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By Beth Bacheldor

NIST Seeks Comments on Lightweight Cryptography Draft Report

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been carrying out a project focused on learning more about the issues involved in implementing lightweight cryptography for small computing devices that have limited resources, and developing a strategy for the standardization of lightweight cryptographic algorithms. In August 2016, it issued a report, Draft NISTIR 8114, that provides an overview of the lightweight cryptography project at NIST, and also describes plans for the standardization of lightweight cryptographic algorithms.

NIST-approved cryptographic standards were designed to perform well using general-purpose computers, according to the standards agency, and may not be acceptable for small computing devices that have limited resources. The report identifies a number of systems that leverage highly constrained devices, such as automotive systems, sensor networks, distributed control systems and smart grids. Security and privacy can be critical, but the majority of modern cryptographic algorithms were designed for desktop and server environments.

While current NIST-approved algorithms can be engineered to fit into the limited resources of constrained environments, the report explains, their performance may be unacceptable. The report provides an overview of lightweight cryptography, summarizes the findings of NIST's lightweight cryptography project and outlines NIST's plans for the standardization of lightweight cryptographic algorithms.

According to the report, NIST has decided to create a portfolio of lightweight cryptographic algorithms through an open process similar to the selection of block cipher modes of operation. Algorithms will be recommended for use only in the context of profiles, which describe physical, performance and security characteristics. These profiles are intended to capture cryptographic algorithm requirements imposed by devices and applications for which lightweight cryptography is needed. NIST will develop profiles based on community responses to questions (included in this report) regarding application and device requirements for lightweight cryptography.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is seeking comments on the draft report. Comments are due no later than Oct. 31, and must be emailed to lightweight-crypto@nist.gov (subject: "Comments on Draft NISTIR 8114").

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