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What is the International Data Encryption Algorithm?

The International Data Encryption Algorithm (IDEA) is a robust cryptographic tool that secures digital information. Renowned for its strength and efficiency, IDEA utilizes complex mathematical functions to transform plain text into unreadable cipher text, safeguarding data against unauthorized access. Its reliability has made it a cornerstone in encryption protocols. Wondering how it withstands today's cyber threats? Let's examine its enduring relevance.
Troy Holmes
Troy Holmes

Computerized cryptography has been used for decades as a method of creating secret ciphered messages from plain-text data. Over the last few decades many new encryption algorithms have been created. The international data encryption algorithm (IDEA™) is an example of an encryption algorithm that ciphers plan-text data into a set of scrambled characters. It was created in 1991 by James Massey and Xuejia Lai from Switzerland as a form of data encryption. The inventors had hoped it could replace the standard encryption at that time, which was the data encryption standard (DES).

In 1976 the United States government created encryption standards for all federal government entities. The standard at that time was named the data encryption standard (DES). These standards are managed by the National Institute of Technology and Standards (NIST). When DES was released, there were many critiques to the approach because the encryption algorithm was easily broken by many computer scientists. This was primarily because the encryption key used in the standards of DES was too small, which limited the permutations for keys and reduced the complexity of the algorithm.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

In 2001, NIST upgraded the standards to the advanced encryption standard (AES). The new standard supported a more complex encryption algorithm that contained a large 256-bit key. This new approach has made current encryption algorithms impossible to hack. The international data encryption algorithm was created before AES, as an interim approach to data encryption. The current IDEA™ algorithm has also evolved to support the newer standards of AES.

The international data encryption algorithm is widely used by many software applications and is considered a good algorithm for data encryption. It uses a symmetric encryption algorithm, which uses a single key for encryption and deciphering data. The standards of IDEA™ support advanced encryption keys up to 128-bits in length.

Pretty good privacy (PGP) is an encryption algorithm that is used in many email encryption protocols. This is typically considered a good approach for encrypting emails because it supports advanced encryption keys. Many PGP algorithms use the international data encryption algorithm as the internal method for encrypting the message. OpenPGP is an open-source version of PGP, which has adopted IDEA™ as an optional algorithm.

Data encryption algorithms are not limited to plain-text data. Most encryption algorithms support plain-text data, sound and video encryption. All forms of data can be encrypted with the international data encryption algorithm. Currently, IDEA™ has a patent that restricts its use to non-commercial enterprises.

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Discussion Comments


@MrMoody - Yeah, I think that 256 bit encryption with AES is the new standard now. The government uses that kind of encryption now, and it’s impossible to hack, at least not in the next hundred years or so from what I understand.

I don’t know what the government’s position is about independent software vendors. Do software developers have to provide government entities the key to the software if requested?

I would think that at the very minimum, software developers need to cooperate with government officials if asked for the key to the software applications – or simply give a fully functional version of the product as needed.


I remember the early days of the Internet. Email messages were encrypted with PGP – one of the most popular data encryption methods out there at the time.

The reason I remember it is that the government had stiff warnings for people who were using PGP. Specifically, they said something like these messages (or software applications) which used these applications could not be exported overseas.

The government was concerned that the software could get into the wrong hands. They were worried because PGP was so good at the time that it was virtually impossible to hack. I don’t see those warnings anymore; I think the government has gotten better at encryption of its own.

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