Date: 02 Jun 2005

A known plaintext attack on the PKZIP stream cipher


The PKZIP program is one of the more widely used archive/ compression programs on personal computers. It also has many compatible variants on other computers, and is used by most BBS's and ftp sites to compress their archives. PKZIP provides a stream cipher which allows users to scramble files with variable length keys (passwords).

In this paper we describe a known plaintext attack on this cipher, which can find the internal representation of the key within a few hours on a personal computer using a few hundred bytes of known plaintext. In many cases, the actual user keys can also be found from the internal representation. We conclude that the PKZIP cipher is weak, and should not be used to protect valuable data.