Thursday, May 21, 2015

"Rise of the Hackers" on PBS Nova looks at RSA Algorithm for encryption, and the double-edge of quantum computing: musicians will be the new coders


PBS Nova rebroadcast “The Rise of the Hackers” last night.  Apparently I had missed it.  At least, there is now a “global geek squad” of ethical hackers. 
   
The documentary started with an account of an ordinary user who had all of his social media accounts wiped out by teenage vandals starting with Apple, an incident described on the Internet Safety blog, Aug. 17, 2012.
  
But is soon moves to the area of what happens when states do the hacking, and examines the Stuxnet worm, which seems to have been introduced (by external USB device) to foreign (Iranian) process-control equipment, possibly by the US to injure its nuclear program.  But the worm is reported to be “in the wild”.
  
It then went into how number theory (of prime numbers) contributes to the encryption used today in common Internet transactions.  The RSA Algorithm is supposed to make it take longer than the age of the Universe to break a well-encrypted message by brute-force.  But dependence on RSA could be undermined in the future by quantum computing, now being developed at Cal Tech, MIT, and particularly the NSA. Quantum computing is based on the laws of quantum mechanics, and allows calculations in parallel rather than series.
  
  
But quantum computing could also provide new security tools.  One such tool sounds almost like telepathy or lucid dreaming (the “Inception” movie and the world of Christopher Nolan).  A musician learns to play a certain piece with certain digital prompts on an electronic instrument.  The style of play is recorded into the musician’s subconscious as “muscle memory”, which is mathematically a bit like RSA.  To gain access, the musician plays the piece with his own style.  I can imagine composer Timo Andres being inspired to piece just on this idea.
   
This is all part of a new field called “paranoid computing”, which is based on the idea that no one security technique alone can be totally dependable.  I’ve talked about that, saying home users or small businesses should keep their own backups in various formats and locations, and keep some of their computers un-networked.  A device that is off-line simply can’t be hacked (although the CIA and NSA have admitted that possibly it can).

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