crypto_e.html. For an analysis, see Stewart Baker, Background information and a detailed analysis of the OECD Cryptography Policy Guidelines, March 1997. http://www.steptoe.com/comment.htm

43. A translation and analysis of the French law is available from Steptoe & Johnson at http://www.us.net/~steptoe/france.htm

44. Paper on Regulatory Intent Concerning Use of Encryption on Public Networks, issued by the Department of Trade and Industry, London, England, June 10, 1996. Available through the Cryptography Project at http://www.cs.georgetown.edu/~denning/crypto.

45. "Legalizing Wiretapping," Mainichi Shimbun, Oct.9, 1996.