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DES is the archetypal block cipher — an algorithm that takes a fixed-length string of plaintext bits and transforms it through a series of complicated operations into another ciphertext bitstring of the same length. In the case of DES, the block size is 64 bits. DES also uses a key to customize the transformation, so that decryption can supposedly only be performed by those who know the particular key used to encrypt. The key ostensibly consists of 64 bits; however, only 56 of these are actually used by the algorithm. Eight bits are used solely for checking parity, and are thereafter discarded. Hence the effective key length is 56 bits, and it is always quoted as such. Every 8th bit of the selected key is discarded, that is, positions 8, 16, 24, 32, 40, 48, 56, 64 are removed from the 64 bit key leaving behind only the 56 bit key.
Although more information has been published on the cryptanalysis of DES than any other block cipher, the most practical attack to date is still a brute force approach. Various minor cryptanalytic properties are known, and three theoretical attacks are possible which, while having a theoretical complexity less than a brute force attack, require an unrealistic number of known or chosen plaintexts to carry out, and are not a concern in practice.
DES Cipher Detail:
Key sizes: 56 bits
Block sizes: 64 bits
Structure: Balanced Feistel network