After four years of testing, the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has announced its favorite encryption method for “lightweight cryptography”, designed to work on low-powered IoT devices.
Connected IoT devices, like wearables, smart home gadgets and even vehicle-to-vehicle technologies are all around us, and key to their success is their small size. This comes with its own challenges, though, including less powerful chips than we would typically see in a smartphone or computer. These are less capable of handling traditionally heavier encryption methods, hence the introduction of a new standard.
Optimized encryption will allow smaller devices to be able to handle sensitive personal information, which may be great for users of wearables who want to be able to access their health data, for instance.
The program saw a total of 57 proposals, which were later whittled down to 10 finalists (opens in new tab). An announcement explains:
“The decision was challenging since most of the finalists exhibited performance advantages over NIST standards on various target platforms without introducing security concerns.”
Ultimately, ASCON was chosen (opens in new tab) for its flexibility, energy efficiency, and its ability to run smoothly on less powerful hardware. It was also merited for its longevity, having been around since 2014 and withstanding “years of examination by cryptographers”.
NIST computer scientist, Kerry McKay, explained (opens in new tab) that “one of the ASCON variants offers a measure of resistance to the sort of attack a powerful quantum computer might mount”, indicating an impressive resilience.
That said, NIST has already started work on quantum-safe public-key cryptographic algorithms, which opened with 82 proposals.
What this means going forward is that soon, there will be a significant increase in the number of devices able to share information safely, as the age of seamless connectivity draws nearer.