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Why did the MARS cipher receive such a high number of negative votes in the AES competition? As I understand only MARS and Serpent implement measures to counter future cryptoanalytic attacks, so it would seem that it is one of the most secure ciphers in the competition. Am I missing something?

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At minimum it's rather ugly. –  CodesInChaos Oct 21 '13 at 14:34
    
Did you read any of the analysis that was published on MARS? There were a series of workshops with a whole bunch of papers that came out of the proces. Did you read NIST's document explaining their final choice of the AES? If not, those would be good documents to go read! –  D.W. Oct 21 '13 at 16:12
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"As I understand only MARS and Serpent implement measures to counter future cryptoanalytic attacks" - Your understanding is faulty. All of the finalists (probably all of the submissions, or essentially all of them) included measures that their designers hoped would counter future cryptanalytic attacks. –  D.W. Oct 21 '13 at 16:13
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up vote 17 down vote accepted

People found MARS to be clunky and overly complex, leading to more effort for implementation and optimization, and also a less clear overall security picture.

Assessments of "security" are, in fact, extremely subjective, because they rely on speculations about unknown future cryptanalytic attack, empiric traditions (e.g. "more rounds" = "more security"), and wishful thinking. If we want to remain objective, then out of the 15 AES candidates, 13 were "as secure as one can get" and there is relatively little more that can be said on the subject. The rest is a matter of implementation (for performance and for resistance to side-channel leaks), and the word of the implementers about MARS was, mostly, "please don't".

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