(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘security

“One of the most singular characteristics of the art of deciphering is the strong conviction possessed by every person, even moderately acquainted with it, that he is able to construct a cipher which nobody else can decipher.”*…

And yet, for centuries no one has succeeded. Now, as Erica Klarreich reports, cryptographers want to know which of five possible worlds we inhabit, which will reveal whether truly secure cryptography is even possible…

Many computer scientists focus on overcoming hard computational problems. But there’s one area of computer science in which hardness is an asset: cryptography, where you want hard obstacles between your adversaries and your secrets.

Unfortunately, we don’t know whether secure cryptography truly exists. Over millennia, people have created ciphers that seemed unbreakable right until they were broken. Today, our internet transactions and state secrets are guarded by encryption methods that seem secure but could conceivably fail at any moment.

To create a truly secure (and permanent) encryption method, we need a computational problem that’s hard enough to create a provably insurmountable barrier for adversaries. We know of many computational problems that seem hard, but maybe we just haven’t been clever enough to solve them. Or maybe some of them are hard, but their hardness isn’t of a kind that lends itself to secure encryption. Fundamentally, cryptographers wonder: Is there enough hardness in the universe to make cryptography possible?

In 1995, Russell Impagliazzo of the University of California, San Diego broke down the question of hardness into a set of sub-questions that computer scientists could tackle one piece at a time. To summarize the state of knowledge in this area, he described five possible worlds — fancifully named Algorithmica, Heuristica, Pessiland, Minicrypt and Cryptomania — with ascending levels of hardness and cryptographic possibility. Any of these could be the world we live in…

Explore each of them– and their implications for secure encryption– at “Which Computational Universe Do We Live In?” from @EricaKlarreich in @QuantaMagazine.

Charles Babbage

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As we contemplate codes, we might we might send communicative birthday greetings to a frequentlyfeatured hero of your correspondent, Claude Elwood Shannon; he was born on this date in 1916.  A mathematician, electrical engineer– and cryptographer– he is known as “the father of information theory.”  But he is also remembered for his contributions to digital circuit design theory and for his cryptanalysis work during World War II, both as a codebreaker and as a designer of secure communications systems.

220px-ClaudeShannon_MFO3807

 source

“The best way to destroy the capitalist system is to debauch the currency”*…

 

In a world full of smartphone payments and cryptocurrency, 85% of all transactions are still done in cash. Australia actually sees cash demand rising at a steady 6% to 7% per year with no decline on the horizon.

As printers and scanners become more sophisticated, the government has moved to ensure that its currency is safe. “What we noticed in recent years, with the availability of technology—particularly around reproduction technology like scanners and printers—counterfeiting in Australia had started to increase. We’re in the fortunate position where it’s still pretty low but it is rising,” says James Holloway, deputy head of note issue at Reserve Bank of Australia. “We thought we just don’t want it to keep rising in a sustained fashion, so the time had come around upgrading security”…

How Australia means to frustrate counterfeiters: “The Painstaking, Secretive Process Of Designing New Money.”

* Vladimir Lenin

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As we bite our coins, we might recall that it was on this date in 1789 that President George Washington named Alexander Hamilton as the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.  A founding Father, Hamilton created the Federalist Party, the world’s first voter-based political party, the the United States Coast Guard, and the The New York Post newspaper.  As Treasury Secretary Hamilton stabilized the nation’s economy and paid back the mountainous debt resulting from the Revolutionary War.  He established the first national bank and created the U.S. Mint in (the precursor of) the form in which we know it today.

 source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 11, 2016 at 1:01 am

“LOCK-AND-KEY, n. The distinguishing device of civilization and enlightenment”*…

 

The pursuit of lock picking is as old as the lock, which is itself as old as civilization. But in the entire history of the world, there was only one brief moment, lasting about 70 years, where you could put something under lock and key—a chest, a safe, your home—and have complete, unwavering certainty that no intruder could get to it.

This is a feeling that event security guard service experts call “perfect security.”

Since we lost perfect security in the 1850s, it has has remained elusive. Despite tremendous leaps forward in security technology, we have never been able to get perfect security back…

Joseph Bramah’s challenge lock: “The artist who can make an instrument that will pick or open this lock shall receive 200 Guineas the moment it is produced.” 200 Guineas in 1777 would be about £20,000 today. The challenge held until 1851.

From the late 1770s until the mid-19th century, two British locks– the Bramah and the Chubb– offered their users unpickable security.  Then, at A. C. Hobbs, an American locksmith, attended The Great Exhibition—the first international exhibition of manufactured products– and destroyed that sense of security forever…

 

The “unpickable” Chubb Detector Lock

Read the remarkable Roman Mars’ account of security (and the loss thereof) in “In 1851, A Man Picked Two Unpickable Locks and Changed Security Forever“; hear it on his wonderful podcast, 99% Invisible.

* Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

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As we reach for our keys, we might recall that it was on this date in 1953 that a different kind of lock was picked: Nature published a one-page article by James Watson and Francis Crick outlining the structure of DNA– te work for which the pair won a Nobel Prize in 1962.  (Their paper ran immediately ahead of one co-authored by Maurice Wilkins, who shared the Nobel award, in the same issue.)

 source (and larger, legible version)

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 25, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”*…

 

As income and wealth inequality has grown in the developed world, so have the ranks of security guards—for gated communities, upscale residential buildings, corporate offices, exclusive events, and more. That trend– more inequality, more guards– seems especially apparent here in the U.S.  We now employ as many private security guards as high school teachers — over one million of them, or nearly double their number in 1980.  And that’s just a small fraction of what we call “guard labor.”  In addition to private security guards, that includes police officers, members of the armed forces, prison and court officials, civilian employees of the military, and those producing weapons: a total of 5.2 million workers in 2011– a far larger number than we have of teachers at all levels.

Samuel Bowles, a professor at the Santa Fe Institute, and Arjun Jayadev, of the University of Massachusetts- Boston, explore these findings in their Opinionator piece “One Nation Under Guard.”

In America, growing inequality has been accompanied by a boom in gated communities and armies of doormen controlling access to upscale apartment buildings. We did not count the doormen, or those producing the gates, locks and security equipment. One could quibble about the numbers; we have elsewhere adopted a broader definition, including prisoners, work supervisors with disciplinary functions, and others.

But however one totes up guard labor in the United States, there is a lot of it, and it seems to go along with economic inequality. States with high levels of income inequality — New York and Louisiana — employ twice as many security workers (as a fraction of their labor force) as less unequal states like Idaho and New Hampshire.

When we look across advanced industrialized countries, we see the same pattern: the more inequality, the more guard labor. As the graph shows, the United States leads in both…

Bowles and Javadev conclude by quoting an august Utilitarian…

“It is lamentable to think,” wrote the philosopher John Stuart Mill, in 1848, “how a great proportion of all efforts and talents in the world are employed in merely neutralizing one another.” He went on to conclude, “It is the proper end of government to reduce this wretched waste to the smallest possible amount, by taking such measures as shall cause the energies now spent by mankind in injuring one another, or in protecting themselves from injury, to be turned to the legitimate employment of the human faculties.”

This venerable call to beat swords into plowshares resonates still in America and beyond. Addressing unjust inequality would help make this possible.

Read the whole piece here.  [TotH to The Society Pages]

*”Who will watch the watchmen” (or literally, “who will guard the guards themselves?”)  Juvenal, Satires (VI, lines 347–8)

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As we shore up our defenses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1967, at the close of a show in Astoria (Finsbury Park, North London) that Jimi Hendrix first set fire to his guitar.  Hendrix was treated for minor burns later that night (but apparently got the technique down quickly, as subsequent “lightings” didn’t require medical follow-up).  The slightly scorched 1965 Fender Stratocaster was sold at auction in 2012 for £250,000 (about $400,00).

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 31, 2014 at 1:01 am

Now you don’t…

Adam Harvey is a graduate student in NYU’s fabled ITP Program who is putting his considerable talents to work in the service of privacy.  His thesis work, CV Dazzle, is aiming at finding ways to confound computer facial recognition systems. As The Register reports:

Concerned about the proliferation of face recognition systems in public places, a grad student in New York is developing privacy-enhancing hacks designed to thwart the futuristic surveillance technology.

Using off-the-shelf makeup and accessories such as glasses, veils, and artificial hair, Adam Harvey’s master’s thesis combines hipster fashion aesthetics with hardcore reverse engineering of face detection software. The goal: to give individuals a low-cost and visually stimulating means to prevent their likenesses from being detected and cataloged by face-recognition monitors.

“The number of sensors that are going into the public spaces has been increasing,” said Harvey, a student in New York University’s interactive telecommunications program. “There’s a lot of work to be done to catch up to where cameras are going because there have been so many advances in the last few years.”

Although still in its adolescence, face recognition technology is quickly being adopted by governments and corporations to identify individuals whose images are captured by surveillance cameras. At the 2001 Super Bowl, for instance, officials digitized the faces of everyone entering Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida and compared the results against photographic lists of known malefactors.

But Harvey has discovered that face detection can often be thrown off by using makeup to alter the contrasts the technology looks for. For example, dark patterns applied around eyes and cheek bones, as in the image below, are one such possibility.

[full article here]

[see more on Harvey’s blog here]

Harvey asks, “How can hats, sunglasses, makeup, earrings, necklaces or other accessories be modified to become functional and decorative?”; and he explains “The aim of my thesis is not to aid criminals, but since artists sometimes look like criminals and vice versa, it is important to protect individual privacy for everyone.”

As we rework our pick-up lines, we might take inspiration from the memory that it was on this date in 1810 that Beethoven wrote Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor (WoO 59 and Bia 515) for solo piano– better known as “Für Elise” (click to hear).

Some scholars have suggested that “Elise” was Beethoven’s mistress; but others have suggested that the discoverer of the piece, Ludwig Nohl, may have transcribed the title incorrectly and the original work may have been named “Für Therese”–  Therese being Therese Malfatti von Rohrenbach zu Dezza, a friend and student of Beethoven’s to whom he proposed in 1810… not actually so encouraging as an example, since though she turned him down to marry the Austrian nobleman and state official Wilhelm von Droßdik… still, a beautiful piece…

The famous opening bars

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