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RSA Laboratories

3.1.11 Is the RSA system a de facto standard?

The RSA system is the most widely used public-key cryptosystem today and has often been called a de facto standard. Regardless of the official standards, the existence of a de facto standard is extremely important for the development of a digital economy. If one public-key system is used everywhere for authentication, then signed digital documents can be exchanged between users in different nations using different software on different platforms; this interoperability is necessary for a true digital economy to develop. Adoption of the RSA system has grown to the extent that standards are being written to accommodate it. When the leading vendors of U.S. financial industry were developing standards for digital signatures, they first developed ANSI X9.30 (see Question 5.3.1) in 1997 to support the federal requirement of using the Digital Signature Standard (see Section 3.4). One year later they added ANSI X9.31, whose emphasis is on RSA digital signatures to support the de facto standard of financial institutions.

The lack of secure authentication has been a major obstacle in achieving the promise that computers would replace paper; paper is still necessary almost everywhere for contracts, checks, official letters, legal documents, and identification. With this core of necessary paper transaction, it has not been feasible to evolve completely into a society based on electronic transactions. A digital signature is the exact tool necessary to convert the most essential paper-based documents to digital electronic media. Digital signatures make it possible for passports, college transcripts, wills, leases, checks and voter registration forms to exist in the electronic form; any paper version would just be a "copy" of the electronic original. The accepted standard for digital signatures has enabled all of this to happen.

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