On the Importance of Fast Encryption

The CNN reports that Iraqi insurgents have been able to see the video feeds from the cameras of the remote-control planes (“drones”) that are used by American forces to gather intelligence and for targeted strikes.

How did the Iraqi insurgents manage to break the encryption used by the American military? That was easy: the video feed is sent in the clear from (some of) the drones. And with what sophisticated eavesdropping devices did the Iraqi insurgents manage to capture the video signal? With standard satellite dishes, and with a Russian program originally written to watch satellite TV channels for free.

Well, thanks God this incredible oversight has been exposed, so that it can be fixed.

“We have known about this for years.” Military sources told CNN. In fact, during the 2003 invasion, the Iraqi army was able to see the feeds from the drones, and hence locate and destroy some of them.

And what exactly was anybody thinking? “Encryption was found to slow the real-time link.” The military source told CNN: “The encryption therefore was removed from many feeds.”

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2 thoughts on “On the Importance of Fast Encryption

  1. I can see good quality videos from netflix and hulu at home with a 300kB/sec internet connection, and DVD-quality, which is pretty high, requires about 1MB/sec.

    In a NIST report at the time of the evaluation of AES candidates, it took 800 clock cycles to encrypt 16 bytes with Rijndael, the eventual winner, using NIST codes, and it took 400 clock cycles using better code. (On an Intel Pentium Pro.)

    Using the slow implementation, a 200MHz pentium pro could encrypt at a rate of more than 2.8 MB/sec, almost triple what is needed for DVD-quality video, and about ten times what is needed for decent quality.

    The first generation of iphones had a 400MHz processor. I suspect that my microwave oven has a processor whose computing power exceeds what is needed to encrypt real-time video.

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