New “Unbreakable” Encryption Is Inspired By Your Insides

Illustration for article titled New “Unbreakable” Encryption Is Inspired By Your Insides

A new form of encryption promising to be "highly resistant to conventional methods of attack" could make our digital lives more secure—and it's all inspired by the way our heart and lungs coordinate their rhythms by passing information between each other.


Researchers from the University of Lancaster, UK, were working to understand the complex interactions between heart and lungs, and created complex software models to simulate their communication. Then, they realized the same model could be used to encrypt data. Tomislav Stankovski, one of the researchers, explains:

"[It's] radically different from any earlier procedure. Inspired by the time-varying nature of the cardio-respiratory coupling functions recently discovered in humans, we propose a new encryption scheme that is highly resistant to conventional methods of attack."


The researchers say that it works by encrypting data signals using the time variations between two independent coupling functions. If that makes little sense, think about it this way: your heart and lungs operate as independent units, but also pass each other information back and forth to help each regulate the other. The information only makes sense in the context of what is happening at both ends.

That's why, by choosing coupling functions correctly, you can use a similar process to encrypt data. The work is published in Physical Review X. It seems to work well: the researchers report that it offers an infinite number of choices for the secret encryption key shared between the sender and receiver, can transmit several different information streams simultaneously, and it isn't affected by external noise.

That means it's virtually impossible to crack, and can allow multiple data streams to use the same encryption key, rather having to slavishly use a new one for each signal. In other words, it's pretty great! With any luck, it'll be put to use in the real world soon then. The good news is that it's already patented—so it shouldn't be long before it is. [Physical Review X]

Image by ra2studio/Shutterstock


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According to the linked abstract this is a symmetrical system relying on shared keys, presenting all the problems of secure key distribution. There is already an unbreakable cipher available if you want to go to the trouble of securely distributing keys. The Vernam cipher (Gilbert Vernam, 1918) is a stream cipher using random keys equal in length to the message; the key is XORed with the plaintext. The ciphertext transmitted over the link is information-free; the information exists only in the relationship between the ciphertext and the key stream. No amount of analysis can "break" this cypher; any attack is equally likely to produce any conceivable plaintext string. The only limitations are that the keys must be random, and can be used only once. This was the basis of the famous "One Time Pad" used in WW-II, but modern technology makes handling the very large keys trivial.