Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press
"New Attacks Breach Computer Codes", by Charles Seife.Science, 1 November 1996, pages 716-717.
Cryptographic codes are used for insuring the safe transmission of all kinds ofinformation, from banking transactions to sensitive military data. Often thesecodes rely on the difficulty of undoing certain mathematical operations, suchas multiplying together two large prime numbers. Researchers who work on thesecurity of such codes put a lot of effort into trying to crack them, to testtheir vulnerability. They have found that the foibles of computer operationscan often provide hints about the codes being used. For example, irradiating achip can introduce errors in the encoding, and those errors provide clues thatcan be used to discover the code.