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What is appropriate encryption?

Not all cryptography is created equal. What is secure in one context can be dangerous in another.

Photo of DeletedUser

Written by DeletedUser

Sketch 1 (1,500 characters)

Using a dressing screen for privacy doesn't work if the outside world can get in and view what you are doing simply by looking over or around the screen. Cryptography is not so very different. I would extend this type of approach visually to related technical matters, such as evaluating risks, weighing the value and sensitivity of information, enumerating financial and other costs, checking regulatory and other constraints, and in general, the entire process of balancing these kinds of consideration.

Sketch 2 (1,500 characters)

I believe that narrative stories can help teach cryptographic issues and solutions by analogizing them to other struggles in the real world, and can provide insight into what is being (or not) done. For example, many years ago, I trekked in remote Africa with a friend. We had to protect our donkeys from predators. Without the donkeys, we would have perished. We refused to carry guns (because the locals might kill us to get them). We built a V-shaped thorn enclosure from fallen trees each night to protect the donkeys while we camped. We built a fire at the open end and kept it going. One night hyenas attacked. Jackals aided them. By luck our flashlights blinded them just before they reached the donkeys, and drove them off. Illustrations of the tale and of the security analogues are rich material to engage viewers in an entertaining way that is perhaps more understandable to them than encryption itself, as a metaphor for what encryption similarly tries to achieve.

What have you learned through this sketching process? (1,000 characters)

With some creative imagination, even abstract notions of cryptography can be made fun and informative.

Tell us more about you. (1,000 characters)

In the 1990's I became fascinated with cryptography, although my training and profession up until then was as a lawyer. I taught myself cryptography, following the inspiration principally of Bruce Schneier. Over time, I invented and patented methods for Internet digital signatures and message encryption, which later were purchased by a commercial enterprise. In my professional legal life, I joined the Information Security Committee of the American Bar Association, and participated in its e-Notary and Digital Signature proposed lawmaking and industry-influencing efforts. I co-founded and chaired Legal XML, a division of OASIS. Cybersecurity has always been a passion of mine. I am presently retired. In retirement, I also write books and produce digital art.

Why are you participating in this Challenge? (750 characters)

I first learned of the challenge yesterday from an emailed newsletter. I would love to participate, as it allows me to combine my passions for cybersecurity and illustrative art.

Website(s) (image gallery) (not updated for retirement yet; encryption patents are listed and described). (illustrated child's storybook) (second illustrated child's storybook)

What is your experience with the field of cybersecurity?

  • I have considerable experience and/or knowledge in the cybersecurity field.

What best describes you?

  • Other

How did you hear about this OpenIDEO Challenge?

  • Someone in my network (word of mouth)

Location: City


Location: State / District


Location: Country

  • United States of America


Join the conversation:

Photo of Dima Boulad

Welcome to the challenge @DeletedUser  and thank you for your contribution! Very fun sketches and visual technique, the first one is very humorous! How would you consider pushing your sketches further? We've had a large number of very interesting submissions so far and we will be going through them one by one in the Review phase. In the meantime, we invite you to browse other submissions and join the conversation around cybersecurity on the platform!

Photo of DeletedUser


Thank you for the warm welcome and comment. I have found participating so far to be enjoyable. One area that I think could merit further exploration is cyber-mob bullying, which seems to occupy a place between privacy and IOT. Just today there were stories in the New York Times about women who have been forced to leave their homes and take other extraordinary measures to protect themselves and their families because they had been targeted for abuse by enemies. Their tormentors were able to obtain and disseminate personal information about them through online means, and to organize others in their networks to take real world actions against the victims, with devastating long term personal consequences. I don't believe the founders of the Internet ever envisioned that the technology would be used in such ways. As for the role of art, works that encapsulate relevant concepts can intrigue the viewer to want to learn more and serve as recyclable symbols in lectures, presentations, journalism, communications, etc. This definitely something that is worthwhile and useful.

Photo of DeletedUser


Since our initial exchange of emails on August 18, my thoughts have evolved considerably. I am summarizing what I have learned through collaborating with other entrants. I make these comments not to gain an advantage (I have been informed it will not affect the results of Round 1), but in the spirit of the Challenge itself, which I understand is to contribute to safer computer practices.
I would summarize some of the problem areas to address as including these:
1. People often use devices to kill time: in professionals’ waiting rooms, airports, train stations, while commuting by public transportation, etc. These places have varying degrees of online security, which may not be altogether transparent, and therefore can present an element of unknown risk, which some may ignore and others may embrace for a thrill.
2. Devices can become addictive. This can lead to reckless behavior.
3. Procrastination, denial, and complacency may be important to address in addition to ignorance of concepts about security. People mostly use devices for work, entertainment, research, communication, social media, keeping up relationships and curiosity, not to maintain security itself.
4. Previously visuals have tended to frighten people into taking common-sense precautions through stereotypes about hackers and cyberwarfare, though there may be less dramatic and more effective ways, which I think the Challenge intends to address.
I hope the Challenge will also address effective distribution of the graphics and their messages to the public. Digital images are so wonderfully versatile. For example, in waiting rooms, there could be two dimensional prints with messages that recall the old WWII posters that "loose lips sink ships" and a reference to a website for more information. In such a case, flashing graphics, while eye-catching, might be prohibitively expensive, as they could require electronic displays. But two-dimensional “old-fashioned” types of graphics might be less costly and equally effective. Also, because of the considerations set forth in items 1-4 above, humor and story-telling might be good hooks to get attention and drive a simple point or two home. In my case, I think my Sketch 1 adopts humor in that vein, and would be more useful for the simple “print” type of distribution. I think my Sketch 2 falls into the category of storytelling. The very rough sketch has evolved as set forth in my responses to some of the comments of other entrants. Because the graphic requires a story in order to embed the message more fully into public consciousness, it would likely be more effective in an online setting.
I hope these comments are helpful to the contestants and reviewers. I greatly appreciate the opportunity and privilege to participate in the Challenge.
Best regards,
John Messing

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