“So, madam, what can you tell me about cryptography?”
Petra immediately brightened and became very animated but a bit cautious. She had learned that people sometimes glaze-over if she talked too long on this, her favorite topic. But his interest kept her engaged in the discussion, though clearly afraid to take it too far. This was not exactly the discussion for a warm sunny day in the park, feeding feathered friends. She also recognized that socializing was not her strength.
Jacob was enjoying her enthusiasm on the subject but sensed her withdrawal from the technical discussion. Being a pen-tester in the security world, Jacob was always looking to expand his knowledge, but he also found that he needed to impress her.
As she paused he asked hopefully, “Have you ever worked with elliptical curve algorithms? You know, pen-testers don’t get much exposure to encryption algorithms. If they do, it is usually just the linear equations rather than the advanced elliptical curve computations. Perhaps you can enlighten me?”
Petra quickly retrieved her enthusiasm, then sizing Jacob up, asked point blank, “How much do you know about elliptical curve cryptography?”
Jacob, seeing the enthusiastic light return to her eyes, confessed, “I don’t really know that much, but I am willing to learn. I am a quick study, and you seem knowledgeable.”
He was focused on learning how she thought and finding a common ground between them. He wouldn’t mind feeling how soft her skin might be either, as he chided himself for the thought.
Petra was both pleased with the compliment and amused by Jacob at the same time. She wanted to know him better and understand how his mind worked. She found herself unable to refuse the invitation to teach someone who wanted to learn. Hopefully, he would be as fast as she suspected he was. She had the sensation that he would be good at everything he attempted.
Petra opened what could be a very technical discussion, “Okay, we need some working definitions before starting any security discussion. In layman’s terms, a cryptographic system is secure if an adversary with specified capabilities is not able to break it, meaning that they are not able to solve the specified task in a reasonable amount of time with generally available technology.
“Most public key cryptosystems get their security from a one-way function or algorithm that cannot easily be inverted to obtain the original value inputs. So inverting a one-way function must be difficult for the adversary from an algebraic standpoint. Asymmetric cryptosystems work because the inverse operation, the decrypting portion, rapidly gets more difficult as key length increases. Key length that is specified gives some indication of the complexity and thus the amount of time that will be required for an adversary to break the code.”
“That makes sense,” Jacob acknowledged, totally focused on the discussion.
She continued on with the discussion in great detail because of Jacob’s rapt attention. For him it was like being with a tutor, and she was in her element.
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