THE MAGAZINE

Defining Moment

By Peter Piazza

You get an e-mail from a trusted associate with vital information about an upcoming corporate deal. How do you know that it’s truly from your associate and that the message has not been tampered with?

 A computerized function helps you find out. This function distills the text of an e-mail into a set of numbers before an e-mail message is encrypted.

Then, when the message is received, the recipient’s computer decrypts the message and distills the e-mail into numbers again. It then automatically compares the numbers. If they match, the message has not been tampered with; if they don’t, then the received message is not the same as the original version.

What is this function called?

Hint: Think of a common type of breakfast potatoes.

Answer: Hashing.

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