Cryptographers are excited because NIST have announced the selection of SHA-3. There are various reasons to like SHA-3, perhaps most importantly because it uses a different design from its predecessors, so attacks that work against them are unlikely to work against it.
But if I were paranoid, there’d be something else I’d be thinking about: SHA-3 is particularly fast in hardware. So what’s bad about that? Well, in practice, on most platforms, this is not actually particularly useful: it is quite expensive to get data out of your CPU and into special-purpose hardware – so expensive that hardware offload of hashing is completely unheard of. In fact, even more expensive crypto is hardly worth offloading, which is why specialist crypto hardware manufacturers tend to concentrate on the lucrative HSM market, rather than on accelerators, these days.
So, who benefits from high speed hardware? In practice, it mostly seems to be attackers – for example, if I want to crack a large number of hashed passwords, then it is useful to build special hardware to do so.
It is notable, at least to the paranoid, that the other recent crypto competition by NIST, AES, was also hardware friendly – but again, in a way useful mostly to attackers. In particular, AES is very fast to key – this is a property that is almost completely useless for defence, but, once more, great if you have some encrypted stuff that you are hoping to crack.
The question is, who stands to benefit from this? Well, there is a certain agency who are building a giant data centre who might just like us all to be using crypto that’s easy to attack if you have sufficient resource, and who have a history of working with NIST.