Encryption, Blockchains, and the Future
Encryption is a specialized area of technology that few dare to tread. Like handling databases, encryption tends to be one of those grubby subjects that most hackers are all too happy to let someone else handle. “I’ll do the fun stuff, like designing video games!” But, also like handling databases, being an expert in encryption is money in the bank. Everybody needs encryption, and in our new 24/7 connected world with the IoT and cryptocurrencies on the horizon, it’s going to turn out that we need it a lot more.
What happens when we let the Internet of Things run rampant and don’t pay attention to security? We get situations like a fish tank being the point of vulnerability for a casino. While we try wrapping our heads around that, what little security we do have is looking more vulnerable by the day. AI with neural networks is making passwords easier to guess, and while the really sophisticated tools are beyond your typical basement cracker, we know how quickly new tools fall into the worst of idle hands.
A while back, we brought up BitCoin, but glossed over the mechanics of blockchains involved in cryptocurrency. We can’t say that understanding cryptocurrency is an emergency for everybody just yet, but we are seeing the advent of cryptocurrencies becoming more important. When a site like Pirate Bay pays attention to virtual coin mining, it’s time to notice. To be fair, the Pirate Bay was openly testing farmed coin mining as an alternative to ad revenue and told their users so. If this catches on, could every website and app start doing it? Hey, imagine a website with millions of visitors… Why you could… earn dozens of pennies per month. Dozens!
Blockchains By Themselves Are Useful
The Huffington Post is practically breathless about blockchains. The hype is real! Even notwithstanding cryptocurrency, blockchain methods have applications any time you want to harness the power of a big network of nodes running in parallel to verify one seamless data thread between them.
So now it’s the time we all dread, when we have to explain to everybody what a blockchain is. Here’s one video which explains it only down to the marketing level of comprehension:
That was nice and fluffy. Now how about some nuts and bolts info for the hacker crowd?
That early letter-shift example in the video is better known as a variant of “rot13,” so venerated that it’s in the jargon file. Even without a computer, simple letter-substitution codes are trivial to crack. For instance, to use frequency analysis to decrypt a simple Caesar cypher, all you need to know is the mystical incantation “ETAOIN SHRDLU.” That’s the frequency of the top twelve letters of the English language. And obviously, once you’ve used this method to figure out half the data, the rest becomes obvious from context. So that’s why one-for-one encoding systems will never work, no matter how elaborate your method.
From there, it’s elementary to follow the logic up through one-time pads to Enigma machines and the encryption arms-race of WWII, up to where we are today. Blockchains and PGP encryption supported by SHA256:
Whee, we’re back to BitCoin!
So Why Can’t I Mine Bitcoins From My Website?
Gather round, kids, because we’re answering a lot of newbie questions with this one: Sure, you can mine BitCoins from your website! If a random visitor just happens to be browsing from, say, IBM’s Watson, and they stay on your site for more than a second, you might even cash it in! And yes, you can mine BitCoin from your desktop computer, your laptop, your tablet, even your smartphone.
Just very, very, very, VERY slowly.
If you paid attention to that last video, it takes a specialized computer 10 minutes on average to solve an SHA256 operation. Your desktop, laptop, etc. probably is not special-built for this. Hashes are easy to generate on the fly from any old hardware, but of course reversing that hash is going to require some processing power. And since BitCoin mining is “winner take all,” your odds of getting lucky and being the first node to solve any particular page of the blockchain approach nil.
And that goes for the next million visitors to your website as well.
Are Blockchains The New “Cloud”?
We sure hope so, because it will give Larry Ellison something new to snark about. We love it when he snarks.
But in the meantime, blockchain is a fun new toy to play with, and it’s just begging to be adapted to distributed network uses. It’s true that it now takes hard iron ten minutes to crack an SHA256. But give a cloud of parallel smartphones a couple generations and they’ll catch right up. Right? But at the same time, if blockchain technology does drive a few generations of hardware demand, cracking our old standards of encryption will become, again, trivial. Thus has it always been in cryptography – nothing will ever be “good enough,” just “good enough right now.”
Go forth and hash!