Tree “Encryption”

In his July 2004 Crypto-Gram newsletter, Bruce Schneier mentioned an “encryption” program he had run across. The program is called Tree and is made by a company called ICS Atlanta.

The title of Schneier’s write-up about this algorithm is titled “The Doghouse: ICS“. Here’s a brief excerpt:

How is Tree different? Well, for one thing, it “uses no math.” I’m not quite sure how that’s possible on a computer, but that’s what Tree’s creator claims. From an e-mail exchange: “…99.99% of the people out there use math to encode and they use math to ‘break’ the code. Since we don’t really use math, it would be quite hard to break.”

Not only do they not use math, they don’t have a key. “Tree does not use a ‘key’…. I just put in text, hit ‘encode’ and poof, there is the encoded message, to decode, I put in coded messages, hit ‘decode’ and poof, done. That’s it. No key.”

Poof. I like that. Poof.

I can just see it. A saboteur just stole your top-secret formula for cold fusion, the formula that’s going to make conventional power obsolete and make you a multi-trillionaire overnight. But you’re resting easy, because you know that the file is securely encrypted with Tree. They’ll never break the code. They’ll never beat you to market, or even to the patent office.

And then you get a phone call. And a voice says, “Poof. Neener neener neener.” Click.

But wait! There’s more!

Now, I haven’t actually seen the company’s Web site yet, because “The website you have requested has exceeded its daily bandwidth quota of 56MB and has been temporarily de-activated … [W]e encourage you to upgrade to one of our PREMIUM hosting plans starting at only $4.95/month.” (Now, that’s what I call a professional Web presence.)

But Schneier’s August Crypto-Gram newsletter includes reader comments from someone who did see their Web site, and elaborated a bit more. (Go to the Comments from Readers in that issue, and scroll down a couple pages. The comments in question are second to last, from Owen Yamauchi.) Again, I encourage you to read it for yourself, but a few more choice quotes:

– “Tree is a file encryption/decryption program designed to foil all current methods of ‘snooping’ of private data by the very means of how Tree encodes data.” Yup. They do it with a secret algorithm, and most current methods of cryptanalyzing ciphertext involve knowledge of the algorithm. You can’t even use brute force, since Tree doesn’t have a key to brute-force! Wow!

– “Do Any Governmental Agencies Have This Program? As Of 5/2004, The Answer Is No.” You’d think government agencies would recognize the value of the world’s safest encryption, wouldn’t you? Silly them.

Immediately following that — this is the best part of all — is another reader comment: a rebuttal from the owner of ICS Atlanta, which I will not even attempt to describe and do not hope to understand. I only know that it’s among the funniest things I’ve read in my life.

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