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Sci-Fi Encryption Technology

Edward SnowdenTalks Alien Communications With Neil deGrasse Tyson 142

An anonymous reader writes: Edward Snowden, the former contractor who leaked National Security Agency secrets publicly in 2013, is now getting attention for an odd subject: aliens. In a podcast interview with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Snowden suggested that alien communications might be encrypted so well that humans trying to eavesdrop on extraterrestrials would have no idea they were hearing anything but noise. There's only a small window in the development of communication in which unencrypted messages are the norm, Snowden said.
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Edward SnowdenTalks Alien Communications With Neil deGrasse Tyson

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 26, 2015 @07:03PM (#50605127)

    9 out of 10 alien messages are for tentacle enlargement pills

  • Compression (Score:5, Insightful)

    by penguinoid ( 724646 ) on Saturday September 26, 2015 @07:10PM (#50605145) Homepage Journal

    Sufficiently advanced compression could be indistinguishable from encryption (esp. if have a standard table to draw from).

    • by jtgd ( 807477 )
      Probably just a variant of LZ77.
    • by athmanb ( 100367 )
      But if you wanted to send that compressed/encrypted data over an unstable link such as interstellar radio, you'd need to add CRC data which lowers the entropy of the data again.
  • either a movie title, indy band, or gang name.
  • by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Saturday September 26, 2015 @07:14PM (#50605165) Homepage Journal

    All we know is radio, and listening with radio telescopes has yielded nothing. What if they use neutrinos or some other weird method that we don't know of?

    • by Intrepid imaginaut ( 1970940 ) on Saturday September 26, 2015 @07:22PM (#50605183)

      Or just as likely, highly directional communications. They're the only type that would be of much use over interstellar distances anyway, and unless they happen to be pointed straight at our little blue marble they may as well not exist.

      • by BoRegardless ( 721219 ) on Saturday September 26, 2015 @07:50PM (#50605277)

        Like Lasers, which allow them to use less power if they are transmitting their own data amongst there own solar system or galaxy.

      • Or some kind of faster than light communication. If we're expecting them to have interstellar communication, why wouldn't it be faster than light? We presently have all of about zero means of detecting that kind of communication.

        • faster than light communication?

          even if that were possible, imagine the disk space it would take to store even a few seconds of it!

          • by jtgd ( 807477 )
            Speed of communication wouldn't matter, you just need to store it as fast as it's generated.
          • by bytesex ( 112972 )

            Throughput is different from latency, you know.

            But really, if there were aliens out there advanced enough to pick up our signals, they'd be advanced enough to crack our crypto.

        • According to our understanding of physics, FTL communication is completely impossible. So of course we assume that our understanding of physics is complete and that it is indeed impossible, and since we use radio for communications, we assume the ETs must use radio too.

      • Yes, but, even a tightly focused laser experiences some spreading of the beam over distance. Now we're talking anywhere from dozens to thousands of light-years, and we're talking about radio emissions. There's always going to be some leakage even with a tight-beam transmission.
        ____________________________________

        So far as someone else's assertion about encryption so good that it might be indistinguishable from background noise: Entirely plausble. Wouldn't well-encrypted data ideally have no repeating patte
        • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

          Yes, but, even a tightly focused laser experiences some spreading of the beam over distance

          SETI has talked about looking for occasional brief flashes of lasers that just happen to be aimed our way. Unlike radio waves, lasers could allow us to listen in on civilizations many galaxies away.

        • As soon as it starts spreading it rapidly becomes indistinguishable from background noise, especially over insterstellar distances. And all of that's assuming the laser isn't occluded by whatever it's targeting, which it probably would be 99% of the time. No, I fear the chances that random stray communications of whatever sort might hit us would probably be vanishingly unlikely, especially over the short period we've been listening.

          • As soon as it starts spreading it rapidly becomes indistinguishable from background noise, especially over insterstellar distances. And all of that's assuming the laser isn't occluded by whatever it's targeting, which it probably would be 99% of the time. No, I fear the chances that random stray communications of whatever sort might hit us would probably be vanishingly unlikely, especially over the short period we've been listening.

            Well, we could search for unexplained and very localized increases in white noise. Also the universe background noise isn't completely white.

      • We're not looking for directed communications, but for accidental 'leakage'.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Neutrinos? Apart from transmitting a message as quickly as possible through the middle of a planet, using photons or electrons would be much, much easier.
      • How would electrons be any easier? That requires having wires between your communications nodes.

        Maybe you're thinking of electromagnetic waves (radio). Those aren't electrons.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Or maybe they don't use radio the way we do. We've got a whole planet here full of millions of life forms and only one of them ever discovered and harnessed radio, and then only very recently. So it appears life doesn't need radio to thrive.

      Humans use it because we have a need to tell our old campfire stories at a distance, and because we like to or need to talk to each other. There is no reason to suspect another species would have these same needs. None of our nearly identical genetic cousins have the

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 26, 2015 @08:03PM (#50605325)

        I think Snowden means to say, that if you have an uncompressed data signal there will be many repeating symbols which would stand out if we could see it.

        However compressed data and encrypted data has ideally a pure random distribution of symbols, and therefor we won't be able to differentiate it with background noise (unless it is powerful random noise).

        We know this is true because our own encryption methods are already ideal enough that we can't differentiate it from random noise. Compression algorithms come close but still detectable at the moment.

      • Snowden's theory is pointless as well because there is no way to prove or disprove it.

        What he's trying to say is we should be encrypting our communications so aliens can't surveil them.

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        So your idea is why would aliens see value in us, why bother. Consider the idea of aligned development where different species are in a similar development cycle at the same time, the most postulated theory for communications. The problem with that, is that cycle has three likely significantly different stages, primitive, transitional and modern. Primitive would be long quite long, millions of years long and modern (not us) would also be quite long again millions of years, where as transitional is much sho

    • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      You can communicate at or near the noise floor. You'd never know you were hearing anything.
    • by penguinoid ( 724646 ) on Saturday September 26, 2015 @08:17PM (#50605363) Homepage Journal

      Thing is, high entropy electromagnetic communications would be indistinguishable from noise -- and even if it weren't, it would be hard to compete with the ridiculously powerful noise of their star. Since entropy is approximately the same thing as information, we should expect to see nothing but noise even if we got a perfect noise-free replica of their communication. It'll only get worse -- higher entropy and higher directionality -- as the technological level improves.

      Only way we're finding aliens is if they're also doing a SETI program and use radio waves to do so.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Mmmm,

      The arrogant assumption is that our 50 year old RF broadcast model will continue on ad infinitum and that no advances will occur in a civilisation that is truly adanced because we represent the pinnacle of what is possible for any race.

      Bottom line: RF (and indeed any electromagnetic broadcast) is utterly unsuited for a communications medium in systems that compris even planetary colonies, let alone ones based on interstellar distances. About the only place it is (marginally) suitable is for a single pl

      • Why the hell wouldn't any advanced civilisation be communicating using quantum entanglement, quantum tanneling, gravitonic/proto-singularity channels and a host of other real-time, instantaneous-irrespective-of-distance alterantives, (e.g. paired meson?) that operate point-to-point rather than broadcast, that we could not possibly intercept, detect or connect with even if we knew they were occurring?

        I believe most space aliens use fluid routers for instantaneous communications across the universe. Rumor has it you can top up your sim with super correlated liquid helium at any of the 23,452,187 "Zorg Shack" kiosks thought the galaxy.

        Assuming that early to mid 20th Century communications technology will be in use in such civilations represents the height of arrogance, ignorance and blindness that seems to be characteristic of our species. If there are alien civilisations, we are probably the local neighbourhood's primitive bogans ... not the uncrowned technolgical geniuses of the known universe we assume we are.

        In the real world you are required to make assumptions in order to get anything accomplished. You can chose to base your assumptions on available evidence or opt for possibilities for which no evidence exists (e.g. quantum nonsense). Your choice.

        • That's pretty funny, considering that you just made that post utilising several technologies that depend on "quantum nonsense".

          • You may have misunderstood what technologies he labeled "quantum nonsense".

            Quantum entangled particles are not nonsense, but the notion of communication "instantaneous-irrespective-of-distance" is.

            Correlated particles have correlated-yet-unpredictable states irrespective of the order of their measurement. But to experience the correlation, you need to measure both. Some observers will observe that measurement A takes place before measurement B, thus the "communication" being "transmitted" from A to B, whil

            • It is funnier still.

              The system of the daughter consenting or not consenting to paying the expenses, and the funeral at the other end of the communications channel, is an entangled system, such that if you measure if the daughter consents or not, and also measure if the funeral is being held or not, you will either find that both are the case, or none. But the two are not causally related. They are random, but correlated. Some observers see the funeral being held first, and the daughter consenting to paying

      • About the only place it is (marginally) suitable is for a single planet based medium, and even then latency, interference and bandwidth constraints are bad compared to alternatives.

        WTF are you talking about? What alternatives? Right now, there are none. You can talk about sci-fi comm stuff all you want, but those aren't real, they're only theoretical at best. "Gravitonic/proto-singularity channels"?? WTF? There's no known way to generate or alter gravity, aside from adding and subtracting mass. "ins

  • They have been preparing us for their code for thousands of years but only those who are in the know like this guy [typepad.com] can read it correctly!
    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      Observation: Some people have too much free time.

      • Observation: Some people have too much free time.

        I was abducted while fishing when I was 12 years old so I know something about it. Put it this way it takes more than a tin foil hat to block their signals. So in my free time I fish like a mad man and communicate. But I prefer chironomid fishing just after ice off. In winter it is too hard to cut a hole in the ice long enough to get in a good cast!

        • by KGIII ( 973947 )

          We go ice fishing up my way. Well, the locals/natives do. I used to go ice drinking but I don't drink any more. I've never once tried to fish through the ice unless you count jigging for smelts which, I guess, sort of qualifies as fishing and I did not even do that for long. I was mostly hell bent on getting drunk - which is all I've ever done out in the ice shacks. Some of them are pretty nice, too. In fact, I've gotten drunk in lots of ice shacks and not once really fished to the best of my recollection.

          • We go ice fishing up my way. Well, the locals/natives do. I used to go ice drinking but I don't drink any more. I've never once tried to fish through the ice unless you count jigging for smelts which, I guess, sort of qualifies as fishing and I did not even do that for long. I was mostly hell bent on getting drunk - which is all I've ever done out in the ice shacks. Some of them are pretty nice, too. In fact, I've gotten drunk in lots of ice shacks and not once really fished to the best of my recollection. No alien abductions though.

            We go ice fishing up my way. Well, the locals/natives do. I used to go ice drinking but I don't drink any more. I've never once tried to fish through the ice unless you count jigging for smelts which, I guess, sort of qualifies as fishing and I did not even do that for long. I was mostly hell bent on getting drunk - which is all I've ever done out in the ice shacks. Some of them are pretty nice, too. In fact, I've gotten drunk in lots of ice shacks and not once really fished to the best of my recollection. No alien abductions though.

            I highly encourage those who ice fish to get drunk, drive their gear out on the lake, drill as many holes as possible all around their shack! Sorry if my humor went way over your head, next time duck.

  • by John Jorsett ( 171560 ) on Saturday September 26, 2015 @07:17PM (#50605171)
    Maybe the scariest aspect of that idea is that they're hiding from something.
  • Either they're just going about their business without giving a crap about anyone else.... meaning their communications may or may not be encrypted because they basically don't care if we see it, or bother to consider it an option that we see it..... or......

    They're trying to communicate with us, in which case i doubt they'd be so stupid as to encrypt unless they're sharing information, instead of simply saying "hello, we're here," that they deem should be reserved for a "sufficiently advanced" society (
    • by Deadstick ( 535032 ) on Saturday September 26, 2015 @10:22PM (#50605679)

      another mutual friend where he attempted to play the "i'm superior to you" card by switching into talking Russian.

      I had a college French course circa 1961 with a prof who was convinced his shit smelled rosy, because -- of all the silly-ass reasons -- he could also speak Spanish. One day we were translating text from a French novel into English -- one of the simplest possible exercises in a foreign-language course -- and he turned to a student who was a recent refugee from Cuba. He said "Senor Hernandez, would you please translate the next paragraph into (visibly puffing himself up) "any language you please?"

      The guy came back at him in Japanese.

  • Regardless of the contents of my Slashdot sig... don't let your nerd celebrity cred go to your head too much. This sort of stuff just makes you easier to simply dismiss when it comes to the general populace.

  • Sure, because they don't want the NSA or the FBI to find out about their tunnels under the border.

    Oh, he meant Space Aliens? I bet they don't want the NSA or FBI to read their emails either.

  • We know this, and have tests to verify deviation from true random noise to detect encoding candidates, even if you can't, perhaps ever, crack it.

    Actually, I hypothesize this is what SETI and so on are doing. If not, they should.

    It cannot be mathematically identical to true randomness over the long run, even though the closer to statistically random data you get with your encoding, the more compressed.

  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Saturday September 26, 2015 @08:04PM (#50605329)

    I think he is confusing encryption and steganography. Encrypted signals will still require framing, will still be likely to be bandwidth limited, and so will not appear truly natural, even if we can never break the code. As the Brits found through traffic analysis in World War II, you can learn a lot from observing alien communications, even if you never decode a single word.

    • Encrypted signals will still require framing, will still be likely to be bandwidth limited, and so will not appear truly natural, even if we can never break the code.

      That's a good point.

      • by bsdasym ( 829112 )
        It is.. but I think it's getting... lost in the noise.

        Even a nearly worst case scenario (unframed encrypted transmissions) still need to be of high enough power to be heard over the actual environmental noise, and can be detected as non-natural. Directionality of those transmissions is the much bigger problem, as others have stated. However, if we're an average civilization, there's still plenty of unencrypted unidirectional traffic being pumped around, and will continue to be for quite some time. Ter
  • by Anonymous Coward

    One method of Encryption is to use very wide (high chipping rate) Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum (DSSS). This has the advantage of
    digital processing gain that looks like an incredibly good filter, and also spread the signal over a very wide bandwidth. GPS satellite use this
    so they can all transmit on the same frequency at the same time, but use different codes (CDMA Code Division Multiple Access) This
    makes the GPS signals approximately sub thermal. Sub thermal means that the background noise is as powerfu

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by bmo ( 77928 )

      GPS has been de-fuzzed for the civilian side since the Clinton administration, because differential GPS made it TOAB useless.

      During fuzzed NAVSTAR GPS:

      Sit on known point. Calculate the vector of the fuzz. Use this vector for the rest of your survey. Get same results as Military. EVERYBODY did this.

      Because it was that easy to beat.

      After GPS fuzzing: Use GPS as designed, which makes it actually more useful for commerce. Instead of a toy for the military and land surveyors, it became useful enough for ai

      • by maeka ( 518272 )

        Just about every one of your claims about how GPS (and SA) works are wrong.

        I'm telling you that you're an unfounded ass rather than downmoding you. Just so you know,.

        Seriously, I don't know many things, but I know the back-end mechanics of GPS. If this is how you talk out-of-your-ass repeating shit you may have heard elsewhere w/o comprehension or understanding you need to evaluate your life.

  • Stupid SoundCloud, the only audio player I know without a VOLUME CONTROL!
  • See why:
    http://www.amazon.com/Bootstrap-Trilogy-Book-1-ebook/dp/B014Z09UAQ

  • I'm not surprised that Snowden would focus on a pet obsession and Neil deGrasse Tyson isn't an xeno-anthropologist, but surely both of them could have stop to ask themselves if radiated communications are the norm given how inefficient a use of energy that it is.

    Only sustainable civilisations survive, now that is a hypothesis that is more likely, so extreme efficiency would be a very large factor in the difficulty in sensing such a civilisation. And as other's have pointed out this would require compress
    • why should puny humans even expect to detect waste heat from an advanced civilisation? Surely it would make more sense to dump it back into the nearest star?

      Excuse me? Of all the possible ways to get rid of heat, transferring it into a high-temperature object is the worst. You unload heat by removing it at LOW temperature. Second Law, and all that.

    • by narcc ( 412956 )

      Snowden needs positive attention. Despite his status as a hero, the press haven't been very kind to him. I agree that it makes sense for him to engage in this sort of talk.

      Tyson is a showman. He just needs attention to keep himself employed. It's a shame that he's decided to take advantage of one of the greatest Americans of this century to keep his name in the papers.

      All the rest is silly nonsense; being little more than fuel for the space nutters, armchair science cheerleaders, and conspiracy theorist

  • I've long thought this could be the case. First, you'd have the communication be in an alien language. We're not just talking a foreign language, like Spanish, that has the same (or nearly the same) alphabet as English or even a language, like Russian or Hebrew, that has a completely different alphabet. Those languages were still made by humans. We'd be talking about a language formed by a completely different creature that evolved in a completely different environment.

    After this, you'd have the communi

    • Good thing I saw this post in time! I'll have the $100k I was going to send Snowden for his insight wired to you instead as the first person to ever consider data modification as a solution to the fermi paradox. Please send me your account numbers and passwords. ...Or should I send it to this guy?

      https://bitcointalk.org/index.... [bitcointalk.org]

  • As much as /.ers hate Joe Sixpack and his fascination with the Kardashians - they sure perk up their ears when their media darlings pontificate.

    • As much as /.ers hate Joe Sixpack and his fascination with the Kardashians - they sure perk up their ears when their media darlings pontificate.

      Guess it's my one day of the month to get trolled, so...

      We listen to NdGT and ES because they say stuff that makes sense. Joe6P doesn't listen to the Kardashians: he stares at their boobs and butts. See the difference? (unless you're obsessed wth Snowden's butt, which I suppose is possible)

  • First question that come into my mind, why the hell aliens would send encrypted message in the galaxy? If I wanted to send a message to Aliens, my first reflex would write it in so many different way so that any aliens will know it's a message for them. The only reason it should be encrypted is to hide it from someone they know and odds are thar they a far more advanced than us and that some random communication wont reach anyone esle than the disignated targed let alone leaving their solar system.

  • It is fundamental that a well designed Spread Spectrum transmission is essentially the same as wideband noise, and unless you know the code, is un-crackable.

    The Spreading Code itself provides the Encryption (eg via Gold-Codes, or if necessary, via a one-time pad)

    The idea of Extra Terrestrial Intelligence using Spread Spectrum is not a new idea. It dates back to the '40's when Spread Spectrum was first declassified.

  • I wonder if he read My [slashdot.org]

  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @02:04AM (#50606225) Journal

    I wonder if he read my November 24 2014 post [slashdot.org].

    In it I pointed out that modern radios, in order to approach the Shannon limit, put out signals that are very close to random noise (and essentially indistinguishable from band-limited theral noise once distorted too much for clean reception).

    And that this would make the window between no radio and radio that is indistinguishable at a distance from thermal noise very short - in our case, about 120 years from Tesla and Hertz to mostly OFDM, m-QAM, and the like.

  • is Edward SnowdenTalks?

  • He seems to be implying that all communications will tend to encryption at some point in a species existence. That's far from the case. Even if we did all get angry at the snooping of our government and start encrypting everything there are many use cases left for unencrypted content. Think the type of content that we go out of our way to transmit in a common language so we're sure that everyone can understand without problems.

    Encryption may be the solution to oppression but it is also a hindrance to common

  • I suspect that advanced cultures would deeply value data collection and analysis and would like very open communications. Think of an ant hive. As far as we know every ant in the hive is able to receive as much communications as every other ant. As very advanced cultures there would be almost no danger from less evolved cultures and very advanced cultures are by definition rare compared to more mundane cultures. One would think that truly advanced cultures would have no need for war or aggression but
    • by Anonymous Coward

      china was very advanced, but had a hard time defending against mongolian, english, american, japanese barbarians. they built massive walls and punished their own pirates, but still their civilization was raped until mao employed euro brutishness (communism) in order to defend the realm.

      this message comes from germany, not from space. ganz sicher.

  • We keep looking for less developed nations to out source for cheap labor. What happens once we run out of places where we can find cheap labor? To some extent we would train highly intelligent animals (dolphins to hunt for mines, may be monkeys to take geiger counters into nuclear power plants destroyed by tsunamis). But it is very difficult to find animals intelligent enough to do the work and stunted enough to accept our peanuts.

    At this point we would start looking for laborers outside the home planet.

    • If they're that smart, they will get machines to do their dirty work. We're not so smart, and we're trending that way.

      Cortez and his ilk only had to spend a few months exploring. Going to the next inhabitable planet is a bigger problem.

  • Think about the technology a scientist from a bare fifty years ago, or even thirty, would need to invent, just to be able to BEGIN to work on a sample of wifi communications, or a Blu-ray.

    They have to invent the equipment to listen to it, decrypt it, figure out the file formats, and so on. And these technologies are all designed specifically to prevent that.

    • We are not trying to understand the messages. We are trying to understand whether there are any messages. And scientists from 50 years ago would most definitely be able to detect that our radio waves are not pure noise (and therefore are highly improbable to be naturally-occurring).
  • Radio Comms have been encrypted for a very long time in the manner he's talking about in the podcast. If the carrier wave is the same amplitude as the data, you'd just hear white noise. I believe quantum entangled comms to be more likely. While Snowden is technically correct about it being encrypted, without the same quantum entangled radio, we'd never be able to hear what's being said because it's inherently scrambled as well as being instantaneous across all of space.
  • Snowden should really, really know better than to make this argument. Compression will always be necessary because the amount of information transferred generally outpaces the throughput capacity of data transfer channels. Encryption may increase the entropy of messages, but compression minimizes the entropy. So detecting lower-than-expected entropy in received information should occur fairly regularly if there is any intelligence communicating.

There is hardly a thing in the world that some man can not make a little worse and sell a little cheaper.

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