Chaos from order

Sounds like a play on words, doesn’t it? And yet, this is exactly what I mean. Sixty years ago, renowned mathematician John von Neumann, published a little trick that allowed using a biased coin, where heads and tails do not come out at 50-50, to generate a true, unbiased, 50-50 random sequence. It turns out that this trick can be extended to larger sets, such as alphabet letters, in order to generate what appears to be a true random sequence of letters (chaos) from common text (order, unless you’re starting from a political speech or your latest cellphone bill).

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Three new ciphers from the early XIII century

Back in 1202, the Italian mathematician Leonardo Bonacci, also known as Fibonacci, included in his book “Liber Abaci” (Book of Calculation) a sidebar illustrating how quickly rabbits breed. It seems that his primary goal, in addition to raising some awareness about the population explosion experienced by those animals back then, was to show how Indo-Arabic numbers (which for the first time included the zero) could be used in a calculation of practical importance.

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Extracting randomness from text

My BookPad cipher seems to be closely related to the running key cipher, since both take a long piece of text from a book and use it as key to encrypt a plaintext. Yet while the running key cipher can be broken easily, BookPad offers a level of security comparable to that of a one-time-pad. In this article, I try to explain why in layman’s terms. As a bonus, I introduce TripleText, a variant of BookPad where all the operations are done directly with letters.

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Cracking the BookPad cipher

BookPad is a paper and pencil “one-time pad” cipher, described in this other post. Real cryptographers are leery of ciphers claiming to be incarnations of the unbreakable one-time pad for good reasons, the best of them being that true one-time pads must contain perfectly random numbers, which not even a computer can produce. In this post, therefore, I put on my cryptanalyst’s hat and attempt to break a longish message encrypted with BookPad.

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A new look at one-time pads

In another article, I describe how text taken from a book in your library can possibly be used to serve as a one-time pad of sorts, since normal text also contains some unpredictability. The trick is to use a piece of text from an agreed-upon book that is five times the length of the plaintext. That method uses a computer-based hash function, but in this article I tell you how to obtain good security from simple paper and pencil calculations, actually using a key text out of the book that is only three times the length of the plaintext.

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BookPad, a paper and pencil “one time pad” cipher

In another article, I describe how text taken from a book in your library can possibly be used to serve as a one-time pad of sorts, since normal text also contains some unpredictability. The trick is to use a piece of text from an agreed-upon book that is five times the length of the plaintext. That method uses a computer-based hash function, but in this article I tell you how to obtain good security from simple paper and pencil calculations, actually using a key text out of the book that is only three times the length of the plaintext.

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Absolute forward secrecy

swat-team-e1302113424146 (1)Case scenario: Alice and Bob are emailing messages back and forth between them. They know their email is not secure, so they use encryption to preserve their privacy. Suddenly, SWAT teams break simultaneously into Alice’s and Bob’s apartments. Their respective computers are seized and they are asked at gunpoint for their encryption keys. Can their prior conversation, which has been duly recorded before the break-in, remain private?

Answer: it can, but it requires a very stringent form of secrecy, which I will call Absolute Forward Secrecy (AFS). This is one step beyond Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS), which is touted a lot these days. In this article, I discuss the different kinds of forward secrecy, and how to obtain the absolute kind with a minimum of hassle. Read More

We’re back!

Yes, the rumors of our death were somewhat exaggerated. It all started when our web host, Wizzerwerks.com, disappeared into thin air without any warning around May 23rd. It took all our content down with it, so we’ll see how much can we get back. My hopes are high; after all, doesn’t the NSA have a copy of everything?

Wizzerdwerks was an awesome web host while it lived. The new host is SiteGround, which has high ratings online that seem legitimate. Even better, the files are located in the Netherlands, and if someone were to mess with them this could start a nasty diplomatic situation. This is why the Dutch flag is proudly displayed in this post.