Donut Theory Cracks Security Algorithm

John Lister's picture

A theory involving donuts has helped crack a proposed government security algorithm. It's nothing to do with distracting security guards, Better Call Saul-style, but rather advanced mathematics.

Government agencies and others involved in security are constantly looking for new ways to encrypt data, with quantum computing seen as a potentially major threat.

Most encryption methods used at the moment rely on length and complexity to deter brute force cracking techniques that simply try every possible decryption key. The idea is that it should take so many tries (on average) to get the right answer that it becomes impractical even with the most powerful computers.

Quantum Computing Like Magic Maze-Solving

That could be undermined by quantum computing which, to put in very simplified terms, removes the limitation that any given computer 'bit' can only represent a 0 or 1 at any given moment.

Quantum computing means the same bit could represent both at the same time, dramatically increasing processing speed. One analogy described it as like "the ability for a computer to go down every path of a maze at once to figure its way out." (Source:

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology recently published details of four potential algorithms that could improve security in the quantum age. It challenged researchers to break them, offering a $50,000 prize.

Math Theory Cracks Puzzle

Unfortunately one algorithm, known as SIKE, was cracked within an hour. Rather bizarrely it was done by two researchers who used a mathematical theory developed in the 1980s. The professor who developed it, Ernst Kani, was not thinking about encryption at all but rather trying to solve ancient geometry problems.

The site explains that, in layman's terms, it looked at the mathematics of joining together two objects shaped like donuts with holes in the middle. Kani looked at why the result should be the mathematical equivalent of sticking them together side-by-side and perfectly lined up. He then developed a theory of why and how this might not be the case if something went wrong. (Source:

How you would use this theory to crack an encryption algorithm - and why you'd even think to try - is certainly beyond most of us. It is, however, a sign of how creative hackers can be, whether working for good or evil.

What's Your Opinion?

Are you concerned about quantum computing affecting security? Do you trust researchers to find ways to overcome the challenge? Is it smart to offer rewards like this to find flaws in encryption before it's too late?

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