The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), also known as Rijndael (its original name), is a specification for the encryption of electronic data established by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in 2001.
AES is based on the Rijndael cipher developed by two Belgian cryptographers, Joan Daemen and Vincent Rijmen, who submitted a proposal to NIST during the AES selection process. Rijndael is a family of ciphers with different key and block sizes.
For AES, NIST selected three members of the Rijndael family, each with a block size of 128 bits, but three different key lengths: 128, 192 and 256 bits.
AES has been adopted by the U.S. government and is now used worldwide. It supersedes the Data Encryption Standard (DES), which was published in 1977. The algorithm described by AES is a symmetric-key algorithm, meaning the same key is used for both encrypting and decrypting the data.
In the United States, AES was announced by the NIST as U.S. FIPS PUB 197 (FIPS 197) on November 26, 2001. This announcement followed a five-year standardization process in which fifteen competing designs were presented and evaluated, before the Rijndael cipher was selected as the most suitable (see Advanced Encryption Standard process for more details).
AES became effective as a federal government standard on May 26, 2002 after approval by the Secretary of Commerce. AES is included in the ISO/IEC 18033-3 standard. AES is available in many different encryption packages, and is the first publicly accessible and open[vague] cipher approved by the National Security Agency (NSA) for top secret information when used in an NSA approved cryptographic module (see Security of AES, below).
The name Rijndael (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈrɛindaːl]) is a play on the names of the two inventors (Joan Daemen and Vincent Rijmen).
Until May 2009, the only successful published attacks against the full AES were side-channel attacks on some specific implementations. The National Security Agency (NSA) reviewed all the AES finalists, including Rijndael, and stated that all of them were secure enough for U.S. Government non-classified data. In June 2003, the U.S. Government announced that AES could be used to protect classified information:
The design and strength of all key lengths of the AES algorithm (i.e., 128, 192 and 256) are sufficient to protect classified information up to the SECRET level. TOP SECRET information will require use of either the 192 or 256 key lengths. The implementation of AES in products intended to protect national security systems and/or information must be reviewed and certified by NSA prior to their acquisition and use.
AES has 10 rounds for 128-bit keys, 12 rounds for 192-bit keys, and 14 rounds for 256-bit keys. By 2006, the best known attacks were on 7 rounds for 128-bit keys, 8 rounds for 192-bit keys, and 9 rounds for 256-bit keys.
For cryptographers, a cryptographic “break” is anything faster than a brute force—performing one trial decryption for each key (see Cryptanalysis). This includes results that are infeasible with current technology. The largest successful publicly known brute force attack against any block-cipher encryption was against a 64-bit RC5 key by distributed.net in 2006.
AES has a fairly simple algebraic description. In 2002, a theoretical attack, termed the “XSL attack”, was announced by Nicolas Courtois and Josef Pieprzyk, purporting to show a weakness in the AES algorithm due to its simple description. Since then, other papers have shown that the attack as originally presented is unworkable; see XSL attack on block ciphers.
During the AES process, developers of competing algorithms wrote of Rijndael, “…we are concerned about [its] use…in security-critical applications.” However, in October 2000 at the end of the AES selection process, Bruce Schneier, a developer of the competing algorithm Twofish, wrote that while he thought successful academic attacks on Rijndael would be developed someday, he does not “believe that anyone will ever discover an attack that will allow someone to read Rijndael traffic.”
On July 1, 2009, Bruce Schneier blogged about a related-key attack on the 192-bit and 256-bit versions of AES, discovered by Alex Biryukov and Dmitry Khovratovich, which exploits AES’s somewhat simple key schedule and has a complexity of 2119. In December 2009 it was improved to 299.5. This is a follow-up to an attack discovered earlier in 2009 by Alex Biryukov, Dmitry Khovratovich, and Ivica Nikolić, with a complexity of 296 for one out of every 235 keys. However, related-key attacks are not of concern in any properly designed cryptographic protocol, as properly designed software will not use related-keys.
Another attack was blogged by Bruce Schneier on July 30, 2009 and released as a preprint on August 3, 2009. This new attack, by Alex Biryukov, Orr Dunkelman, Nathan Keller, Dmitry Khovratovich, and Adi Shamir, is against AES-256 that uses only two related keys and 239 time to recover the complete 256-bit key of a 9-round version, or 245 time for a 10-round version with a stronger type of related subkey attack, or 270 time for an 11-round version. 256-bit AES uses 14 rounds, so these attacks aren’t effective against full AES.
In November 2009, the first known-key distinguishing attack against a reduced 8-round version of AES-128 was released as a preprint. This known-key distinguishing attack is an improvement of the rebound or the start-from-the-middle attacks for AES-like permutations, which view two consecutive rounds of permutation as the application of a so-called Super-Sbox. It works on the 8-round version of AES-128, with a time complexity of 248, and a memory complexity of 232. 128-bit AES uses 10 rounds, so this attack isn’t effective against full AES-128.
In July 2010 Vincent Rijmen published an ironic paper on “chosen-key-relations-in-the-middle” attacks on AES-128.
The first key-recovery attacks on full AES were due to Andrey Bogdanov, Dmitry Khovratovich, and Christian Rechberger, and were published in 2011. The attack is a biclique attack and is faster than brute force by a factor of about four. It requires 2126.2 operations to recover an AES-128 key. For AES-192 and AES-256, 2190.2 and 2254.6 operations are needed, respectively. This result has been further improved to 2126.0 for AES-128, 2189.9 for AES-192 and 2254.3 for AES-256, which are the current best results in key recovery attack against AES.
This is a very small gain, as a 126-bit key (instead of 128-bits) would still take billions of years to brute force on current and foreseeable hardware. Also, the authors calculate the best attack using their technique on AES with a 128 bit key requires storing 288 bits of data (which later has been improved to 256 ). That works out to about 38 trillion terabytes of data, which is more than all the data stored on all the computers on the planet. As such this is a theoretical attack that has no practical implication on AES security.
According to the Snowden documents, the NSA is doing research on whether a cryptographic attack based on tau statistic may help to break AES.
As for now, there are no known practical attacks that would allow anyone to read correctly implemented AES encrypted data.