Types of Symmetric Algorithms
There are two primary types of symmetric algorithms: block and stream ciphers (coding methods). In a block cipher, data is broken into blocks of a certain size and encrypted (and later decrypted) block-by-block, with the same key. Stream ciphers work the same way but work on a bit-by-bit basis. A combination of the two, cipher-block-chaining, encrypts block by block, but the encryption of any block is dependent on the results from encrypting the prior block.
DES, Triple DES, IDEA, RC2 and AES are examples of symmetric cryptography. While DES is the most well known, it is also an older algorithm and not as strong as the others. For example, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has broken DES encryption with a brute force attack in less than a day (to read about it, see Cracking DES: Secrets of Encryption Research, Wiretap Politics and Chip Design391 by the Electronic Frontier Foundation), so this is clearly not an encryption technology wed want our most sensitive government or commercial traffic to use.
391. Electronic Frontier Foundation, Cracking DES: Secrets of Encryption Research, Wiretap Politics and Chip Design, OReilly and Associates, August, 1998, http://www.nerdbooks.com/item.html?id=1565925203
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