IOTA-Hash, Intractability and Bruce Schneier

Bruce Schneier is a very smart cryptographer, his red-covered book “Applied Cryptography” was the most popular crypto text book for a long while. His insights on network security, and his remarkable initiatives on digital privacy, deserve a lot of “hand clapping” — granted. But Bruce is also a deep-state theologian, worshipping at the alter of ‘mathematical intractability’. When years ago I published a challenging article in Asia-Crypt (got first prize!) Bruce was up in arms, and put me “in the dog house…” I think he feels offended by statements like: ‘those who live by the math, die by the math’. And “mathematical intractability works only against a mathematician who is dumber than the designer, or at least not smarter”. Bruce and his ilk ignore the reality that decades of intensive research into mathematical complexity have yielded a lot of tie-in, like: algorithm A is as hard to crack as algorithm B. But no indication as to how hard both will be vis-a-vis smarter math. Today research in geometry of distances may allow generic mapping of complexities into simplicities. It is unbound! And therefore the only short term way to handle crypto tasks is to plan for quick replacement. And that is exactly what IOTA have done, once the MIT lab has flagged the hash-bug. The IOTA team was fast and effective, and deserves salutation. Chinese officials have openly declared that they expect the newly developed quantum computers to break “encryption in seconds”. We don’t know what the Chinese, or all other underground developers are doing, or how far along they are, but to run away from their jaws by ever more complex algorithms (the official US strategy) seems hopeless. For the long run we need to pivot to randomness based cryptography (e.g. “BitFlip: A Randomness Rich Cipher”), but for the immediate future, replaceability, and response-agility is the surviving strategy. IOTA likely will have a lot to change. It stands out in the post-bitcoin crowd with some fundamental innovations. It will probably will have to reshape itself for perfection, and will likely zig-zag on its way forward. The last thing that we want is to blow a bug out of proportion and impede IOTA remarkable momentum. Disclosure: I am an IOTA adviser.