Federal Bytes

Pretty bad privacy

A contest that pitted hackers and security experts against each other in a race to crack the federal government's encryption standard? That's what RSA Data Security Inc. conducted in conjunction with its security conference in San Francisco last week.

RSA offered more than $50 000 in cash prizes to contestants who could decipher encrypted messages of the federal government's encryption standard and others. The goal according to RSA officials was to quantify the security offered by the government-endorsed encryption products.

The upshot of all this: A graduate student from the University of California Berkeley last week cracked RSA's 40-bit cipher in three and a half hours.

The cipher RSA's weakest is also the most secure level of encryption that the federal government allows companies to export.

Ian Goldberg the student who broke the code said his achievement represented "final proof of what we've known for years: 40-bit technology is obsolete."

A press release from the university trumpeted that "the only legally exportable cryptography level is totally insecure."

Mayday mayday

Budget woes at the National Security Agency?

Well it seems the agency's top man is not exactly bubbling over with hope that NSA will escape the budget ax unscathed.

At a recent meeting of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association NSA director Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minihan was asked how he thought the agency would fare in the budgeting process.

True to military form Minihan used Air Force lingo to describe his thoughts on the budget process.

"The nose is pointing down and the houses are getting bigger " Minihan said.

Sound and vision

It's nice to see that some federal agencies are having a bit of fun with the Web while still fulfilling the objective of using the Internet to inform the public.

You can find some of the best examples of this by accessing the Multimedia Government Information Web page at ezinfo.ucs.indiana.edu/~pgrayove/government.html.

Although it isn't a federal government site per se it does include links to some pretty cool federal pages that feature animation and movies as well as sound tours and pictures.

For example we found an Environmental Protection Agency "Kid Stuff" site with an animated graphic illustrating how water evaporates and then returns to Earth.

And a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration site included some nifty video clips of hurricanes sweeping across fields and flood waters threatening to submerge an automobile.

Throw in Helen Hunt and a few cows flying across the screen and the government could have a box office blockbuster on its hands.

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