The modern information economy relies on cryptography for security, but what if the most widely-used cryptography algorithms are cracked in the next few years? RSA and Diffie-Hellman are everywhere, in every device you use, and their failure could bring the world to a stand-still.

Alex Stamos, chief technology officer of the online security company Artemis, led a presentation describing how he and three other security researchers studied recent publications from the insular world of academic cryptopgraphy research, which covers trends in attacking common encryption schemes.

"Our conclusion is there is a small but definite chance that RSA and classic Diffie-Hellman will not be usable for encryption purposes in four to five years," said Stamos, referring to the two most commonly used encryption methods.

Any hints that those methods could be undermined must be taken seriously, said Stamos. They are used to protect banking, online commerce, and e-mail, as well as the mechanisms that ensure that updates downloaded by operating systems such as Windows and OSX are genuine. The result of the two encryption methods being broken would be, said Stamos, "a total failure of trust on the Internet."

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