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Mission: (Im)possible

Impossible codes are the dream of internet security

Nowadays bank robberies are more and more often perpetrated from PCs. The world of finance, not alone in this struggle, is experiencing sophisticated digital defensive methods. Will that be enough to guarantee zero risks?


It seems that on the internet losing money is far easier than making it and stealing is something hackers are used to. In order to respond to this new emergency, financial institutions, governments and military forces have been experiencing for a quite some time impossible codes to be deciphered, real mathematical monsters that should ensure granitic security to networked communications.

«Only a turned off computer locked in a screen room is safe from hackers» jokes Antonio Lioy, Professor of Computer Security Systems at the Polytechnic of Turin and former employee of the Ministry of Justice.

Technologies such as encryption can be applied to prevent network intrusions. The use of this mathematical discipline aims at misleading potential indiscreet eyes by turning letters into numbers and vice versa, according to incredibly complicated rules. The technique of coded messages dates back to ancient Egyptians but today, thanks to science, the potential of encryption is almost endless.  «A still unsurpassed system is the AES 256-bit algorithm. – says the professor of the Polytechnic of Turin – The algorithm is a small number in which all the information travelling between two or more computers are compressed. To decipher it you should perform 2 to the power 256 computations, a volume of operations that even for modern machines would require an execution time superior to the age of the universe». Other popular defensive techniques used in the field of information technology are elliptic curve and quantum cryptographies, sophisticated methods that combine telecommunications, mathematics and the principles of physics.

But what is the hacker’s behavior facing a wall impossible to penetrate? Does he give up? Nah. «Often to crack into a computer system all you need is good psychological intuition, a factor that accounts for at least 50% in the success of a hacking attempt. – continues Lioy – This technique is called social engineering, as defined by Kevin Mitnick, one of the most famous international hackers who thanks to his skills has blown the networks of some of the largest companies in the world. When the system is unassailable, you can break its defenses playing on trust». Posing as an employee of the company or as a qualified technician for repairing, Mitnick managed to obtain passwords and access codes to enter, for example, the computer networks of the US government: arrested in 1995, he is now the head of a computer security company.