One-Time Pads — How Efficient Were They?

Discover For Yourself How Amazingly Efficient The Use Of A One-Time Pad Could Be!

Step One

In 1882 Frank Miller published his customized banking codebook titled “Telegraphic Code: To Insure Privacy and Secrecy In The Transmission Of Telegrams.” Download Frank Miller’s 1882 book from Google Books:

Step Two

Scroll on over to Page 36. In the second column, half-way down, you’ll find codegroup 04295. Above that codegroup, you’ll find a piece of banking boilerplate text Frank Miller and his fellow bank officers used to create banking documents for transmission over the Internet of their day, the Telegraph. Frank would have inserted this “endorsement” into a banking document by writing the code 04295.

Step Three

Granted, my counting skillz may be a bit rusty, but in this piece of boilerplate text, I count 233 words or 1,363 characters. What totals do you get?

Step Four

Frank would have added 5 characters from a One-Time Pad to this code, 04295, in order to completely encrypt it. Then he would have included the encrypted codegroup in the message he transmitted over the Telegraph.

The efficiency of the use of a One-Time Pad — as originally invented and exclusively intended with a telegraphic codebook — could be extremely high. This efficiency depended entirely on the information architecture of the codebook.

What About The Length Of The Key?

You’ve often read that when using a One-Time Pad the amount of “key material” must be equal to the length of the message. This is true, when using a One-Time Pad with a cipher. Cipher messages include the content, or the meaning of the message. As far as the content of the message is concerned, just like the old Prego Spaghetti Sauce commercial, you could say “It’s In There!” 

This is absolutely not true when using a One-Time Pad with a telegraphic codebook as Frank Miller did. The message as transmitted definitely does not include the content — “It’s Not In There!” The message that’s transmitted includes something that stands in for, or represents the content, which is contained in the codebook.

During this era, it was common knowledge that the length of codebook messages as transmitted over the Telegraph had absolutely no relationship whatsoever to the length of the content contained in the telegraphic codebook.

Why Does This Matter?

Our understanding of the world and how it works isn’t static. We gain new insight and greater understanding as new data points become available.

For many decades “common knowledge” held that the One-Time Pad concept and first implementation was invented by Gilbert Vernam of Bell Telephone Laboratories in New York City and Joseph Mauborgne of the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1917, and that the use of a One-Time Pad was highly inefficient because the length of the key material was always equal to the content of the message. To anyone outside the information security industry, repeatedly reading that this particular tool was profoundly inefficient has been a rather effective deterrent to investigating it further.

In July of 2011, we learned that Frank Miller — a banker on the opposite coast in California — invented the One-Time Pad at least 35 years earlier. By looking closely at Frank Miller’s implementation of the One-Time Pad concept, we can also see that during his day-to-day use of his original invention, encrypting content with a One-Time Pad could be extremely efficient, depending completely on the information architecture of the codebook involved.

It’s a bit like the murder mystery game Clue — was it Mr. Vernam in New York with a teletype machine, or Mr. Miller in California 35 years earlier with a telegraph terminal?

Now we know the One-Time Pad was originally a business tool used by business people to solve their banking security challenges, while using a means of communication which was woefully insecure. Large sums of money were at risk, and Frank Miller invented a solution in 1882 which worked perfectly then, and still does today.

— Anthony Collette 

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