Researchers Identify ‘Master Problem’ Underlying All Cryptography

Erica Klarreich in Quanta:

In 1868, the mathematician Charles Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll) proclaimed that an encryption scheme called the Vigenère cipher was “unbreakable.” He had no proof, but he had compelling reasons for his belief, since mathematicians had been trying unsuccessfully to break the cipher for more than three centuries.

There was just one small problem: A German infantry officer named Friedrich Kasiski had, in fact, broken it five years earlier, in a book that garnered little notice at the time.

Cryptographers have been playing this game of cat and mouse, creating and breaking ciphers, for as long as people have been sending secret information. “For thousands of years, people [have been] trying to figure out, ‘Can we break the cycle?’” said Rafael Pass, a cryptographer at Cornell Tech and Cornell University.

More here.