As our standard-use cryptographic methods grow increasingly vulnerable to more sophisticated cyberattacks, advances in higher mathematics, and the impending arrival of quantum computing on a large scale, next-generation encryption solutions are becoming not only desirable but necessary.
The very best in data security lies in a time-honored encryption method — the most formidable, secure, and unbreakable class of cipher, the One Time Pad (OTP). Read on to learn more about how OTP works, and how it is being used to propel a revolution in data security for enterprises.
How OTP Works – Understanding One Time Pad Encryption
The One Time Pad is an encryption technique in which a randomly generated, single-use secret key is used to encrypt a message into ciphertext. That message is then decrypted to reveal the plaintext by the intended recipient using a matching OTP key.
The idea of the One Time Pad has existed well before the digital era — the “Pad” in fact refers to a literal pad of paper on which encoders and decoders would write out their secret messages. The top sheet of the pad was torn off after its one-time usage.
Even as far back as 50 B.C, Julius Caesar encrypted secrets utilizing alphabetic substitution and a key provided to an authorized decoder in order to issue secure orders to his field generals, a code called “The Caesar Shift” or “Caesar Cipher.”
This technique developed over time, and as it did, cryptographic innovators worked to solve for flaws that became exposed, such as the repeated use of the same standard keys, as well as the existence of buried, repetitive patterns in ciphertext.
In 1882, California banker Frank Miller authored an ambitious codebook revolving around one-time use of random keys, and in 1917, Gilbert Sandford Vernam and Joseph Mauborgne co-developed a cipher that combined plaintext with a stream of random numbers of equal length, and a one-time use method — the modern One Time Pad was born.
In 1945, Claude Shannon, the “father of information theory,” proved mathematically that encrypted ciphertext is utterly unbreakable so long as the associated OTP key demonstrates four, critical and defining attributes.
The four pillars of OTP are:
- Randomness – the OTP must have genuine high-entropy, and contain no discernible repeating patterns.
- Size – the OTP key must be at least equal in size to that of the plaintext it’s protecting.
- Uniqueness – the OTP key must only be used one time, to encrypt one item of data (this prevents any possible revelation of the key through cross-analysis and triangulation).
- Secret – obviously, but crucially, the key must be kept secret.
With these four OTP pillars in place, even unlimited brute-force computing power would be incapable of decrypting the plaintext. This level of data security was impressive back when Shannon demonstrated it, and perhaps even more so today when still no other encryption method has been able to match it — and when perfect secrecy has never been more essential.
While in our digital era the paper pad has been retired, new technologies are adapting OTP to leverage its advantages in a digital environment, while solving for its drawbacks at a commercial scale.
How OTP is Used — An Innovative OTP Solution for the Enterprise
Although the One Time Pad is the only uniquely uncrackable encryption method, its use at an enterprise level has been widely dismissed due to implementation issues — primarily, the requirement that the OTP key be equal in size to the data it is protecting. With data volumes exponentially increasing all the time, this factor makes OTP key transmission unwieldy and impractical.
Now, however, Theon Technology has developed an innovative OTP solution that solves the challenge of distributing large cryptographic keys over distance — a breakthrough based on transmission of compact data parcels, “shared short secrets” that enable secure reconstitution of keys and decryption of ciphertext.
A pair of these shared short secrets is used at each end of a transaction to generate large, identical keys independently. In essence, the shared short secret is not the key itself, but rather the key to the key. An industry-leading method for secure key exchange ensures these short secrets are well-protected. Authorized parties can then reconstitute the key on their end via a Theon-patented method.
Importantly, the Theon solution also uses an innovative random number generation method to generate these very large, complex, OTP-sized keys, resulting in high-quality, high-entropy numbers without any embedded, repeating patterns, ever — fulfilling one of Claude Shannon’s critical requirements for perfect secrecy.
The One Time Pad is the gold standard in cryptography that has proven its superiority and stood the test of time. It far surpasses earlier symmetric ciphers like DES and AES and the “computational security” of the widely used RSA.
And now, for the first time, the inherent advantages of the OTP model have been adapted for enterprise use in a momentous and timely step forward on the road to perfect secrecy.
Now’s the time for a revolution in data security — Contact a Theon expert today to start taking advantage of scalable One Time Pad encryption for your enterprise. We also have free eBooks available for download, including our OTP primer, Adapting OTP for the Enterprise.