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Subject: Cryptography FAQ (02/10: Net Etiquette)

This article was archived around: 19 Mar 2003 10:52:35 GMT

All FAQs in Directory: cryptography-faq
All FAQs posted in: sci.crypt, talk.politics.crypto
Source: Usenet Version


Archive-name: cryptography-faq/part02 Last-modified: 94/06/13
This is the second of ten parts of the sci.crypt FAQ. The parts are mostly independent, but you should read the first part before the rest. We don't have the time to send out missing parts by mail, so don't ask. Notes such as ``[KAH67]'' refer to the reference list in the last part. The sections of this FAQ are available via anonymous FTP to rtfm.mit.edu as /pub/usenet/news.answers/cryptography-faq/part[xx]. The Cryptography FAQ is posted to the newsgroups sci.crypt, talk.politics.crypto, sci.answers, and news.answers every 21 days. Contents: 2.1. What groups are around? What's a FAQ? Who am I? Why am I here? 2.2. Do political discussions belong in sci.crypt? 2.3. How do I present a new encryption scheme in sci.crypt? 2.1. What groups are around? What's a FAQ? Who am I? Why am I here? Read news.announce.newusers and news.answers for a few weeks. Always make sure to read a newsgroup for some time before you post to it. You'll be amazed how often the same question can be asked in the same newsgroup. After a month you'll have a much better sense of what the readers want to see. 2.2. Do political discussions belong in sci.crypt? No. In fact some newsgroups (notably misc.legal.computing) were created exactly so that political questions like ``Should RSA be patented?'' don't get in the way of technical discussions. Many sci.crypt readers also read misc.legal.computing, comp.org.eff.talk, comp.patents, sci.math, comp.compression, talk.politics.crypto, et al.; for the benefit of people who don't care about those other topics, try to put your postings in the right group. Questions about microfilm and smuggling and other non-cryptographic ``spy stuff'' don't belong in sci.crypt either. 2.3. How do I present a new encryption scheme in sci.crypt? ``I just came up with this neat method of encryption. Here's some ciphertext: FHDSIJOYW^&%$*#@OGBUJHKFSYUIRE. Is it strong?'' Without a doubt questions like this are the most annoying traffic on sci.crypt. If you have come up with an encryption scheme, providing some ciphertext from it is not adequate. Nobody has ever been impressed by random gibberish. Any new algorithm should be secure even if the opponent knows the full algorithm (including how any message key is distributed) and only the private key is kept secret. There are some systematic and unsystematic ways to take reasonably long ciphertexts and decrypt them even without prior knowledge of the algorithm, but this is a time-consuming and possibly fruitless exercise which most sci.crypt readers won't bother with. So what do you do if you have a new encryption scheme? First of all, find out if it's really new. Look through this FAQ for references and related methods. Familiarize yourself with the literature and the introductory textbooks. When you can appreciate how your cryptosystem fits into the world at large, try to break it yourself! You shouldn't waste the time of tens of thousands of readers asking a question which you could have easily answered on your own. If you really think your system is secure, and you want to get some reassurance from experts, you might try posting full details of your system, including working code and a solid theoretical explanation, to sci.crypt. (Keep in mind that the export of cryptography is regulated in some areas.) If you're lucky an expert might take some interest in what you posted. You can encourage this by offering cash rewards---for instance, noted cryptographer Ralph Merkle is offering $1000 to anyone who can break Snefru-4---but there are no guarantees. If you don't have enough experience, then most likely any experts who look at your system will be able to find a flaw. If this happens, it's your responsibility to consider the flaw and learn from it, rather than just add one more layer of complication and come back for another round. A different way to get your cryptosystem reviewed is to have the NSA look at it. A full discussion of this procedure is outside the scope of this FAQ. Among professionals, a common rule of thumb is that if you want to design a cryptosystem, you have to have experience as a cryptanalyst.