An introduction to the first cryptographic couple. The IXUP development team, like code writers at leading technology firms, made Alice and Bob part of their team from the start. Here’s why.

Mention Alice and Bob to coders, physicists and even game theorists, and everyone knows who they are. They know all the details of Alice and Bob’s relationship, their business dealings, their adventures with the tax authorities and the secret police, and even their hobbies.

Alice and Bob also have friends, foes and acquaintances. Dave, Chuck and Eve as well as Trent, Mallory and Grace, among many others. They all play an important role in the story of Alice and Bob, and helping code writers – like our team at IXUP – communicate with shared references for the tasks they want to achieve.

Alice and Bob, are, of course, not real people – they’re fictional characters created in the late 1970s by three academics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman first publicly referred to Alice and Bob in their 1978 paper “A method for obtaining digital signatures and public-key cryptosystems.”

Previously, tasks might have been written as “How can B send a private message to A in a public-key cryptosystem?” The introduction of the two fictional characters suddenly made comprehension easier when A became Alice and B became Bob, as in “How can Bob send a private message to Alice in a public-key cryptosystem?” The adoption of Alice and Bob and the introduction of a cast of characters meant that the IXUP development team was on the same page when they were talking about very complex tasks, equations and theories.

Let’s propose a real-world example.  Alice runs a travel company and Bob runs a chain of hotels.  Alice has a database of registered customers, as does Bob. Alice and Bob propose a joint marketing campaign targeted at common customers. Alice and Bob need to identify the volume of common customers to help them develop their campaign strategy, but neither Alice or Bob can share their data with each other. This problem is known as ‘private set intersection’ and is an example of the type of problem the IXUP platform can address.

When designing and implementing the IXUP secure data collaboration platform and ensuring the IXUP principles were upheld, many detailed discussions were held around encryption and key management processes.  In these discussions all involved – developers, testers, business analysts and stakeholders – were 100% clear on:

  • the problem we were solving
  • the proposed solution
  • validation that the solution was secure and didn’t invalidate an IXUP principle
  • the implementation of the solution in the final product

Alice, Bob and their friends were critical in the development of the IXUP platform to ensure that each of these were clearly understood. Without these characters, understanding the complex key management and encryption hierarchy would have been difficult to achieve. It may also have put the overall product at risk, with potentially, accidentally breaching the principles due to miscommunication or misunderstanding.

Applying Alice & Bob in IXUP development practices is just one of the disciplined approaches our development team applied to ensure privacy and security are at the core of everything we do. For more information on Alice and Bob, and the evolution of their story, go here.

By Nick Raphael, IXUP Software Solutions Architect

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