Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series

Part 2: Factoring Fears

PostedDecember 23, 2004

Download File (mp3)

Security of electronic commerce relies on encryption called RSA.  To unscramble a transmission, you must know which two large—and secret—numbers are multiplied to get another enormous quantity.  The secret numbers are also rare "prime numbers," only divisible by themselves and one.  The bigger primes get, the harder they are to even find.  That is, until recently, when a team of mathematicians in India discovered a relatively simple method to spot them.  Len Adleman, a co-inventor of RSA, says that doesn't worry him.  But he thinks, if engineers can make quantum computers—which would use sub-atomic physics to do super-efficient calculations—they'll easily break the codes.  With the National Academy of Engineering, Randy Atkins, WTOP Radio.