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29 March 2011

Why PKI matters.

This article landed in my inbox this week in a newsletter from the EFF. I usually don't read them, but the term "meltdown" caught my eye, what with all the nuke new this month. They also managed to work in "too big to fail", and neither reference was hyperbolic. The internet depends on a level of trust, and (surprise) there are people working to co-opt that trust.

A number of my friends think I'm a little weird for using real passwords, for not sharing them, etc. But I read Cryptonomicon and friends; I have at least one box exposed to the real, honest-to-god, jungle-out-there internet; I have a healthy fear of all the things that could go wrong. As part of my lab group's data entry project, I recently registered my first SSL certificate from (free!), and learned quite a bit about PKI in the process.

Still, reading an article like this really drives home both the complexities and importance of the global PKI system. Trust is difficult when it's strung across the globe on fiber optics cables, and enforced by our inability to quickly factor very large numbers. But old-school techniques of impersonation and breaking and entering will always be with us. I may trust, but how do I know that it's actually them? PKI.

How cool is that?

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