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Cryptography August 14, 2008

Filed under: Everything — Jason Olson @ 9:15 am
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I just completed watching the bonus features of National Treasures, Disc 2, where there was a featurette on cryptography. While it didn’t do the field much justice, it did a wonderful job of explaining the science of cryptography to the average person, along with a brief history lesson.

What disturbed me the most was a single statement which was used repeatedly as if it was fact, “current cryptography will never be broken”. Reiterated several times by several “experts”. However, if the “history” of  cryptography has taught us anything, it is that all codes can be broken, given enough time and resources. And while today we do not see the computing power to break current ciphers, if we look at the computing advances in the last 50 years, we can see the quantum leaps forward in computing capacity. If that trend continues virtually every cipher today is doomed for cracking.

Some of you may remember the Oracle advertising campaign that their database was “unbreakable” — touted very strongly after Microsoft’s Secure Computing Initiative. However, it wasn’t long before it was broken, and they ceased that campaign. Anyone who tells you that something is unbreakable, doesn’t really have a full understanding of the situation. There are strong, as well as stronger security mechanisms, and there are systems which have yet to be broken…yet. But the fact that it hasn’t been broken, doesn’t mean that it is intrinsically safe.

I remember when the Mac OS X came out, and one of the false arguments to purchase a Mac was that it didn’t have any viruses written for it…yet… But today there are several. So does that argument of switching to a Mac hold true? How about Firefox (versus Internet Explorer)? Choose it because it’s faster and has no major flaws, less updates? Today we see that there are several vulnerabilities and has more patches required that Internet Explorer on a monthly basis, and it’s slowing down as it receives more patches and becomes more compatible with other websites. These arguments of “more secure” have fallen flat over the years.

Something new always promises to be better, until given the opporunity to be broken.