Monday, July 09, 2007

`Its Huffman coded!' does make sense!

On the post Math Terms used in Real Life- Good or Bad I mentioned the following:
On 24, season two, there was a line `we can't break in, its been Huffman coded!' This makes no sense mathematically but it raises awareness of security issues.
I had thought that Huffman Codes are just used to compress data and had nothing to do with hiding information. I was wrong! Yakov Nekrich pointed out the following to me:
Actually Huffman codes can be difficult to break, see for instance this article: On breaking a Huffman code by Gillman, D.W. Mohtashemi, M. Rivest, R.L.
I'm curious- did the writers of 24 know this or not? I would guess no, and they just lucked out. Unless Hillman or Mohtashemi is moonlightening as a writer for 24 (I doubt Rivest needs the money.)


  1. This is the second time I am pointing out a typo:), Bill.

    It's Gillman in the last sentence not Hillman.

  2. Compression in general does an okay job of obfuscating data. Not even vaguely cryptographically secure in the modern sense, but reasonable at making it look like line noise.

  3. Slate carries an interview with 24 writer Loeff, where he says he is "a mathematician and programmer by trade."

    I happen to play Go with another 24 writer. Methinks the writers of this show are more technologically savvy than one might otherwise expect.