Difference Between AES and RC4 (With Table)

As we exchange data over the Internet, it is imperative to protect our confidential information. Cryptographic algorithms such as AES and RC4 are used to restore data security. By combining concepts from mathematics with computer science, cryptologists have developed this effective algorithm that is challenging for a cryptanalyst.

AES vs RC4

The main difference between AES and RC4 is that AES is a block cipher, while RC4 is a stream cipher. Block encryption and stream encryption are symmetric algorithm classifications. A block cipher encodes plain text in block sizes, while a stream cipher encodes bit by bit, which is similar to the flow of a stream.

AES or Advanced Encryption Standard was started in 1997 by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) with incoming attacks on DES. The best encryption candidate was selected from among fifteen other algorithms entered in an open competition to meet AES specifications. AES incorporates a 128-bit block and makes use of 3 specific key lengths: 128, 192, and 256 bits.

RC4 or Rivest Cipher 4 was invented by Ron Rivest in 1987. He developed it for RSA security. It is a symmetric stream cipher that encodes plaintext bit by bit with a key to convert it to ciphertext. Key sizes consist of 64-bit or 128-bit. Originally, RC4 remained a secret until it was released to the public. Ron’s code is his other name.

Comparison Table Between AES and RC4

Parameters of comparisonAESRC4
Definition Advanced Encryption Standard is a symmetric block cipher.Rivest Cipher 4 is a symmetric stream cipher.
Origin AES was developed via an open competition in 1997.Ron Rivest developed RC4 in 1987.
Security AES is more secure than RC4.RC4 is not as secure as AES.
Key sizes128, 192, and 256 bits64 or 128 bits
Applications SSL, TSL, etc.NASA, NIST, etc 

What is AES?

In 1997, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) held an open competition. Cryptologists from different parts of the world were invited to present their algorithms. They had to meet the standards set in AES. Each of the algorithms was analyzed to find the most suitable one. In 1999, Rijndael was finally the chosen candidate.

AES is a block cipher that uses a symmetric key. The plain text entered is encoded in block sizes to convert it to ciphertext. The bit size is limited to 128 bits, and key sizes of 128, 192, and 256 bits are used. Rounding varies depending on the size of the key. There are 10 rounds for 128 bits, 12 rounds for 192, and 14 rounds for 256 bits. They are called AES128, AES192, and AES256.

The encryption process goes through four steps in each round. The more rounds, the more difficult the encryption code becomes to crack. A symmetric key is used, which implies a unique key that is implemented by both the user and the recipient.

Some high-security conditions were established by NIST as follows: 

  •  Must be a block cipher using a symmetric key. 
  •  AES must have flexible key lengths. 
  •  AES must be built in such a way that it can be integrated into both hardware and software. 
  •  AES must be defined by the public.

What is RC4?

In 1987, Ron Rivest invented Rivest Cipher 4. He advanced it to steady RSA security. The initial concept was inspired by a one-time pad, additionally referred to as the Verman cipher. Like AES, RC4 is also a symmetric algorithm. Unlike AES, RC4 is a stream cipher. The encryption of Rivest Cipher 4 was kept secret until the code was released in 1994 in the public domain.

RC4 is a stream cipher that is byte-oriented. Encrypt the data bits by bits. Contains 64-bit or 128-bit key sizes. The encryption process involves a secret key that runs on the RC4 algorithm to generate the ciphertext.

In RC4, KSA and PRGA generate the keystream. KSA stands for Key Scheduling Algorithm and PRGA stands for Pseudo-Random Generation Algorithm. We use a single keystream (XOR) that combines the permutation of 256 probable bytes and a pair of 8-bit index pointers. Likewise, decryption follows a similar XOR pattern.

Various applications of RC4 are 

  • SSL (1995)
  • WEP (1997)
  • TLS (1999)
  • WPA (2003)

Types of Rivest Cipher 4

  • Spritz 
  • RC4A 
  • VMPC
  • RC4A+

The stream ciphers used by RC4 ensure easy implementation and are therefore widely used. Unlike AES, RC4 lacks strict security. Small data streams cannot be encoded by implementing RC4.

Main Differences Between AES and RC4

  1. AES or Advanced Encryption Standard is a block cipher whereas Rivest Cipher 4 is a stream cipher.
  2. As per security is concerned, AES is more secure in contrast to RC4.
  3. AES is developed after RC4, the former was initiated in 1997 and the latter was developed in 1987.
  4. AES uses key sizes of 128, 192, and 256 bits, whereas RC4 uses 64 bits key size and 128 bits key size.
  5. AES has a complex algorithm whereas the encryption in RC4 is relatively simple.


When we use the Internet to transmit our vital information, it is necessary to monitor the security of our data. The encryption algorithm encrypts our data to ensure the security of our important information. AES and RC4 are algorithms that can be applied to prevent our data from being leaked. AES is considered one of the most advanced algorithms that can take billions of years to decipher by an expert using modern computer services, while RC4 is an old version that originated in 1987, a decade before AES was initiated. AES falls into the category of block cipher, while RC4 is a stream cipher. AES is a publicly defined algorithm that can be implemented in both hardware and software. RC4, on the other hand, is protected by trademark law. RC4 remained underwater until it was released into the public domain. NASA, NIST has adapted AES for its high-security encryption. While RC4 is applicable in SSL (1995), WEP (1997), TLS (1999), WPA (2003). AES is not as fast as RC4.


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