Technology briefs

NIST releases revised crypto standard; Hands-free recharging; Fading Windows?

NIST releases revised crypto standard
The latest version of the Federal Information Processing Standard for cryptographic modules, FIPS 140-3, has been released for comment by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Comments on the draft are due to NIST by Oct. 11.

FIPS 140-1 was issued in 1994 with a requirement that it be reviewed every five years. The current standard, FIPS 140-2 was approved in 2001 and grew out of Federal Standard 1027, General Security Requirements for Equipment, which used the now-outdated Data Encryption Standard.

The third iteration contains the usual updates and clarifications that every maturing standard undergoes while tackling a growing concern: protecting smart cards from power analysis attacks. In such attacks, a hacker reads the power fluctuations in a cryptographic module to crack its code.

Power analysis was a relatively new technique for cracking codes in single-chip processors when FIPS 140-2 was approved, said Stan Kladko, director of the FIPS validation lab at BKP Security Labs. “At that time, there was not enough time to include it” in the standard.

But now “this is one of the bread-and-butter attacks,” said Paul Kocher, president of Cryptography Research.

Hands-free recharging
Imagine one day that you no longer need to plug in your cell phone or laptop PC to charge it. Simply walk into a room, and all your electronic devices will recharge automatically.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered a way to transmit power wirelessly. The Army Research Office, National Science Foundation and Energy Department funded the research.

In the past, methods of transmitting electricity without wires leaked so much power in transit that they were useless for practical applications. The new work promises a dramatic improvement. In the June 7 issue of Science magazine, researchers reported transmitting 60 watts over a distance of 2 meters with 40 percent efficiency.

The trick? Something called magnetically coupled resonance. “Two resonant objects of the same resonant frequency tend to exchange energy efficiently, while interacting weakly with extraneous off-resonant objects,” the article states.

Fading Windows?
Although the lion’s share of software is still developed for Microsoft Windows, proportionally speaking, fewer programmers are developing for Windows now than a year ago, according to research firm Evans Data.

This year, 65 percent of North American developers targeted some version of Windows, down from 74 percent last year. In contrast, developers targeting Linux jumped from 9 percent to 12 percent in that period.

The research company attributed the decline in Windows development partially to an increase in development for niche operating systems.

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