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Taking a quick look at Wikipedia, there happens to be a vast amount of different encryptions/cryptographic algorithms. Yet, many of the listings show that these encryption methods are not in use today (due to many being too weak and inefficient)...

As some encryption algorithms are more popular than others, why was not there a conformity for certain algorithm(s) to be used?

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  • There are standards for which encryption algorithms are acceptable in certain situations.
    – schroeder
    Aug 15, 2023 at 18:12
  • I think that if you look at some of those pages, you'll see why there are so many. Some have specific use cases. Some get replaced by better ones as they develop. I'm not sure what you're asking that isn't evident in the link you provided.
    – schroeder
    Aug 15, 2023 at 18:16
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    As for "laws", there are no laws for this kind of thing. That would be a little crazy when, as you have seen, new approaches emerge all the time. And passwords are not encrypted (they are hashed).
    – schroeder
    Aug 15, 2023 at 21:39
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    Yes, there are standards for cybersecurity, such as NIST, ISO-27000, PCI-DSS, and FFIEC.
    – John Wu
    Aug 15, 2023 at 21:45
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    Sort of. PCI-DSS is legally obligatory in that you are violating your merchant terms (which are in a legal contract) if you are not compliant. FFIEC is legally obligatory in that you must comply to be FDIC-insured. NIST and ISO may be obligatory if you are under a military or government contract. We are not talking about criminal law here, but contractual and civil obligations.
    – John Wu
    Aug 15, 2023 at 23:50

1 Answer 1

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The reason there are so many different encryption algorithms is the same reason there are so many different character encodings, date/time formats, chat applications, etc.

Different people inventing similar things

A lot of duplicate work is done because different people work on similar things. Encryption algorithms are no different.

The Advanced Encryption Standard process, for example, had 15 candidates. 15 different groups of expert cryptographers were all given the same task, and so came up with 15 different algorithms. Even if there can be only one winner, that means 14 algorithms were designed, specified, probably implemented too, and never adopted.

Distrust of other people's work

Certain organizations, such as the military, may distrust the work done by other nations. As a result, these groups either develop their own algorithms or task someone they trust with doing so.

It's no surprise that Soviet engineers didn't trust American algorithms and vice versa, so it is only natural that such competing nations/organizations/groups would not trust the work done by others and develop their own, even if the resulting algorithm may end up being inferior.

Cryptography improves

Unsurprisingly, humanity's knowledge of cryptography keeps improving. We find new vectors of attack that render previously thought-to-be-secure algorithms vulnerable, thus necessitating the development of new algorithms.

Not everyone has the same needs

Not everyone encrypts data for the same purpose. Top-secret documents, which need to remain uncrackable for the end of time, have different needs than a couple of bits decrypted on ultra-low energy hardware.

Some algorithms are designed to be as "general-purpose" as possible, while others aim to fulfill a very specific niche or exhibit other desirable properties (e.g., extreme energy efficiency).

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