Note: This short history of DES was written by
Thomas Jerry Scott to help you understand how and why DES has evolved.
We only cover what has happened before the infamous DES Hack of
1997. Another document covers that hack in greater
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The Pre-Hack History of DES
NBS, now NIST, initiated a program to protect computers and communications data
NBS issues a request for public proposals for a standard cryptographic algorithm.
NBS issues a second request and received a promising candidate, called
Lucifer, from IBM which they had developed in the early 70's. IBM had
already filed for a patent on the Lucifer algorithm but was willing to
make its intellectual property available to others for manufacturing,
implementation and use.
NBS requested NSA's help in evaluating the Lucifer algorithm.
NBS published both the details of the algorithm . NBS worked out
terms with IBM and IBM gave a royalty free, nonexclusive grant to
license the algorithm. The NBS in August of '75 requested comments
from the general public on the algorithm. Many comments spoke of the
NSA's invisible hand in this algorithm.
NBS held two lively workshops on the algorithm for the developers,
designers and implementors. In November of 1976, despite some
criticism, the NBS adopted DES as a federal standard authorized for
use on all unclassified governmental communications.
ANSI adopted DES as a private sector standard, which they called the DEA.
DES accepted again by NIST, since it must be reviewed every 5 years.
NSA announced that they would not recertify the standard. By Reagan
decree, they had power over NBS. NSA knew that DES had never been
broken, but felt that it was increasingly likely that it woujld be
broken. NSA proposed a series of algorithms to replace DES, but they
were not well received. After much debate, DES was reaffirmed as a
There was still no alternative to DES, so NIST again solicited
comments in the Federal Register. Even though many felt that DES
would be broken before the year 2,000, it was reaffirmed in 1992.
The DES standards were unprecedented, as never before had an NSA
evaluated algorithm been made public. NSA has characterized DES as
one of its biggest mistakes. If they had known that the details would
be released so that many could write software, etc., they probably
would have not accepted the challenge to evaluate Lucifer.
DES Hacked by the DESCHALL team in response the the RSA Challenge.
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