QUALCOMM Giving Away Encryption Software

Feb 28, 2003

Michael Singer

QUALCOMM Thursday shifted its strategy towards some of its encryption software and began giving it away for free.

The San Diego-based wireless giant announced it would allow free use of its SOBER and Turing encryption algorithms for any purpose. In the past, QUALCOMM provided the encryption software only to its licensed manufacturers or for non-commercial use.

The company said the initiative is designed to benefit the telecommunications industry. Source code for the ciphers is available from QUALCOMM Australia's Web site:

Developed by Greg Rose and Phil Hawkes for possible applications in wireless telephony, Turing and the SOBER family are high-speed, highly secure stream ciphers and are thought to be immune to any practical cryptanalytic attacks.

QUALCOMM says stream ciphers can be much more efficient for encryption than the more common block ciphers, such as the Advanced Encryption Standard. Because of their inherent compatibility nature, the company says stream ciphers could lower costs when connecting new hardware to older systems or, at times, offer the choice to use a software implementation instead of building any specialized hardware.

"Encryption technology protects our wireless networks and enables operators to ensure all cell phone calls are secure, however the value of the technology is limited unless it is used," said Greg Rose, vice president of technology for QUALCOMM. "By making the encryption software and complementary patents available, QUALCOMM has opened up a key piece of security technology to the industry and other interested individuals."

Back in 1999, Lucent brought in a highly mathematical thesis before the Telecommunication Industry Association (TIA) showing an alleged weakness in Qualcomm's SOBER algorithm and claiming it unfit as a standard. However, the essence of this "attack" was that the formal SOBER description did not exactly match the theory. QUALCOMM has since fixed the inconsistency.

More recently, QUALCOMM was granted a new patent, U.S. Patent 6,510,228, that covers the SOBER cipher and its descendants, including its new encryption algorithm Turing. The new algorithm, the Turing cipher, is named after Alan Turing (1912-54), a respected mathematician and cryptographer who contributed greatly to England's code breaking efforts during World War II, as well as the foundations of computer science.

The company claims its Turing cipher is significantly faster than the recently adopted Advanced Encryption Standard algorithm (Rijndael), and can offer advanced protection for CDMA networks. The SOBER family of encryption algorithms was first released in 1997 and can be used for a variety of CDMA applications, as well as other uses, such as high-speed routers.


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