Just a couple hours ago, Wikileaks uploaded 3 more encrypted “insurance” files and posted the links on the Wikileaks Facebook page. The size of the files are 3.6 GB, 49 GB and another file that’s a whopping 349 GB. The files are assumed to serve as a dead man’s switch in case something were to happen to Wikileaks (or Assange), in which case the key could be released and the files could potentially contain very dangerous information. Having a single copy of a top secret file isn’t really handy if the authorities could just simply destroy that copy and have it over with.
The insurance files use AES-256 encryption, which is virtually impossible to crack given our current technology. If everyone on earth owned 10 computers and they were all working on cracking this single encryption code it would take 77,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years (thats 77 septillion) years to crack a single AES 256 key.
Is there a chance of getting in on the first try? The answer is yes - and it would be 1/2^256 i.e. astronomically small. It is plain misleading to argue about the “chance” that one might crack it in the first go. To the uninitiated it sounds like there is actually a chance, when in fact there is not for all practical purposes. That’s the point in crypto: the number of different keys is so huge that one cannot make sense of it.
AES-256 has a cracking complexity of 2^256 (because that’s the number of different keys to try). That’s 115792089237316195423570985008687907853269984665640564039457584007913129639936 different keys. Implying a “chance” to hit the right key in the first try is to say the least uninformed (or just a very bad joke because it may mislead people). In fact, it’s so many keys to try that we can prove it’s not physically possible. There’s a known lower bounds on how much energy a single computation can take; if we somehow manage to test an entire key with a single computation (which we can’t), we’ll still run out of energy in the entire universe before we’re done.
Say you were on a satellite throwing out a rock at random. And say we split up the surface of Earth into 2^256 equally large parts. Your rock would have to fall at the exact spot representing the key you would have to find (in the first go). Well, that spot has an area in itself of 4.4×10^-63 square meters. That size is too small to make sense of (it has an order of magnitude of 1/10^45 square nanometers). A proton alone would cover 10^47 of these slices.
How about splitting the distance to the sun into 2^256 equally large parts? That’s going to work, right? No. Each slice would be in the order of 10^-66 meters, and we’re back in the same problem of lengths that don’t make the slightest sense.
What if we envisioned each grain of sand as a small computer cracking away at this problem. And let’s say they’re supercomputers that can try a billion different keys each second (unrealistic). That should serve us right, right? No. Not at all. Rather, it would take over three times the current age of the universe.
How about slicing the number of particles in the universe in 2^256 equally large slices? That actually works. So for every 900 atoms in the observable universe there is anoter AES-256 key. So say we’re throwing a dart in a random direction into this vast universe, we would have to hit a target with an area of 900 atoms, which is ~9nm large, and could be anywhere. In this universe. In the room I’m sitting in (3m x 4m x 2.5m) the walls have an area of 2 x 4 x 2.5 + 2 x 3 x 2.5 = 35 square meters. And say my walls are one atom thick (they aren’t). Then there would be 10^21 = 1000000000000000000000 of such targets in this room. Probably not going to hit the right one in the first go. And the target is probably not even in here. Actually, it is very, very likely not here. Probably not in this building. Probably not in this country. Probably not on this continent. Probably not on this planet. Probably not in this solar system. Probably not in this galaxy…
I have no way of giving a good picture on the number of different AES-256 keys, because frankly I don’t get it myself. But I think I go my point across that even joking about the off chance that you could guess an AES-256 key in the first try is what perpetuates the idea that crypto is something that can be cracked given enough computing power. It cannot. A ballpark guess about the cracking capability of a nation state is somewhere along ~2^80. Mind you, for each exponent increment the work gets double as difficult, so a nation with 2^80 cracking capability would need to double their setup (256-80)=176 times to feasibly brute force 256-bit security, i.e. spending 2^176 more on the sole purpose of cracking crypto.
The real issue here is the human factor; almost all types of encryption are susceptible to rubber-hose-cryptanalysis (hitting the key holder with a rubber hose until they give you the key) otherwise known as torture, which means that the key holders have to stay completely hidden. Wikileaks has shown to be very good at this.
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