Blog on Math Blogs

Mathematical Digest


Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"Cryptography on the front line," by David Adam. Nature, 25 October 2001.

Adam reports that since the September 11 terrorist attacks, some politicians in the U.S., Great Britain and the Netherlands are calling for stronger controls on encryption software. But many computer scientists claim that such regulations would be expensive and impractical and would actually undermine security of legitimate Internet users (thereby making governments and businesses even more vulnerable to "cyber-attack"). The article summarizes that "encryption software uses mathematical algorithms both to scramble the contents of e-mails, by reordering the underlying data, and to decipher the encoded version. The algorithms are activated--and so protected--by numerical 'keys' typically containing 10 or more digits... The algorithms and their mathematical relationships with the keys are too complex for security agencies to crack, so access to the private keys is in practice the only way to read an encoded message." But as Bruce Schneier (chief technical officer at Counterpane Internet Security) states, "Cryptography is mathematics and you can't ban mathematics."

--- Annette Emerson