Feeds

Crypto shocker: 'Perfect cipher' dates back to telegraphs

35 years prior to being invented

The essential guide to IT transformation

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. ®

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Ice cream headache as black hat hacks sack Dairy Queen
I scream, you scream, we all scream 'DATA BREACH'!
Goog says patch⁵⁰ your Chrome
64-bit browser loads cat vids FIFTEEN PERCENT faster!
NIST to sysadmins: clean up your SSH mess
Too many keys, too badly managed
Scratched PC-dispatch patch patched, hatched in batch rematch
Windows security update fixed after triggering blue screens (and screams) of death
Researchers camouflage haxxor traps with fake application traffic
Honeypots sweetened to resemble actual workloads, complete with 'secure' logins
Attack flogged through shiny-clicky social media buttons
66,000 users popped by malicious Flash fudging add-on
New Snowden leak: How NSA shared 850-billion-plus metadata records
'Federated search' spaffed info all over Five Eyes chums
Three quarters of South Korea popped in online gaming raids
Records used to plunder game items, sold off to low lifes
Oz fed police in PDF redaction SNAFU
Give us your metadata, we'll publish your data
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
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?