Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series

Part 1: How Computers Keep Secrets

PostedDecember 17, 2004

Download File (mp3)

When you push "Send" for that online purchase, your credit card number is scrambled using a secret code called RSA based on a really hard math problem.  The online store unravels the code using two numbers only it knows.  Multiplying those two numbers gives a third.  That answer, as in the game show Jeopardy, isn't even secret—it's sent to your computer over the Internet.  But it's very big, hundreds of digits long.  To break the code and steal your number, a criminal must know the question, and engineers say figuring out those other two numbers can't be done fast enough by even the world's best computers.  With the National Academy of Engineering, Randy Atkins, WTOP Radio.