Electronic Design

Setec Astronomy: Too Many Secrets

Sneakers, Chapter 9: Bishop (Robert Redford) and company have their hands on the code-breaking machine from Setec Astronomy. It's a great movie, especially if you are paranoid. In this plot, the government and the mob are both out to get you.

The key (pun intended) to it all is the encryption. Encryption is also a hot topic among embedded developers. It's central to digital rights management (DRM), the International PGP (Pretty Good Privacy, www.pgpi.org), the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), virtual private networks (VPNs), and the Trusted Computing Platform Association (TCPA, www.trustedcomputing.org).

As more security measures move into the embedded space, being well versed in encryption technology is growing more important. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA, www.riaa.com) wants DRM in every audio device. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA, www.mpaa.org) is pushing for end-to-end 1394 video encryption, and Microsoft would love a PC that only runs a trusted Windows operating system. It's a legal and moral quagmire.

Legal and moral consequences aside, embedded developers such as yourselves will design and test the hardware and software that makes things secure. Secure hardware support is critical because software can be modified. Processors with built-in security support are becoming more common. Hardware encryption acceleration is another hot area as the amount of encrypted bandwidth increases. Staying on top of the technology will be critical to choosing and building the proper support. Check out software-only tools like PGP for codes, digital signature, or encryption if you're unfamiliar with how the technology works.

Breaking codes may be the source of fodder for films. Cracking a password is possible in many cases, but usually encryption will maintain the necessary level of security. Attacks simply target the weakest links, whether it's software, hardware, or people.

In the end, Mother (Dan Akroyd) winds up with a Winnebago. Abbott (James Earl Jones) promises to pursue peace on earth for Whistler (David Strathairn). And, according to Abbott, "The whole thing never happened." Or did it?

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