IDEA is the second version of a block cipher designed by Xuejia Lai[?] and James L. Massey[?] of ETHZurich. RSA Security [1] (http://www.rsasecurity.com/) describes it this way:
RSA Security goes on to say that IDEA was analyzed to measure its strength against differential cryptanalysis. The analysis concluded that IDEA is immune to that technique. In fact, (says RSA Security), there are no linear cryptanalytic attacks on IDEA, and there are no known algebraic weaknesses in IDEA. The only weakness of note was discovered by Daemen [DGV94]: using any of a class of 2^{51} weak keys during encryption results in easy detection and recovery of the key. "However, since there are 2^{128} possible keys, this result has no impact on the practical security of the cipher for encryption provided the encryption keys are chosen at random. IDEA is generally considered to be a very secure cipher and both the cipher development and its theoretical basis have been openly and widely discussed." [ibid.]
IDEA encryption is somewhat faster and generally considered to be more secure than DES encryption. But IDEA is newer and therefore has not been as extensively tested, and it is patented which restricts its commercial use. The patent will expire in 2011.
Further Reading
[LM92] X. Lai, J.L. Massey and S. Murphy, Markov ciphers and differential cryptanalysis, Advances in Cryptology  Eurocrypt '91, SpringerVerlag (1992), 1738.
[DGV94] J. Daemen, R. Govaerts, and J. Vandewalle, Weak keys for IDEA, Advances in Cryptology  Crypto '93, SpringerVerlag (1994), 224231.
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