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Monday, March 30, 2015

Mathematicians build code to take on toughest cyber attack

Rebecca Phillips, University Communications science writer summarizes, "Washington State University mathematicians have designed an encryption code capable of fending off the phenomenal hacking power of a quantum computer."

Hamlin, left, and Webb with a book about breaking the Nazi Enigma code, which was also the subject of the recent film, “The Imitation Game.” (Photo by Rebecca Phillips, WSU)

Using high-level number theory and cryptography, the researchers reworked an infamous old cipher called the knapsack code to create an online security system better prepared for future demands.

The findings were recently published in the journal The Fibonacci Quarterly.

Quantum computers are near 
Quantum computers operate on the subatomic level and theoretically provide processing power that is millions, if not billions of times faster than silicon-based computers. Several companies are in the race to develop quantum computers including Google.

Internet security is no match for a quantum computer, said Nathan Hamlin, instructor and director of the WSU Math Learning Center. That could spell future trouble for online transactions ranging from buying a book on Amazon to simply sending an email.
Hamlin said quantum computers would have no trouble breaking present security codes, which rely on public key encryption to protect the exchanges.
In a nutshell, public key code uses one public “key” for encryption and a second private “key” for decoding. The system is based on the factoring of impossibly large numbers and, so far, has done a good job keeping computers safe from hackers.
Quantum computers, however, can factor these large numbers very quickly, Hamlin said. But problems like the knapsack code slow them down.
Fortunately, many of the large data breaches in recent years are the result of employee carelessness or bribes and not of cracking the public key encryption code, he said.

Additional resources 
Nathan Hamlin, Bala Krishnamoorthy, and William Webb. 
A Knapsack-Like Code Using Recurrence Sequence Representations, arXiv:1503.04238v1 [math.NT] (PDF)

Source: Washington State University