Definition

initialization vector (IV)

Part of the Email and messaging glossary:

What is an initialization vector?

An initialization vector (IV) is an arbitrary number that can be used along with a secret key for data encryption. This number, also called a nonce, is employed only one time in any session. 

The use of an IV prevents repetition in data encryption, making it more difficult for a hacker using a dictionary attack to find patterns and break a cipher. For example, a sequence might appear twice or more within the body of a message. If there are repeated sequences in encrypted data, an attacker could assume that the corresponding sequences in the message were also identical. The IV prevents the appearance of corresponding duplicate character sequences in the ciphertext

The ideal IV is a random number that is made known to the destination computer to facilitate decryption of the data when it is received. The IV can be agreed on in advance, transmitted independently or included as part of the session setup prior to exchange of the message data. The length of the IV (the number of bits or bytes it contains) depends on the method of encryption. The IV length is usually comparable to the length of the encryption key or block of the cipher in use.

Learn More About IT:
> Spiritus-Temporis.com describes how IVs work and provides links to related topics.
> Example-code.com explains 'AES Encrypt with Initialization Vector.'
> Wikipedia has an entry about initialization vectors.

This was last updated in March 2011
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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