Math Flub Could Doom Online Safety

Simple error might give hackers private data, expert warns
By Wesley Oliver,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 17, 2007 11:57 AM CST
Adi Shamir   (Getty Images)
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(Newser) – A small glitch in a computer chip—hypothetical so far—could allow hackers to steal private information from millions of PCs, a renowned cryptographer warns colleagues. Adi Shamir, an Israeli professor who helped design software guarding e-commerce transactions, wrote that a simple math mistake could cause a computer’s security software to be “trivially broken,” the New York Times reports.

Similar errors have already been discovered. Both Microsoft Excel and Intel’s Pentium microprocessor contained mathematical bugs. Shamir, though, warns of bigger trouble. “Millions of PCs can be attacked simultaneously,” wrote Shamir, if hackers learn of and exploit a math flaw in a widely used chip. But experts say such flaws are difficult to detect because a company’s designs are protected by laws governing trade secrets.