NEC has announced its newly-developed encryption technology, CipherUnicorn-A, which the company claims is the most effective in the world.

The technology is based on common key encryption - where a single key is used for both the encoding and the decoding functions. Like other common key systems, a randomly generated master key, 128 bits in size, is first created. However, unlike other systems, this is not used to encrypt or decrypt the file.

NEC's system creates an intermediate key, of several thousand bits, from the master key. This serves as the base for the encryption process.

Each to their own When a file is encrypted, the program breaks it down into a number of data blocks. Each data block is encrypted with a different key - chosen from inside the intermediate key, and based upon the characteristics of the data being encrypted. To add an extra layer of security, the key lengths used for encryption vary between 128, 192 and 256 bits in length.

As a result, multiple keys of unknown length need to be cracked for an entire file to be decrypted. NEC claim the new system is more secure than current Data Encryption Standard (DES) based systems. The company added the software is 2 to the power of 36 - roughly 37,000 quadrillion trillion - times more secure than current systems. To decrypt, all the designated user needs is the master key. The software is capable of regenerating the intermediate key, and working out how to decrypt the file.

Typically, the master key would be passed by hand to the other party, or sent across the network, itself encrypted using a public key encryption system. The encryption technology is first expected to be applied in NEC systems. The company also intends submitting the system to the International Standards Organisation, which is expected to begin considering an international standard for encryption later this year.