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No Enigma

College Student Develops "Unbreakable" Cryptography, UDRI Applies for Patent and Markets Technology to Companies

Jason Kauffman is not a computer programmer and claims he can't add without a calculator, but the University of Dayton Research Institute believes the 19-year-old college student has developed unbreakable cryptography that can make the Internet more secure.

UDRI has applied for a patent on the technology and is shopping it around to companies who might have an interest in licensing it, according to John Leland, director for technology partnerships in UDRI.

"There's interest. We're talking to companies involved in computer security," Leland said. "We think we've got something remarkable here, but it has to be tested in the real world, and that's beyond the capability of the University."

Kauffman, a sophomore in mechanical engineering at the University of Dayton, refined the technology with his father, Robert Kauffman, a research chemist in UDRI. They're listed as co-inventors on the patent. Ironically, another University of Dayton-educated engineer is gaining long-overdue fame as a code-cracker. Joseph Desch, a 1929 alumnus and NCR engineer, designed a series of machines for cracking Japanese and German codes during World War II.

"This is Jason's technology. He's the lead inventor. He's got an inventive mind, and sometimes it's hard to harness it. Jason is so far outside of the box with his thinking that he can't find the box," Kauffman quipped about his son. "Everyone believes that any good cryptography has already been invented. The strength of this technology is its simplicity. When we conducted the patent review, four or five of the best researchers here looked at it. It can be proven mathematically not to be breakable."

Jason Kauffman's interest in pseudorandom (appears random) number generators was inspired by a television show describing an animation technique used in Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. "They showed how groups of only four different characters each doing a different motion were added together to make a crowd scene. I wanted to make the animation more lifelike, so I combined a pseudorandom number generator computer program with a simple animation program that I wrote to allow each character to make a range of apparently random movements."

That effort landed Kauffman, then a sophomore at Centerville High School, a trip to the 50th International Science and Engineering Fair in Philadelphia and more than $2,500 in prizes.

"Then I wondered if a pseudorandom number generator could be applied to cryptography. By senior year, I was working on making it unbreakable, and the project qualified me for the 52nd International Science and Engineering Fair in San Jose and some college scholarships," he said.

In layman's terms, the technology uses a modified pseudorandom number generator program, similar to one used in casino slot machines, and a one-way math algorithm that can't be worked backwards from the answer. "What makes this unbreakable is you have to solve one equation with three unknown variables -- A + B = C," Kauffman explained. "The math basics just sort of popped out at me."

Companies that require high levels of computer security currently use either a DES (Data Encryption Standard) or a triple DES code, but the Kauffmans say both are breakable.

"The currently used DES encryption method, which is now being replaced by AES (Advanced Encryption Standard), was once thought unbreakable and can now be cracked in a matter of minutes to hours," said Robert Kauffman, who helped his son write parts of the computer program. "The AES also can be cracked in theory. These algorithms have computational security, which means they can be broken if enough time and computer power are used. AES would take hundreds of years to break with today's supercomputers. Jason's cryptography has unconditional security and can be proven unbreakable. Supercomputers won't make any difference."

This is not the first science fair project the father and son research duo have tried to commercialize. In 1997, Kauffman won a $20,000 research challenge grant from the Ohio Board of Regents to refine and market his son's ultra-fine filter that could be used to filter out contaminants and soot from used engine oils before replenishing additives -- essentially making oil last forever. Kauffman, the inventor of UDRI's patented and commercialized "smart dipstick" technology to measure the remaining useful life of oil, still believes the filter could be used with his electronic probe in quick-lube shops or truck stops. At the time, his son was just in eighth grade.

The Kauffmans say the cryptography can be used for Internet, Intranet and data storage security. "One of the most recurring questions has been, 'If this is so simple and unbreakable, why haven't other people come up with it?'" Jason Kauffman said. "People have a bias against using pseudorandom number generators. None is completely random, and I guess no one has thought about applying the program the way I did."

Kauffman, a typical teen-ager who enjoys instant-messaging his friends and playing computer games, would love to become an "imagineer," an engineer for Walt Disney World. "I'd love to design theme park rides, and I really like Disney. It's an imaginative place, an escape from the ordinary. I like to inject creativity into everything I do."

June 13, 2002


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