International Data Encryption Algorithm (IDEA)

The International Data Encryption Algorithm (IDEA) is a symmetric-key block cipher that was designed to provide secure data encryption. It was proposed by Xuejia Lai and James L. Massey in 1991. IDEA operates on fixed-size blocks of data and uses a secret key for both encryption and decryption.

IDEA operates through 8.5 rounds, consisting of 8 full rounds and 1 half-round. Developed as a replacement for the Data Encryption Standard (DES), IDEA aimed to provide enhanced security. It utilizes a substitution-permutation network (SPN) structure, incorporating eight 4x4 substitution boxes (S-boxes) to introduce non-linearity and resistance to attacks. Despite its initial patent, IDEA has been widely used in applications like Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) but has gradually given way to newer algorithms such as the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) in response to evolving security requirements and cryptographic advancements.

Key Features:
  1. Mixes operations: Combines modular addition, multiplication, and XOR operations for added complexity.
  2. Strong against attacks: Resistant to differential and linear cryptanalysis, making it more secure than DES.
  3. Efficient: Relatively fast in software implementations, making it suitable for various applications.

How It Works?


The plaintext, or the message to be encrypted, is first divided into 64-bit blocks. This means that each block acts as a unit of data for encryption, ensuring that the algorithm handles manageable chunks of information. This division is crucial for block ciphers like IDEA, as they encrypt data in fixed-size blocks rather than continuous streams.

Key Expansion

The 128-bit secret key, which is shared between the sender and recipient, undergoes a process called key expansion. This involves generating 52 smaller keys, each 16 bits in length, from the original key.

These 52 subkeys are then used in different stages of the encryption process to introduce complex and varied transformations to the plaintext.


IDEA's encryption consists of 8 full rounds and a final half-round, each following a specific pattern:

  1. Division: The 64-bit block is further divided into four 16-bit subblocks, making the data even more manageable.
  2. Operations: A series of mathematical operations, including XOR (exclusive OR), modular addition, and multiplication, are applied to these subblocks. These operations involve specific subkeys from the expanded key, introducing encryption and obfuscation of the original data.
  3. Swapping: The order of the subblocks is then shuffled or swapped, enhancing the diffusion of information within the block. This diffusion makes it harder for attackers to analyze patterns and relationships within the encrypted data.

Output Transformation

After the 8 full rounds, a final half-round is applied, which involves a slightly different set of operations compared to the regular rounds. This additional step acts as a final layer of security, further obscuring the relationship between the encrypted ciphertext and the original plaintext.


The output of the final half-round is the encrypted ciphertext, which is also a 64-bit block. This ciphertext appears as a random sequence of bits, concealing the original message and making it unreadable without the correct key to decrypt it.


The process is essentially the reverse of encryption, using the same key in reverse order.

Operations Used

  1. Substitution-Permutation Network (SPN): IDEA uses a substitution-permutation network as its basic structure. It involves the use of substitution boxes (S-boxes) and permutation operations to provide confusion and diffusion, essential properties for secure encryption.
  2. XOR (Exclusive OR) Operations: XOR operations are used extensively in the round structure to combine input data with subkeys.


IDEA employs eight 4x4 S-boxes for substitution. These S-boxes are a crucial component of the algorithm and contribute to its security. The S-boxes provide non-linearity, making it more resistant to various cryptographic attacks.


Security was a crucial consideration in the design of IDEA (International Data Encryption Algorithm), leading to its widespread adoption due to its robustness and resistance to both differential and linear cryptanalysis. Despite its initial acclaim, it is important to acknowledge that the landscape of encryption evolves over time. As newer and more advanced encryption algorithms have been developed, some have gradually replaced IDEA in specific applications, reflecting the continuous pursuit of heightened security measures in the field of cryptography.


  1. PGP (Pretty Good Privacy): Used for email encryption and digital signatures.
  2. OpenSSL: Implemented as an option for data encryption.
  3. Secure voice communication: Used in some voice over IP (VoIP) systems.
  4. Electronic voting: Implemented in some electronic voting systems.

Current Status

  1. Patent expired in 2012: No longer proprietary, making it freely available for use.
  2. Not as widely used as AES: Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is now the more common choice for high-security applications.
  3. Still considered secure: However, IDEA is still considered a secure algorithm and may be suitable for specific use cases.


While IDEA was a well-regarded encryption algorithm, the cryptographic community has since moved towards newer algorithms such as Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) due to advancements in cryptanalysis and the need for stronger security. AES has become the de facto standard for symmetric-key encryption in many applications.