I’ve been looking at the evolution of electronic funds transfer (EFT) and payment systems recently. My research uncovered a gem: about two years ago, David Stearns completed a dissertation that looks at the early evolution of the Visa card (originally “Bank Americard”) in the context of other evolving electronic payment systems. Stearns’ work is both readable and filled with interesting information.
The NSA had an incinerator in their old Arlington Hall facility that was designed to reduce Top Secret crypto materials and such to ash. Someone discovered that it wasn’t in fact working. Contract disposal trucks had been disposing of this not-quite-sanitized rubish, and officers tracked down a huge pile in a field in Ft. Meyer.
How did they dispose of it? The answer is encrypted in the story’s text! Continue reading Boak’s Puzzle: Disposing of Classified Trash
I’ve been reviewing histories of cryptography recently and here’s an interesting thing about pre-computer encryption: it’s almost entirely used for communications security. People encryptedmessages, but they rarely encrypted documents.
I’ve finally found a few real-world cases: encrypted diaries. BBC did a short segment on them last summer. But I’m still looking – there must be other cases where someone needed to keep some long-term data secret from prying eyes.
These are design patterns in the Christopher Alexander sense rather than the object oriented design sense: they address the physical and network environment rather than focusing on software abstractions. The patterns were introduced in my book Authentication.
There are four patterns: local, direct, indirect, and off-line.
The insider threat isn’t easy to fix. We can fix it with Separation of Duty, but it requires planning ahead, discipline, and effort. But it’s essentially why banks can hire low-wage tellers and not worry about theft at the till (or at least not as much).
San Francisco lost control of their FiberWAN. It’s not clear how much this affected day to day operations, since the city appeared to still be working. And that in itself is a tribute to separation of duty.
The one-time pad is the only encryption technique that has been mathematically proven to be uncrackable. While hard to use, it has often been the choice for highly sensitive traffic. Soviet spies used one-time pads in the 1940s and -50s. The Washington-Moscow “hot line” also uses one-time pads. However, the technique is hard to use correctly.
Photo courtesy of Cryptomuseum.com.
The exclusive or operation – a logical function applied to binary bits, like AND, OR, and NOT – is a fundamental encryption technique. It is often used in stream ciphers, which are widely used in web browsers when connecting to secure web servers.
Whenever your browser establishes a “secure” connection to a web site, it encrypts the data. The encryption often takes place byte-by-byte, since the software can’t always predict how much data will be sent. This encryption style requires a stream cipher.