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Template:Infobox block cipher

Serpent is a symmetric key block cipher which was a finalist in the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) contest, where it came second to Rijndael. Serpent was designed by Ross Anderson, Eli Biham, and Lars Knudsen.

Like other AES submissions, Serpent has a block size of 128 bits and supports a key size of 128, 192 or 256 bits[1]. The cipher is a 32-round substitution-permutation network operating on a block of four 32-bit words. Each round applies one of eight 4-bit to 4-bit S-boxes 32 times in parallel. Serpent was designed so that all operations can be executed in parallel, using 32 1-bit slices. This maximizes parallelism, but also allows use of the extensive cryptanalysis work performed on DES.

Serpent was widely viewed as taking a more conservative approach to security than the other AES finalists, opting for a larger security margin: the designers deemed 16 rounds to be sufficient against known types of attack, but specified 32 rounds as insurance against future discoveries in cryptanalysis.

The Serpent cipher has not been patented. It is completely in the public domain and can be freely used by anyone. There are no restrictions or encumbrances whatsoever regarding its use. As a result, anyone is free to incorporate Serpent in their software (or hardware implementations) without paying license fees.

Rijndael vs. Serpent[]

Rijndael is a substitution-linear transformation network with ten, twelve, or fourteen rounds, depending on the key size, and with block sizes of 128 bits, 192 bits, or 256 bits, independently specified. Serpent is a substitution-permutation network which has thirty-two rounds, plus an initial and a final permutation to simplify an optimized implementation. The round function in Rijndael consists of three parts: a nonlinear layer, a linear mixing layer, and a key-mixing XOR layer. The round function in Serpent consists of key-mixing XOR, thirty-two parallel applications of the same 4x4 S-box, and a linear transformation, except in the last round, wherein another key-mixing XOR replaces the linear transformation. The nonlinear layer in Rijndael uses an 8x8 S-box whereas Serpent uses eight different 4x4 S-boxes. The 32 rounds make Serpent have a higher security margin than Rijndael; however, Rijndael with 10 rounds is faster and easier to implement for small blocksTemplate:Citation needed. Hence, Rijndael was selected as the winner in the AES competition.


The XSL attack, if effective, would weaken Serpent (though not as much as it would weaken Rijndael, which became AES). However, many cryptanalysts believe that once implementation considerations are taken into account the XSL attack would be more expensive than a brute force attack.Template:Citation needed

In 2000, a paper by Kohno et al. presents a meet-in-the-middle attack against 6 of 32 rounds of Serpent and an amplified boomerang attack against 9 of 32 rounds in Serpent.[2]

A 2002 attack by Eli Biham, Orr Dunkelman and Nathan Keller presents a linear cryptanalysis attack that breaks 10 of 32 rounds of Serpent-128 with 2118 known plaintexts and 289 time, and 11 rounds of Serpent-192/256 with 2118 known plaintexts and 2187 time.[3]

See also[]

  • Tiger - hash function by the same authors.


  1. Serpent official site
  2. Template:Cite paper
  3. Template:Cite paper

External links[]

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