More crypto misinformation

I just came across another example of a journalist writing about encryption in a way that isn't even close to being accurate. I try to sympathize with journalists because encryption can be very hard to understand, but this discussion was so far off that I had to mention it.

Here are some of the things that this particular article said:

Today, AES-256 should be considered the minimum security standard employed on any network. Though theoretically it is a vulnerable algorithm, the equipment required to attack AES-256 is still measured in acres.

You would be unlikely to sneak that much gear into somebody’s data centre, or park it outside, without being noticed. Nor is there any chance of being able to attack AES-256 remotely: the bandwidth requirements would be extraordinary.

Where are people getting the idea that AES-256 is the minimum acceptable level of security from? (Maybe the dubious report that I mentioned here?) Exactly ZERO of the standards that cover the business use of encryption recommend this. And if AES-256 isn't good enough, what are we supposed to move to? AES-257? Or should we just skip ahead to AES-666 to ensure that hackers will have a devil of a time recovering our sensitive information?

And the equipment needed to attack AES-256 isn't best measured in acres. A better unit is probably solar mass units (about 2 x 1030 kg)! That's how much computing power is needed to crack a 256-bit key. The number 256 may not be very big but 2256 is so big that it's very hard to really understand how big it is. And that's the measure of how long an attack on AES-256 will take.

And why would you need massive amounts of bandwidth to carry out an attack against AES-256? The attacks that we're talking about that take somewhere between a zillion and a squillion years to carry out use lots of computing power, but they essentially use no bandwidth at all. Unless you're talking about the communications between a processor and storage, but that's not the case here, is it?

Why do articles like this one bother me?

Mainly because there's always someone who reads this sort of misinformation and sends a panicked email to one of our sales or marketing people.

"OMG! I just read that AES-256 is weak! What should I do?"

The sales or marketing people, in turn, hand these over to me, so I get stuck explaining why the fact that some astronomers no longer consider Pluto to be a planet really doesn't give hackers a way to decrypt sensitive information. Or whatever the most recent story is talking about.

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