Mixed emotions on encryption

Published 10:25 am Thursday, April 21, 2016


I view the dustup between the FBI and Apple Computer over encryption with mixed emotions.

On the one hand, I am a big law-and-order guy, so I am sympathetic to the FBI. On the other hand, as an amateur code breaker, I am sympathetic to Apple. If Apple breaks the code for the FBI, then it is broken. No telling who in the future might take advantage of this.

As the first Ph.D. student of Jack Good (1917-2009) at Virginia Tech, I can still remember the day he told me of his involvement in breaking the German military code during World War II. He was one of a handful of British codebreakers at Bletchley Park who got the job done and thus helped to win the war.

Because of the Official Secrets Act, which Jack took quite seriously, for 30 years he never told anyone about his work at Bletchley Park. In 1974, after F.W. Winterbotham’s book “The Ultra Secret” let the cat out of the bag, Jack called the British Admiralty and got permission to talk about it.

An effective code is one that takes so long to break that by the time the message is decoded, it is too late to be of much value.

This may actually be the case with Apple. The iPhone code may be so effective that even Apple cannot break into it in time to do the FBI any good.

On the other hand, “the most sophisticated law enforcement agency in the world” has admitted that they are unable to break into the iPhone.

Dr. Ray A. Gaskins