Data Safety: Crytch
In these times of digitised communication, privacy has become a sensitive and complex issue. We keep hearing of cases where information has reached not only the addressees, but also undesirable third parties. During their studies in visual communication at the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Moritz Ebeling and Leon Lukas Plum have developed a tool which can be used to encrypt texts and images in such a way that these risks are averted. We talked to the two designers.
What is Crytch’s contribution to digital privacy?
As a kind of prototype, Crytch enables the design and encryption of visual messages. This requires neither prior knowledge nor a particular programme – everything happens directly in the browser. Crytch makes it possible to encrypt your own messages visually and is thus a starting point for dealing with digital privacy. The point of Crytch is to show that this isn’t something only for specialists, but something that can also be approached playfully and creatively.
What are the technical and visual principles according to which Crytch works?
The basic functionality is inspired by a visual encryption process developed by Moni Naor and Adi Shamir in the 1990s. With it a picture is divided into different planes that only revert to the complete original when they are superimposed perfectly. Crytch moves and shifts shapes on a grid so that they become unrecognisable. When the password is entered, the created message is gradually manipulated by each character and thus becomes more and more illegible.
The finished, encoded message is then stored on the server and can be retrieved from its own URL and then decoded by entering the password. Here, the encryption process is reversed step by step until the original message is restored. The password itself isn’t saved or stored anywhere; it is only “incorporated” in its manipulated form. The only way to verify a correct password is via the readable message.
How is it different from other encryption methods?
You don’t have to install, buy, prepare or learn Crytch. It can be used by anyone at any time. What is really special about it is that you can see the encryption of your own message as it is happening, so it’s not just the process, but also the degree of encryption that is visible and can be influenced by the user. Moreover, there are a number of tools available to the user to give each message a personal character, with the use of colours, weightings, letters or a drawing tool. So each message consists not just of the pure information, but is a small work of art, a digital postcard. Encryption has its own special aesthetics.
Is Crytch an experiment or do you envisage its everyday application?
Both. But for us it is first and foremost about experimentation: we’re interested in how an abstract phenomenon such as cryptography can be visualised, and how this visualisation gives us insights into the process, and how a stylistic idiom can be created from it. What is more, Crytch tests the boundaries between creative freedom and clearly defined conditions.
In future, the method we’ve developed for Crytch could be used as a messaging tool or as an encryption and decryption mechanism for entire documents, for example. Until then, Crytch is a working tool and is “suitable for everyday use” in that it allows you to create, encrypt and send short messages.