A pair of PCBs with OLED character displays, showing a simple encryption program

The CryptMaster 2001 Provides Basic Lessons In Cryptography

Sending secret messages to your friends is fun, but today it’s so simple that you don’t even notice it anymore: practically any serious messaging system features encryption of some sort. To teach his kids about cryptography, [Michal Zalewski] therefore decided to bring the topic to life by building a handheld encryption system, called the CryptMaster 2001.

The system consists of an identical pair of hand-held devices built on prototype PCBs. A standard 16×2 character OLED display is used as an output device, which generates the ciphertext in real time as the plaintext is entered character by character through a rotary encoder. An ATmega328P manages the input and output routines and performs the encryption.

For ease of use, [Michal] wanted to use a reciprocal cipher, meaning one that uses the same operation for encryption and decryption. Trivial ciphers like ROT13 would be a bit too easy to crack, so he devised a slightly more complex system where each character in the input is encoded using a separate rearranged alphabet – a basic polyalphabetic substitution cipher.

[Michal]’s kids apparently had some good fun with the CryptMaster 2001, until his eldest son managed to reverse-engineer the encryption method, enabling him to decode messages without having access to one of the devices. This made the project a pretty decent lesson about the limits of basic cryptography: simply swapping letters doesn’t present a real challenge to anyone. Luckily, much more secure methods are available, even if you’re only using pen and paper.

Quantum Computing And The End Of Encryption

Quantum computers stand a good chance of changing the face computing, and that goes double for encryption. For encryption methods that rely on the fact that brute-forcing the key takes too long with classical computers, quantum computing seems like its logical nemesis.

For instance, the mathematical problem that lies at the heart of RSA and other public-key encryption schemes is factoring a product of two prime numbers. Searching for the right pair using classical methods takes approximately forever, but Shor’s algorithm can be used on a suitable quantum computer to do the required factorization of integers in almost no time.

When quantum computers become capable enough, the threat to a lot of our encrypted communication is a real one. If one can no longer rely on simply making the brute-forcing of a decryption computationally heavy, all of today’s public-key encryption algorithms are essentially useless. This is the doomsday scenario, but how close are we to this actually happening, and what can be done?

Continue reading “Quantum Computing And The End Of Encryption”