The crack which was accomplished using resources at the SFI-Funded Irish Centre for High End Computing was announced at the Post-Quantum Cryptography conference in Cincinnati, USA on Saturday 18 October.
Quantum computers will break current public key algorithms such as RSA. McEliece's system is not affected by quantum computers and is a leading candidate for future public-key cryptography. The successful attack shows that the originally proposed key sizes for McEliece's system are too small and need to be increased.
The DCU success was part of a coordinated attack by cryptographers in five countries. The attack was led by Prof Tanja Lange and Christiane Peters (Eindhoven Technical University, TU/e) and Prof Daniel J Bernstein (University of Illinois at Chicago), who recently published a paper claiming that a practical attack on McEliece's system was feasible with their new software.
Costigan and Scott ran the software at ICHEC for 8000 CPU hours and achieved the first break on Wednesday 2nd October 2008. Other countries ran the software for a total of 200000 CPU hours but did not have the luck of the Irish.