BOFH: Defence of the Realm

A public key encryption breakthrough

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Application security programs and practises

Episode 17 So the new Boss isn't happy. It seems in his first week he's detected that someone is intercepting his email!!! The PFY and I are, of course, morally outraged at the thought of all this and assure him we'll leave no stone unturned in ensuring it doesn't happen again.

We'll be much more careful next time, for a start.

Unfortunately our heartfelt assurances are not enough to appease him, and he's called in some ex-colleague to trace the source of the spying - and he wants us to cooperate fully, or else!

“But how did he know?” the PFY asks when we're back at Mission Control deleting log files and erasing backup tapes.

"You've got me," I respond, "but I did notice he's got a USB key with more fruit on it than a pile-sufferer's bum!

"Yes, I saw that too," the PFY replies. "Wouldn't look too out of place plugged into the Tardis."

"Hmm. So we'll need to take a quick shufti at it."

"Doubtful - he takes it with him wherever he goes and his machine locks when it's not plugged in..."

"Right, so we'd need to create a situation where he has no time to think..."

"Like a small building fire?" the PFY says.

"I was thinking more along the lines of sorting him out a dodgy curry and breaking all the toilets on this floor - but fire's a good idea too."

... The next afternoon, after a large vindaloo, a castor oil mango lassi and small bin fire ...

"So what is it?"

"No idea," I respond. "But it's very advanced. I plug it into this machine and it does nothing - yet the coil indicates a mass of electronic activity inside it, which suggests that it requires network connectivity or some other activator. All other tests I've performed on it electronically imply that it's a passive device."

"But it's not?" the PFY says.

"Doubtful. Tell you what, I'll check the wireless bandwidth for anomalies while you give it a sturdy bang with this hammer... Ok?"


"Well?" the PFY asks.

"Well what?"

"Was there any change in network bandwidth?"

"No, I just said that to get out of the way when you hit it in case it had some form of self-destruct device."

"You B..."

. . .

Strangely, the disappearance of the Boss' key causes no outcry although I notice it is replaced the next morning by one on an elastic cord affixed to the Boss' belt.

Not only that but the ex-colleague of the Boss has shown up as well, and he's what we in the trade refer to as an odd one. (And coming from someone in the computing trade that's fairly damning).

Not mincing words he gets straight down to business: "So I'd like to get access to all your sendmail and Exchange logs, audit records for computers and administrative access to your domain."

"I don't know that that's possible - nor wise," I start, playing the bluff card first. "Besides, are you even sure that his email was seen - or is it just paranoia?"

"Oh I'm sure," he responds. "The device plugged into the USB port is an implementation of an extremely advanced form of encryption that we're working on."

"Really? And you'd be?"

"I'd rather not say"

"And the advanced form of encryption you're talking about is...?"

"I'd rather not say."

"So it's Quantum Computing?"

"I never said that!"

"And you work for the Government - and probably not ours?" I ask, the Boss' expression telling me everything I need to know.

"I never said that either."

"And you're some advanced form of geek for the project?"


"So to go off on a tangent - you'd appreciate an extremely advanced form of one-time-pad encryption if someone just handed it over to you?"

"I... What are you suggesting?"

"Say for instance someone gave you an advanced form of encryption - for all intents and purposes unbreakable, with a potentially huge key length."

"I... I'm listening," our friendly spook says.

"Ok, How about this for a one-time pad - your DNA?"

"My DNA?"

"Yeah, it's a huge key, one time thing, excellent for encryption. Toss away all the predictable parts, keeping the remaining elements."

"But why mine?"

"Doesn't have to be yours, it could be anyone," I say, nodding at the Boss.

The Boss smiles appreciatively at the thought of being a mainstay of a country's security.

"And what happens when a third party gets hold of his DNA?”

"Depends on the start vector and traversal method you use. Besides, you'd just have him killed."

"What?!" Casper asks.

"Well, he already knows too much... Or you could just keep him locked away somewhere - like a loony asylum."

"This is ridiculous!" the Boss blurts.

"It's a National Security issue!" I respond. "Then there's your parents..."

"My Parents!?"

"Yeah, well, why take the risk - I mean they're the two large probable-prime factors of the large probable-prime product that is you. "


"Admittedly you're one possible outcome of your parents, so you might want to keep them on ice somewhere as well for when you need a new key. And it'd be a breakthrough in public key encryption - you just need two people to have a quick shag to ensure private communications."

"You're proposing that you use people to produce PKI vectors!!!" Casper gasps.

"Ok, you could do it with animals I suppose, but I still think you'd find that the Boss here would be invaluable to your research. And with a modest royalty system for my assistant and myself to ensure complete secrecy you could perfect the science while the rest of the world is in the starting blocks."

"Uh..." Casper mumbles, thinking.

"You'd have to take him away now of course," the PFY adds, nodding at the boss.


"And probably remove any record of his existence," the PFY adds. "I'd torch his house and office to be on the safe side."

"I... don't think that would be a good idea," the spook says, fingering his cellphone and rolling his eyes at the Boss.

... Later that afternoon after a small office fire ...

"Has anyone seen the new bloke?" the Secretary asks, wandering in to Mission Control.

"What new bloke?"

"Your new manager!"

"We haven't got a new manager!"

"I... Didn't... I thought..."

Mum's the word... ®

BOFH is copyright © 1995-2005, Simon Travaglia. Don't mess with his rights.

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