Feeds

Crypto shocker: 'Perfect cipher' dates back to telegraphs

35 years prior to being invented

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

A computer scientist has unearthed evidence that a theoretically unbreakable form of cryptography was in use by telegraph operators as early as 1882, 35 years before its supposed invention by a duo from Bell Labs and the US Army.

The one-time pad, which is also known as the perfect cipher, uses a random key that is shared by both sender and receiver to encrypt and decode a sensitive message. Assuming the key is used only once and both parties securely dispose of it, the technique is the only known method to perform mathematically unbreakable encryption, according to this post by cryptography historian Dirk Rijmenants. Until now its invention was dated to 1917 and credited to Gilbert Vernam of Bell Labs and Captain Joseph Mauborgne of the Army Signal Corps.

But according to The New York Times, computer scientist Steven Bellovin recently found a description of the one-time pad algorithm in an 1882 telegraphers' codebook titled Telegraphic Code to Insure Privacy and Secrecy in the Transmission of Telegrams. It was written by one Frank Miller, a successful banker from California who went on to become a trustee of Stanford University. He also served in the US Army's inspector general's office, where he worked on a team investigating the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

"A banker in the West should prepare a list of irregular numbers to be called 'shift numbers,'" Miller wrote. "The difference between such numbers must not be regular. When a shift-number has been applied, or used, it must be erased from the list and not be used again."

The NYT said independent specialists in cryptography have confirmed that Miller's work proves he developed the one-time pad long before its discovery and later patenting by Vernam and Mauborgne.

“Miller probably invented the one-time pad, but without knowing why it was perfectly secure or even that it was,” David Kahn, the author of the 1967 book The Codebreakers, was quoted as saying. “Moreover, unlike Mauborgne’s conscious invention, or the Germans’ conscious adoption of the one-time pad to superencipher their Foreign Office codes, it had no echo, no use in cryptology. It sank without a trace — until Steve found it by accident.”

A PDF of Bellovin's writeup in the July issue of the journal Cryptologia is here. ®

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

More from The Register

next story
Spies would need SUPER POWERS to tap undersea cables
Why mess with armoured 10kV cables when land-based, and legal, snoop tools are easier?
Early result from Scots indyref vote? NAW, Jimmy - it's a SCAM
Anyone claiming to know before tomorrow is telling porkies
TOR users become FBI's No.1 hacking target after legal power grab
Be afeared, me hearties, these scoundrels be spying our signals
Jihadi terrorists DIDN'T encrypt their comms 'cos of Snowden leaks
Intel bods' analysis concludes 'no significant change' after whistle was blown
Home Depot: 56 million bank cards pwned by malware in our tills
That's about 50 per cent bigger than the Target tills mega-hack
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
China hacked US Army transport orgs TWENTY TIMES in ONE YEAR
FBI et al knew of nine hacks - but didn't tell TRANSCOM
Microsoft to patch ASP.NET mess even if you don't
We know what's good for you, because we made the mess says Redmond
NORKS ban Wi-Fi and satellite internet at embassies
Crackdown on tardy diplomatic sysadmins providing accidental unfiltered internet access
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.