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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 Jade van der Zalm

Hi John, I am not someone with a lot of knowledge about cryptography so I can't give much feedback about the contents of yout concepts. I do really like your first sketch! I li,e the comic ish style and how its different from the usual flat designs. Im not really sure how i see the subect of 'encryption' in there though, i firstly assumed it was about privacy alone.

The story in your second sketch is super fun to read and i defenitely agree with you that using day to day stories as a metapor would work great. The illustration does lack a bit in storytelling for me because there are three different images, that don't seem connected without the textual context. I immediately had to think about those bigger illustrations where several things happen at once. For example;


If you look purely at the compositions you can imagine several things happening at once, but its in one illustration. That could be something you can use, so it stays one illustration instead of a comic (since comics are usually used to be funny and your story is fun to read but not in the sense of jokes)

You could also look up some blogs about the visual aspects to add more storytelling to your illustration. I hope this is some useful feedback, because i think your story is really interesting.


Photo of DeletedUser


Hi Jade:
Thank you for this thoughtful and helpful comment. I agree that humor “helps the medicine go down.” I agree that Sketch 1 perhaps requires something more to convey popularly what encryption is commonly thought of, but from a theoretical basis, I think privacy is the goal and encryption is the means. Your post and a few others has me thinking of using bits of flashing code at places along the screen to meet your point, unless I have misunderstood.
Your comments on Sketch 2 and the references you provided were very much appreciated. Both sketches shared a common problem, which is how visually to tie a lot of things together. I solved it in Sketch 1 by choosing carefully the point view of the viewer that at once showed the screen, and the faces of the people watching, but obscured the face of the computer user. But how to accomplish that in Sketch 2 is a more difficult problem, and your comments and references have got me thinking.
Many thanks.

Photo of wendys com

Well you have shared an interesting information

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