The Un-[blank]-able Thing

In information security and hacker culture, companies and individuals will sometimes throw around the idea they’ve create an “unhackable” thing. This sort of phrasing is always intended as a sort of marketing ploy to tout their product’s security. Ultimately, any product with this descriptor gains the extra attention of hackers, who laugh at this idea of a “perfectly secure” product.

This phenomenon is nothing new. Another related example we still hear about today is the unpickable lock. A quick Google Books search finds Supplement to Encyclopædia Britannica (ninth edition) from 1889[1]. Despite many of the “unpickable” locks being bypassed or picked in some way, we still see this phrase today.

We’ve heard the phrase unbreakable encryption thrown around in recent years when government entities have attacked the encryption methods used on electronic devices. Ironically, the items they claim are unbreakable are really, “Not broken yet.” People who understand cryptography know that the only mathematically proven unbreakable cipher is the one-time pad[2].

Despite all this historical background to support the lack of an un-[blank]-able device, we still see this technological perpetual motion machine[3] being pushed. This week John McAfee offered $100k to break his unhackable crypto-wallet.

Like many products that claim to be unhackable, the details around the technology are vague at best. Everyone always claims some ‘proprietary technology’ that makes their solution unique to every one in the past. Reading the vague concepts behind the product, you can see how the claim tries to stand up, but there isn’t enough detail to make such a definitive statement.

This is where I think the problem with the un-[blank]-able thing ultimately lies. The item may be un-[blank]-able now, because the idea is something new or different from what people have seen before. This has historically been the case with the unpickable lock. Sure, the device that John’s team created may be “unhackable” now, but there is no guarantee it will stay that way and using the unhackable phrase puts a target on the device.

If you are interested in crypto-currencies, hardware, or security, I’d recommend going and checking out the challenge. The device is $120 and assuming you don’t brick-it in your attempts to hack it, you’ll at least have a nifty new hardware crypto-wallet for your Bitcoin or Monero. If you just like to watch the world burn, take the $120 and send one to someone you think will enjoy breaking it.

Chopper reacts to the unhackable claims