Columbia crypto box

Matt Blaze mab at
Sat Feb 8 12:16:47 EST 2003


Your snipe at NASA is probably uncalled for.  A sentence fragment
quoted from a spokesperson  at press conference almost certainly
does not reflect the professional judgment of the people who designed
the system.

As someone who is occasionally quoted (and just as often misquoted)
in the press, I can imagine it was at least as likely that the question
was "why was encryption used?" as "why do you want the box back."  To
say nothing of the popular (and even technical) confusion between
encryption and encoding.  I can certainly imagine very good reasons
that they'd want to keep the encoding and frequencies used to control
the shuttle secret; if nothing else, to prevent denial of service.

Do you really, honestly belive that none of the people designing a
secure communication system for the shuttle were even remotely acquainted
with the basic principles of the subject?  Or did you just want to make
a snide remark at the expense of people who are obviously now the subject
of enormous scrutiny?

One would think technologists would be wise enough not to assume 
too much about some sound byte without knowing its context, but
personal experience suggests that a substantial number of us
just jump at the chance to interpret everything we read in a 500
word article in the popular press as if it reflects the entire
body of thought on some subject.  For example, I got about
a dozen email messages from people complaining about how I obviously
advocate security through obscurity after something I wrote
was slightly misquoted (in an otherwise carefully written article)
as suggesting that people use keys that are hard to get blanks for.
Almost everyone complaining had also read the source for that quote
(which added a qualification that this is probably doesn't offer
much protection), but that didn't matter.  People want to believe
what they read in the newspaper, even when they know the facts
first hand.


> As reported by AP:
> | Among the most important [debris] they were seeking was
> | a device that allows for the encryption of communication
> | between the shuttle and NASA controllers. A NASA spokesman
> | in Houston, John Ira Petty, said Friday that NASA feared
> | the technology could be used "to send bogus signals to the
> | shuttle."
> Apparently some folks skipped class the day Kerchhoffs'
> Principle was covered.
> One wonders what other shuttle systems were designed
> with comparable disregard of basic principles.
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