On January 2, 1997, the American National Institute for Standardisation and Technology (NIST) invited cryptographers from all over the world to develop candidates for a new standard for the protection of sensitive electronic information.
Twenty-one teams of cryptographers from 11 countries submitted candidates. These include several major companies like the computer manufacturer IBM, the information security company RSA Security, Deutsche Telekom and the Japanese NTT. The candidate algorithms were evaluated for more than 2 years with respect to security, performance, and suitability for different applications.
Some candidates were discarded because they do not reach the required security level. Others put a too heavy burden on the processor, making the applications too slow. Five finalists were selected for the the final evaluation round: MARS, designed by IBM; RC6, designed by RSA Security; Twofish, designed by the US company Counterpane; Serpent, designed by three scientists from the UK, Denmark and Israel; and Rijndael, designed by two Flemish researchers.
On October 2, 2000, the winner was announced: the algorithm Rijndael, developed by Dr. Joan Daemen, employed at Protonworld International, and Dr. Vincent Rijmen, postdoctoral researcher of the Fund for Scientific Research - Flanders (Belgium), employed at the COSIC lab of the department of Electrical Engineering - ESAT of the K.U.Leuven.
The strong points of Rijndael are a simple and elegant design, efficient and fast on modern processors, but also compact in hardware and on smartcards. These features make Rijndael suitable for a broad range of applications.
Next year, Rijndael will be officially published as the `AES' (Advanced Encryption Standard). It will be used to protect sensitive but `unclassified' electronic information of the US government. During the last year, a large number of products and applications has been AES-enabled. Therefore, it is very likely to become a worldwide de facto standard in numerous other applications such as Internet security, bank cards and ATMs.
An important condition to enter the AES competition was that the designers gave up all intellectual property claims on their algorithm. Rijndael is freely available for everybody, and will continue to be so in the future; the designers don't gain financially from the design.
Protonworld Int'l is a Banksys spin-off company, that develops new applications for the Proton card.
The research lab COSIC (Computer Security and Industrial Cryptography) performs fundamental and applied research in the fields of cryptography and information security. COSIC is headed by the professors Joos Vandewalle and Bart Preneel.
For more information, see http://www.esat.kuleuven.ac.be/cosic/, http://www.esat.kuleuven.ac.be/~rijmen/rijndael/ and http://www.nist.gov/aes/.