Subject: Cryptography
From: David Neeley <dbneeley -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Fri, 23 Oct 2009 10:21:47 +0400

This morning, I read that a new security enhancement for the Ubuntu
family of Linux operating systems has been launched. Using this, users
can encrypt their /home directories--the idea being that stolen
laptops and such would be very difficult to use to steal confidential
files--generally stored either in /home itself or in a subsidiary
directory to it. That sounds like an excellent idea to me.

I once worked on a startup--which didn't make it, unfortunately. We
were attempting to launch a niche product, but one which has a
verifiably uncrackable encryption method--the one-time pad. So long as
you can create a file that is truly random, a simple substitution
algorithm can make a ciphered message that is impossible to crack
unless you get a copy of the pad (which must exist at both the sender
and receiver's location). To create the pads, we used a rather simple
"white noise" device that created a digital file which was completely
random. The software made sure that the two files (one used for
sending email messages, one for decrypting those from the same source)
never had an area used twice.

We engaged an insurance firm to back a million dollar guarantee that
the resulting messages were not able to be cracked, and published a
message our CEO composed and encrypted with our system for anyone to
try who wished to. That resulted in an article in the Wall Street
Journal about us. Unfortunately, some internal difficulties resulted
in the company folding a few months after I left it. In my view, we
were underfunded for the kind of targeted marketing that would have
been necessary to reach the niche we were aimed at.

While this was well before the current effort at things like quantum
encryption, the one time pad--as old as it is (World War II, IIRC)--is
still a system that cannot be cracked given a truly random pad system
that is not used more than once. It is also so simple in use that
messages can be trivially easy to encrypt or decrypt.


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