Advanced Encryption Standard: What It Is and How It Works

Cybercriminals are always on the lookout for weak links to crack. So how can users, particularly in today’s increasingly connected world, get assurance that their data is secure? Well, the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is your best bet. Ahead we’ll take an in-depth look at what it is and how it helps enhance the security of your data.

An Overview of AES

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) began developing AES in 1997 as an alternative to the Data Encryption Standard (DES), which had started manifesting vulnerabilities to brute-force attacks. AES was meant to address these vulnerabilities and enhance the security of sensitive data. So what is it?

AES (also referred to as the Rijndael algorithm) is a symmetric block cipher used across various industries to encrypt sensitive data. It does this by taking plain texts in blocks of 128 bits and converting them into ciphertexts (by using keys of 128, 192, or 256 bits). Among the applications and protocols that use AES are Secure Shell (SSL), Transport Layer Security (TSL), and Internet Protocol Security (IPsec).

The Cryptography field is growing at a rapid rate – a result of which is the emergence of new insights that may impact the security of cryptographic algorithms. To prevent this from happening,  the Crypto Publication Review Board was established—this board is tasked with identifying publications to be reviewed. One of the guiding standards that mandate the application of the AES algorithm to sensitive data is the Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 197. This standard sets clear guidelines on what features an AES should have.

AES Features

NIST mandates that all AES algorithms have a block cipher with the capability of handling 128-bit blocks by using 128, 192, and 256-bit sized keys. Among other features that the AES algorithm must have include:

  • Implementation: The algorithm should have properties like suitability and flexibility for software and hardware implementation and be simple to implement.
  • Cost: An AES algorithm should be released on a nonexclusive, royalty-free, and global basis.
  • Security: Security strength is arguably the most crucial factor when AES algorithms are being reviewed. An AES should have the capacity to resist various attacks.

How Does AES Work?

The three AES block ciphers use different key-bit lengths to encrypt and decrypt blocks of texts. AES 256 uses a 256 key-bit size, AES 192 uses a 192 key-bit size, whereas AES 128 uses a 128-key bit size to decrypt and encrypt blocks of texts. Each of these block ciphers encrypts and decrypts texts in blocks of 128 by using cryptographic keys of 256, 192, and 128 bits, respectively.

We know that data encryption generally deals with the scrambling of text or information into an unreadable form and the development of a key that decrypts the scramble. When you use AES scrambling procedures, you’ll typically use four different scrambling operations in rounds. In short, this means that AES will perform the given operation and then redo the process based on the result of the previous round X number of times. You’ll have to rinse and redo the whole procedure until you have completed a specified number of rounds.

The length of the AES key will determine the number of rounds in which you’ll execute the procedure. For instance:

  • A 256-bit sized AES encryption key has 14 rounds
  • A 192-bit sized AES encryption key has 12 rounds
  • A 128-bit sized AES encryption key has 10 rounds

As mentioned above, each round will have four operations for the encryption task to be completed successfully. Also, you should keep in mind that the sender and the recipient must know and use the same secret key to prevent data leaks.

Attacks on AES Encryption

Research on attacks on AES encryption has been ongoing since this standard was finalized in 2000. Different researchers have published findings of attacks against lower round versions of AES.

In 2009, researchers discovered a potential way of breaching AES encryption. It involved cryptanalysis that attempted to crack a cipher by examining how it operates using different keys. The attack proved to threaten only those AES systems that were incorrectly configured. In this particular related-key attack against AES 128, a familiar key was used to determine the structure of the encryption. Nonetheless, the threat was relatively minor given that it was fashioned against the eight-round AES 128 version rather than the standard 10-round version.

One significant risk against AES encryption is side-channel attacks. Instead of these attacks using brute force assault, they are usually designed to pick up leaked information from a system. Side-channel attacks entail gathering information pertinent to the operations that a computing device undertakes when performing cryptographic tasks and then using this information in reverse-engineering the computing device’s cryptography system. Among the information that these attacks use includes audio clues, electromagnetic leaks, and optical data.

Side-channel attacks can be prevented by closing all possible gaps that may lead to data leaks. Moreover, you can implement randomization strategies to help get rid of any relationship between any data that could be gathered using side-channel attacks and the data protected by the AES cipher.

AES Support In Baton Rouge & New Orleans

New cybersecurity threats emanate every other day. While AES plays a massive role in combating these threats, security experts maintain that it’s vital that you correctly implement it to enhance its security. You can do this using strong passwords, firewalls, antivirus, and Multi Authentication.

That said, partnering with a proven IT security provider can further ensure that you implement AES properly such that you don’t have to worry about security glitches. The hourly rates for IT services will vary depending on your security needs and the firm you partner with.

Are you looking for IT services for your New Orleans or Baton Rouge firm? Well, look no further than Essential Solutions, LLC. We offer a wide range of IT services including cybersecurity, IT consulting, managed IT services, network design and implementation, server migration services, and software development. With us, you are guaranteed excellent IT services. Feel free to contact us or visit our website today to learn more about our services.