Humans are the weakest link when it comes to encryption

“Encryption works,” said Edward Snowden in June 2013, in reply to a question from a Guardian reader about how he could protect his communications from NSA/GCHQ surveillance. “Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on.” Mr Snowden is a smart and thoughtful guy and he chooses his words with care. So note the qualifications in that sentence: “strong crypto” and “properly implemented”.By strong crypto, he meant public-key cryptography, which works by using two separate keys, one of which is private and one of which is public. Although different, the two parts of the key pair are mathematically linked. The concept originated, ironically, in GCHQ in 1973, but only reached the public domain four years later after three MIT researchers, Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman, independently invented a way to implement it. Their algorithm was christened RSA, based on the first letters of their surnames.

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