The incredible resources that are now available on the Internet are dramatically changing our society, and some of the biggest impacts are still ahead. The Internet can be of spectacular value to the Christian who is interested in serious Bible study.1
However, anyone who has seen the movie Enemy of the State has been sensitized to the implications of current surveillance technology, which can be exploited against an individual citizen.
And with the increasing persecution of Christians throughout the world, and with Biblical Christianity becoming increasingly "politically incorrect" in the United States and potentially viewed as "enemies of the pagan state," many Christians are getting increasingly apprehensive and are pondering techniques to assist churches which may be driven "underground." Fortunately, there are some pleasant surprises emerging that may prove of substantial value to all of us who value privacy.
The interception and breaking of secret codes have tumbled proud thrones and determined the outcome of major wars since the dawn of history, and even today they continue to have more of an impact than any of us can possibly imagine.
Hardly a day goes by when we don't read about some computer code being compromised or secrets being stolen. Yet, one of the great ironies of our present age is that one of the most advanced cryptographic techniques is now available in any office supply store. And even more provocative, this readily available technology seems to be tipping the balance in favor of "the Sovereign Individual."2 It is relatively easy to enjoy virtually impregnable security in anyone's computer system. The availability of really secure communication capability may prove to be of substantial value to the "underground church." But let's start at the beginning.
Cryptography is the science of writing messages that no one except the intended receiver can read. Cryptanalysis is the science of reading them anyway. Most cryptographic methods employ complex transposition and transformation procedures under the control of a key, the protection of which is essential to the security of the entire process. A contemporary example is the National Bureau of Standards' Data Encryption Standard (DES), which involves a 64-bit key that controls 17 stages of polyalphabetic substitution, each alternated with 16 stages of transpositions. Cryptanalysis involves an exhaustive search of all 264 keys.3 (In the opinion of many experts, the DES is not adequately protective as the key is too short.) The only truly unbreakable cipher requires a key which is:
1) as long as the message;
2) totally random; and
3) never reused.
Such a system is called a one-time pad, because of the typical way it was implemented. While theoretically ideal, it proves unmanageably cumbersome in actual practice. Fortunately, a remarkably practical alternative has emerged in recent years.
In 1976, Whitfield Diffie and Martin E. Hellman of Stanford University forever changed the cryptographic landscape with their open publication of one-way keys. In conventional cryptosystems, a single key is used for both encryption and decryption. Such systems are called symmetric. The weakness of these systems is their requirement of protecting any exchange of such keys over a secure channel, which is inconvenient at best. (If a secure channel were available, why use encryption in the first place?)
The introduction by Diffie and Hellman to asymmetric keys made possible the concept of "public key cryptography," which allows the participants to communicate without requiring a secret means of delivering the keys. It is possible to have a system in which one key is used for encryption and a different key is required for decipherment. One can publish the encryption key widely for those who would send a message. The encryption key is useless for decipherment. When the message is received by the intended recipient, his private complementary key is used for deciphering the message. This private key is available to no one else.
Asymmetric cryptosystems are based on mathematical techniques that are easy to compute in one direction, but excessively onerous and slow to solve in the reverse. The main public key algorithms are the Diffie-Helman4 and RSA (developed at MIT by Ronald L. Rivest, Adi Shamir and Leonard M. Adleman). A fairly advanced form of encryption technology is known as "PGP," for "Pretty Good Protection," and is readily available in most office supply stores or over the Internet.5 Many are beginning to use these techniques among business partners, clubs, and among various associates simply to gain experience in the practical implications of these techniques in anticipation of more serious requirements.
Symmetric systems are still the most efficient, and public key techniques, while involving more substantial computational loads, make the conveyance of the necessary keys secure. The ability to share extensive, dynamically changing keys, accompanied by the necessary sophisticated software at both ends, makes practical protection readily available to anyone.
The Internet has already enabled the geographic separation of markets and suppliers. Asymmetric encryption systems can also be adapted for authentication, verification, and electronic "signatures" for approving documents, contracts, and the like over email. These techniques thus can also lead to the emergence of "cybercurrency," with the opportunity to conduct invisible commerce on a worldwide basis.
The advent of open, secure, asymmetric encryption is also leading to invisible (and thus non-taxable) transactions, eroding the restrictions of commercial borders and the surveillance and control of governments. There are those that look toward a day when governments will have to compete for - rather than exploit - "sovereign individuals" as citizens. The open availability of this technology leaves those who abhor privacy - especially governments and so-called liberals - very uncomfortable.
Most encryption techniques envision communication over a passive channel between the sender and receiver. However, the Internet is a dynamic, multi-node global network embedded with virtually unlimited data bases. The exploitation of a dynamic data base - masquerading as a parts list or some similarly cryptic list - can be used as the equivalent of the proverbial one-time pad, and thus provide virtually "bulletproof" security to an "inner circle" or private group seeking privacy from prying eyes.
We anticipate that the increasing persecution of believers may render some of these techniques valuable to the leadership of fellowships in the years ahead. Now is the time to acquaint oneself with their use, characteristics, and limitations if you anticipate darker days ahead.
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Portions of this article have been excerpted from our book, Cosmic Codes: Hidden Messages From the Edge of Eternity, an investigation into the many different types of hidden messages in the Bible, in our DNA, and in the "digital" universe of particle physics.