[cryptography] John Nash letter to the NSA

Randall Webmail rvh40 at insightbb.com
Sat Mar 24 17:30:11 EDT 2012


John Nash’s Letter to the NSA 

February 17, 2012 by Noam Nisan 

The National Security Agency (NSA) has recently declassified an amazing 
letter that John Nash sent to it in 1955. It seems that around the year 1950 
Nash tried to interest some US security organs (the NSA itself was only 
formally formed only in 1952) in an encryption machine of his design, but 
they did not seem to be interested. It is not clear whether some of his 
material was lost, whether they ignored him as a theoretical professor, or — 
who knows — used some of his stuff but did not tell him. In this 
hand-written letter sent by John Nash to the NSA in 1955, he tries to give a 
higher-level point of view supporting his design: 

In this letter I make some remarks on a general principle relevant to 
enciphering in general and to my machine in particular. 

He tries to make sure that he will be taken seriously: 

I hope my handwriting, etc. do not give the impression I am just a crank 
or circle-squarer. My position here is Assist. Prof. of Math. My best known 
work is in game theory (reprint sent separately). 

He then goes on to put forward an amazingly prescient analysis anticipating 
computational complexity theory as well as modern cryptography. In the 
letter, Nash takes a step beyond Shannon’s information-theoretic 
formalization of cryptography (without mentioning it) and proposes that 
security of encryption be based on computational hardness — this is exactly 
the transformation to modern cryptography made two decades later by the rest 
of the world (at least publicly…). [SNIP]
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