(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘cryptography

“There are two types of encryption: one that will prevent your sister from reading your diary and one that will prevent your government”*…

… But sometimes the encryption you think will work against governments won’t even deter your sister. Joesph Cox on the recently-uncovered vulnerabilities in TETRA, the encryption standard used in radios worldwide…

A group of cybersecurity researchers has uncovered what they believe is an intentional backdoor in encrypted radios used by police, military, and critical infrastructure entities around the world. The backdoor may have existed for decades, potentially exposing a wealth of sensitive information transmitted across them, according to the researchers… The end result, however, are radios with traffic that can be decrypted using consumer hardware like an ordinary laptop in under a minute…

The research is the first public and in-depth analysis of the TErrestrial Trunked RAdio (TETRA) standard in the more than 20 years the standard has existed. Not all users of TETRA-powered radios use the specific encryption algorithim called TEA1 which is impacted by the backdoor. TEA1 is part of the TETRA standard approved for export to other countries. But the researchers also found other, multiple vulnerabilities across TETRA that could allow historical decryption of communications and deanonymization. TETRA-radio users in general include national police forces and emergency services in Europe; military organizations in Africa; and train operators in North America and critical infrastructure providers elsewhere. 

Midnight Blue [presented] their findings at the Black Hat cybersecurity conference in August. The details of the talk have been closely under wraps, with the Black Hat website simply describing the briefing as a “Redacted Telecom Talk.” That reason for secrecy was in large part due to the unusually long disclosure process. Wetzels told Motherboard the team has been disclosing these vulnerabilities to impacted parties so they can be fixed for more than a year and a half. That included an initial meeting with Dutch police in January 2022, a meeting with the intelligence community later that month, and then the main bulk of providing information and mitigations being distributed to stakeholders. NLnet Foundation, an organization which funds “those with ideas to fix the internet,” financed the research.

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), an organization that standardizes technologies across the industry, first created TETRA in 1995. Since then, TETRA has been used in products, including radios, sold by Motorola, Airbus, and more. Crucially, TETRA is not open-source. Instead, it relies on what the researchers describe in their presentation slides as “secret, proprietary cryptography,” meaning it is typically difficult for outside experts to verify how secure the standard really is.

Bart Jacobs, a professor of security, privacy and identity, who did not work on the research itself but says he was briefed on it, said he hopes “this really is the end of closed, proprietary crypto, not based on open, publicly scrutinised standards.”…

The veil, pierced: “Researchers Find ‘Backdoor’ in Encrypted Police and Military Radios,” from @josephfcox in @motherboard. (Not long after this article ran– and after the downfall of Vice, Motherboard’s parent), Cox and a number of his talented Motherboard colleagues launched 404 Media. Check it out.)

Remarkably, some of the radio systems enabling critical infrastructure are even easier to hack– they aren’t even encrypted.

Bruce Schneier (@schneierblog)


As we take precautions, we might recall that it was on this date in 1980 that the last IBM 7030 “Stretch” mainframe in active use is decommissioned at Brigham Young University. The first Stretch was was delivered to Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1961, giving the model almost 20 years of operational service.

The Stretch was famous for many things, but perhaps most notably it was the first IBM computer to use transistors instead of vacuum tubes; it was the first computer to be designed with the help of an earlier computer; and it was the world’s fastest computer from 1961 to 1964.


“The sciences of cryptography and mathematics are very elegant, pure sciences. I found that the ends for which these pure sciences are used are less elegant.”*…

Mary, Queen of Scots wrote 57 encrypted messages during her captivity in England; until recently, all but 7 of them were believed lost. Meilan Solly tells the tale of their discovery and decryption…

Over the course of her 19 years in captivity, Mary, Queen of Scots, wrote thousands of letters to ambassadors, government officials, fellow monarchs and conspirators alike. Most of these missives had the same underlying goal: securing the deposed Scottish queen’s freedom. After losing her throne in 1567, Mary had fled to England, hoping to find refuge at her cousin Elizabeth I’s court. (Mary’s paternal grandmother, Margaret Tudor, was the sister of Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII.) Instead, the English queen imprisoned Mary, keeping her under house arrest for nearly two decades before ordering her execution in 1587.

Mary’s letters have long fascinated scholars and the public, providing a glimpse into her relentless efforts to secure her release. But the former queen’s correspondence often raises more questions than it answers, in part because Mary took extensive steps to hide her messages from the prying eyes of Elizabeth’s spies. In addition to folding the pages with a technique known as letterlocking, she employed ciphers and codes of varying complexity.

More than 400 years after Mary’s death, a chance discovery by a trio of code breakers is offering new insights into the queen’s final years. As the researchers write in the journal Cryptologia, they originally decided to examine a cache of coded notes housed at the National Library of France as part of a broader push to “locate, digitize, transcribe, decipher and analyze” historic ciphers. Those pages turned out to be 57 of Mary’s encrypted letters, the majority of which were sent to Michel de Castelnau, the French ambassador to England, between 1578 and 1584. All but seven were previously thought to be lost…

What they found and how they made sense of it: “Code Breakers Discover—and Decipher—Long-Lost Letters by Mary, Queen of Scots,” from @meilansolly in @SmithsonianMag.

Jim Sanborn, the sculptor who created the encrypted Kryptos sculpture at CIA headquarters


As we crack codes, we might spare a thought for a rough contemporary of Mary’s, a man who refused to communicate in code: Giordano Bruno. A Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer whose concept of the infinite universe expanded on Copernicus’s model, he was the first European to understand the universe as a continuum where the stars we see at night are identical in nature to the Sun.  Bruno’s views were considered dangerously heretical by the (Roman) Inquisition, which imprisoned him in 1592; after eight years of refusals to recant, on this date in 1600, he was burned at the stake.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 17, 2023 at 1:00 am

“I was a peripheral visionary. I could see the future, but only way off to the side.”*…

Artist’s concept of the Earth 5–7.5 billion years from now, when the Sun has become a red giant. (source)

As Niels Bohr said, “prediciton is hard, especially about the future.” Still, we can try…

While the future cannot be predicted with certainty, present understanding in various scientific fields allows for the prediction of some far-future events, if only in the broadest outline. These fields include astrophysics, which studies how planets and stars form, interact, and die; particle physics, which has revealed how matter behaves at the smallest scales; evolutionary biology, which studies how life evolves over time; plate tectonics, which shows how continents shift over millennia; and sociology, which examines how human societies and cultures evolve.

The far future begins after the current millennium comes to an end, starting with the 4th millennium in 3001 CE, and continues until the furthest reaches of future time. These timelines include alternative future events that address unresolved scientific questions, such as whether humans will become extinct, whether the Earth survives when the Sun expands to become a red giant and whether proton decay will be the eventual end of all matter in the Universe…

A new pole star, the end of Niagara Falls, the wearing away of the Canadian Rockies– and these are just highlights from the first 50-60 million years. Read on for an extraordinary outline of what current science suggests is in store over the long haul: “Timeline of the far future,” a remarkable Wikipedia page.

Related pages: List of future astronomical events, Far future in fiction, and Far future in religion.

* Steven Wright


As we take the long view, we might send grateful birthday greetings to the man who “wrote the book” on perspective (a capacity analogically handy in the endeavor featured above), Leon Battista Alberti; he was born on this date in 1404.  The archetypical Renaissance humanist polymath, Alberti was an author, artist, architect, poet, priest, linguist, philosopher, cartographer, and cryptographer.  He collaborated with Toscanelli on the maps used by Columbus on his first voyage, and he published the the first book on cryptography that contained a frequency table.

But he is surely best remembered as the author of the first general treatise– De Pictura (1434)– on the the laws of perspective, which built on and extended Brunelleschi’s work to describe the approach and technique that established the science of projective geometry… and fueled the progress of painting, sculpture, and architecture from the Greek- and Arabic-influenced formalism of the High Middle Ages to the more naturalistic (and Latinate) styles of Renaissance.

Figure from the 1804 edition of Della pittura showing the vanishing pointsource)


“Whoever wishes to keep a secret must hide the fact that he possesses one”*…

… or, as Sheon Han explains, maybe not…

Imagine you had some useful knowledge — maybe a secret recipe, or the key to a cipher. Could you prove to a friend that you had that knowledge, without revealing anything about it? Computer scientists proved over 30 years ago that you could, if you used what’s called a zero-knowledge proof.

For a simple way to understand this idea, let’s suppose you want to show your friend that you know how to get through a maze, without divulging any details about the path. You could simply traverse the maze within a time limit, while your friend was forbidden from watching. (The time limit is necessary because given enough time, anyone can eventually find their way out through trial and error.) Your friend would know you could do it, but they wouldn’t know how.

Zero-knowledge proofs are helpful to cryptographers, who work with secret information, but also to researchers of computational complexity, which deals with classifying the difficulty of different problems. “A lot of modern cryptography relies on complexity assumptions — on the assumption that certain problems are hard to solve, so there has always been some connections between the two worlds,” said Claude Crépeau, a computer scientist at McGill University. “But [these] proofs have created a whole world of connection.”…

More about how zero-knowledge proofs allow researchers conclusively to demonstrate their knowledge without divulging the knowledge itself: “How Do You Prove a Secret?,” from @sheonhan in @QuantaMagazine.

* Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


As we stay sub rosa, we might recall that today (All Saints Day) is the (fictional) birthday of Hello Kitty (full name: Kitty White); she was born in a suburb of London. A cartoon character designed by Yuko Shimizu (currently designed by Yuko Yamaguchi), she is the property of the Japanese company Sanrio. An avatar of kawaii (cute) culture, Hello Kitty is one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time; Hello Kitty product sales and media licensing fees have run as high as $8 billion a year.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 1, 2022 at 1:00 am

“If you are confused by the underlying principles of quantum technology – you get it!”*…

A tour through the map above– a helpful primer on the origins, development, and possible futures of quantum computing…

From Dominic Walliman (@DominicWalliman) on @DomainOfScience.

* Kevin Coleman


As we embrace uncertainty, we might spare a thought for

Alan Turing; he died on this date in 1954. A British mathematician, he was a foundational computer science pioneer (inventor of the Turing Machine, creator of the “Turing Test” (perhaps to b made more relevant by quantum computing :), and inspiration for “The Turing Award“) and cryptographer (leading member of the team that cracked the Enigma code during WWII).  


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