1995-02-13 - Re: Factoring - State of the Art and Predictions

Header Data

From: mpd@netcom.com (Mike Duvos)
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Message Hash: a1c1971e23a89b5c21f86f368d65e3539525d603a02c3b03652c3fcc387530a4
Message ID: <199502130218.SAA00223@netcom3.netcom.com>
Reply To: <m0rdnqt-000k5xC@mailbox.mcs.com>
UTC Datetime: 1995-02-13 02:19:13 UTC
Raw Date: Sun, 12 Feb 95 18:19:13 PST

Raw message

From: mpd@netcom.com (Mike Duvos)
Date: Sun, 12 Feb 95 18:19:13 PST
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Subject: Re: Factoring - State of the Art and Predictions
In-Reply-To: <m0rdnqt-000k5xC@mailbox.mcs.com>
Message-ID: <199502130218.SAA00223@netcom3.netcom.com>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

schneier@chinet.chinet.com writes:

 > ((Comments are appreciated.  -Bruce))


[Nice historical presentation of factoring snipped]

 > A new factoring algorithm has taken over from the quadratic
 > sieve: the general number field sieve. In 1989
 > mathematicians would have told you that the general number
 > field sieve would never be practical.

 > In 1992 they would have told you that it was practical, but
 > only faster than the quadratic sieve for numbers greater
 > than 130-150 digits or so. Today it is known to be faster
 > than the quadratic sieve for numbers well below 116 digits.

 > The general number field sieve can factor a 512-bit number
 > over 10 times faster than the quadratic sieve.

The GNFS situation is a little bit more complicated than that.
Today's factoring algorithms work by finding distinct square
roots of the same quadratic residue modulo the number to be
factored.  Each such discovery yields an approximately 50% chance
of factoring the number using Euclid's GCD algorithm.

Since searching directly for a congruence of squares would be
grossly inefficient, one sieves for relations involving arbitrary
powers of numbers from a set called the "factor base", and after
collecting an overdetermined number of such relations, finds
their null space modulo two in huge matrix operation.  This
yields a relation whose powers are all even, from which a
congruence of squares may be constructed in an obvious manner.

Most popular factoring methods including NFS, GNFS, and numerous
flavors of QS utilize this general scheme, and differ only in the
numbers to which they are applicable and in the methods that they
use to fish for relations in more densely populated mathematical

GNFS uses a particularly cute trick, which is to express the
number being factored as a polynomial with small coefficients,
evaluated at a small argument.  On can then construct a
homomorphism from a ring of algebraic integers into Z/nZ. This
permits sieving to be conducted in a particularly efficient

Finding such a polynomial, unfortunately, is a far from
straightforward task.  Current state of the art is to start with
a guess, and flog it to death on a workstation for several days,
attempting some sort of stepwise refinement.  Although the
problem is mathematically rich, no systematic method currently
exists to pick the "best" polynomial, and the problem of doing so
may be of a difficulty comparable to factoring.

The speed with which GNFS runs and the degree to which it
outperforms QS is extremely sensitive to the polynomial chosen,
so the blanket statement that GNFS outperforms QS by a factor of
10 on 512 bit numbers is in my opinion, a bit of an

GNFS is one of the most complicated computer algorithms to be
constructed, sieving and factoring simultaneously in both a ring
of algebraic integers and in Z/nZ. The algorithm has been known
to experience "cycle explosions" in which unexpectly large
amounts of raw data are produced from relatively small numbers.
It is certainly not something that can be regularly run in
"production mode" and it requires a skilled operator (currently
its creator) to help it coast smoothly through its various

I don't think GNFS is going to be available in shrink-wrapped
form for quite some time. :)

 > A related algorithm, the special number field sieve, can
 > already factor numbers of a certain specialized
 > form--numbers not generally used for cryptography--must
 > faster than the general number field sieve can factor
 > general numbers of the same size.

NFS and GNFS are essentially the same algorithm.  NFS is simply a
special case where a particularly simple polynomial is known,
Z[a] is a unique factorization domain, and some other nice
algebraic properties are present.  In the case of a general
integer, and a more complex polynomial, some things get messier.

 > It is not unreasonable to assume that the general number
 > field sieve can be optimized to run this fast; it is
 > possible that the NSA already knows how to do this.

I think this is unlikely.  The difference in speed is due to the
fact that NFS only factors specially chosen simple numbers, and
GNFS factors anything.  That is not something that is likely to
be optimized away.

Also, I think we make far to much of the magical ability of the
NSA to do things.  At the present point in time, most of the
cryptomathematical expertise in the world is external to the NSA.
The NSA didn't invent GNFS, or for that matter, public key

 > Making predictions beyond the near future is even more
 > foolish. Who knows what kind of advances in computing,
 > networking, and mathematics are going to happen by 2020?
 > However, if you look at the broad picture, in every decade
 > we can factor numbers twice as long as in the previous
 > decade.

GNFS probably represents the final step in the evolution of the
"combination of congruences" factoring methods.  Further
refinements would probably be such complicated algorithms as to
be inpractical to program.

Additional improvements in our ability to break RSA will probably
come via some new factoring scheme that we are presently unaware
of, or via a method of computing the inverse of the encryption
permutation used by RSA which does not require explicit formation
of the factors of the modulus.

 >          Table 5:  Long-range factoring predictions

 >          Year     Key length (in bits)
 >          1995     1024
 >          2005     2048
 >          2015     4096
 >          2025     8192
 >          2035     16,384
 >          2045     32,768

I think factoring technology may reach its "Omega Point" long
before 2045.  Twenty years from now, we might be able to factor
anything.  I think predictions past ten years are pure

 > There is always the possibility that an advance in
 > factoring will surprise me as well, but I think that
 > unlikely.

I expect to be surprised by an advance in factoring momentarily.
You are far too pessimistic. :)

     Mike Duvos         $    PGP 2.6 Public Key available     $
     mpd@netcom.com     $    via Finger.                      $