According to a report in New Scientist: A competition is underway to find a replacement for "the gold-standard" of computer security algorithms used in almost all secure, online transactions.
The list of possibilities for Secure Hash Algorithm-3, or SHA-3, has been narrowed down to five finalists. They now face the onslaught of an international community of "cryptanalysts" – who will analyse the algorithms for weaknesses – before just one is due to be selected as the winner in 2012.
"The competition, which is being run by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland, is a huge deal for cryptographers and cryptanalysts alike," says New Scientist. "'These are incredibly competitive people. They just love this,' says William Burr of NIST. 'It's almost too much fun. For us, it's a lot of work.'
"The need for the competition dates back to 2004 and 2005," says New Scientist, "when Chinese cryptanalyst Xiaoyun Wang shocked cryptographers by revealing flaws in the algorithm SHA-1, the current gold-standard 'hash algorithm,' which is relied upon for almost all online banking transactions, digital signatures, and the secure storage of some passwords, such as those used to grant access to email accounts."