Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cryptography: What all the chicks are into in 2011

OK, enough pussyfooting around. It's time to talk about what's really important.

Random cryptography facts.

I don't know much about codebreaking, besides what I saw in Sneakers and Weird Science. (I guess there is a subtle difference between hacking and codebreaking, but whatever). In my non-existent understand of the subject, I always figured that breaking codes involves "backdoor," secretive, cool tech to probe the inner working of the program and then find a weak point.

And maybe some do, but a lot do it in a simpler (and lamer) way: The simply try to guess every conceivable password with a really fast computer. This is called a Brute Force Attack, and is obviously inelegant, although sometimes effective.

So if you read tech blogs from time to time, you may have come across someone extolling the benefits of "256-bit encryption," a code so complex that it is virtually unbreakable. Apparently the code level weaker than this, 128-bit encryption, is good enough for the U.S. intelligence community, so this 256-bit stuff must be really ridiculous, right? Yup. A code on this level has 2256 possible solutions. That is a 2 followed by 256 zeros, a number larger than the number of particles in the universe, or more than number of seconds between now and when all the suns have burnt out.

Here's the point I like best: But surely with our awesome computers we could check all these numbers really fast, right? Nope. From Wikipedia:

A device that could check a billion billion (1018) [numbers] per second would in theory require about 3×1051 years to exhaust the 256-bit key space.

For some reason, I find exponentially heavy numbers that describe impossibly large things to be very cool, like the word "Bedazzler" (but not the product, obviously).

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