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Math Trek

Mathematical Police Find Security Bug

Cryptographers uncover potential weakness in encryption algorithms

3:13pm, December 3, 2007

When you buy a gadget online or check your bank balance electronically, your computer encodes your messages using a mathematical algorithm. The difficulty of breaking these encryption algorithms prevents digital onlookers from stealing your credit card numbers or reading your bank statement. One of the creators of the most venerable such code, the RSA algorithm, has recently warned that if your computer's processing chip contains a flaw that makes it perform a miscalculation, it's possible that an attacker could break the codes in your computer and spill your digital secrets.

"Even a single innocent or intentional bug … can lead to a huge security disaster, which can be secretly exploited in an essentially undetectable way by a sophisticated intelligence organization," Adi Shamir of the Weizmann Institute in Israel wrote in a recent research note. "Almost all the presently deployed public key schemes will become vulnerable to such an attack." Shamir created the RSA algor

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