Computer Systems Laboratory Colloquium

4:15PM, Wednesday, December 2, 1998
NEC Auditorium, Gates Computer Science Building B03

Cracking the Data Encryption Standard
An Overview of the Technology, Design, and Politics

John Gilmore
Electronic Frontier Foundation
About the talk:

Sometimes it takes good engineering to straighten out twisted politics.

In 1997, working in conjunction with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, John Gilmore decided to demonstrate this by building a custom computer that would be able to solve the Data Encryption Standard, an encoding scheme the United States Government had been promoting for "secure" business and financial communications since the 1970s.

It had long been suspected the Government was pressing citizens to use this standard because its intelligence agencies were secretly able to decode DES-encrypted messages. It appears this theory was right. DES *was* crackable -- easily and affordably -- which Mr. Gilmore demonstrated in July, 1998 by using his "DES Cracker" system to solve in just three days a DES-encoded message that had been produced as part of a decryption contest.

In this presentation Mr. Gilmore will discuss the hardware and software design of the DES Cracker system and explain some of the politics surrounding the DES controversy.

Note: A full description of the DES Cracker system, including complete hardware and software design details, appears in the book, "Cracking DES: Secrets of Encryption Research, Wiretap Politics, & Chip Design," published by O'Reilly. Further details can also be found at:

About the speaker:

John Gilmore is an entrepreneur and civil libertarian. He was an early employee of Sun Microsystems, and co-founded Cygnus Solutions, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Cypherpunks, and the Internet's "alt" newsgroups. He has twenty-five years of experience in the computer industry, including programming, hardware and software design, management, and investment, and is a significant contributor to the worldwide open source (free software) development effort.

Mr. Gilmore's advocacy efforts on encryption policy aim to improve public understanding of this fundamental technology for privacy and accountability in open societies. He led the team that built, in conjunction with the EFF, the world's first published DES Cracker. He is a board member of the Internet Society and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Further background information may be found at

Contact information:

John Gilmore