NZ company sets US$3000 cryptography challenge

A fledgling New Zealand company has jumped into the international cryptography market with a "Safecracker Challenge" which offers $US3000 to anyone who can crack its system.

RPK New Zealand has mounted the challenge as the sharp end of an impressive launch for its new RPK public key cryptography system. Company founder and the inventor of RPK, Bill Raike, has placed beta software and full documentation on a local Web site, and is being respresented in the US by Jack Oswald, director of Internet products at Borland International.

Interested parties in the US include "one of the major chip manufacturers", says Raike. "I suspect they're interested because RPK has been designed to be easy to implement in hardware. That, the fact that it is significantly faster than RSA-based systems and the fact that it is not subject to a US export ban--and so offers at least the chance of global deployment--are its major selling points."

Raike, who has dual US and New Zealand citizenship and has lived in New Zealand for six-and-a-half years, describes himself as a "reformed academic" with a long-standing interest in cryptography. He earned his PhD in Applied Mathematics at Northwestern University and in 1980 he and his partner, Carl Nicolai, successfully sought a patent for a commercial voice scrambler, only to it have a secrecy order slapped on it by US authorities. Raike also lived for 10 years in Japan, where he has has been promoting the new product.

Raike says RPK is based on simple component parts combined in a novel way to create a new cryptographic engine he calls a mixture generator.

"It is based on well-understood yet complex mathematics. The security of the system rests on the computational difficulty of computing discrete logarithms over large finite fields and upon well-defined measures of complexity of a mixture generator."

Full documentation, including algorithms, source code and even Raike's suggested angles of attack on his system, is available from the RPK Website at http://crypto.swdev.co.nz.

Carl Allen, an expert in cryptographic systems, principal of INFOHub and former director of security products for Novell, has described RPK as combining "a number of well-known mathematical models to create what looks like a formidable security system".

Raike does not, however, expect to see RPK broken. If its speed and security are proven, he believes RPK could eventually be worth far more than the $3000 he has put up to attract attention.

"If I can blue-sky it, the only comparison I could point to is the $300 million that Security Dynamics Technologies recently paid for RSA Data Security. I don't know how they valued RSA at that level--especially given that some of RSA's most important patents expire in the next few years--but they did."

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