Computers use an ingenious invention called public key cryptography to transmit secrets on the internet, even through public channels that can be observed by anyone. The approach is instrumental today to the secure flow of information on the internet and the whole realm of electronic commerce. There are simple programs that can monitor internet traffic, and even the simplest requests will flow through many, and perhaps dozens of computers. Unsecured transactions can be read by any malicious hacker almost as easily as if you had transmitted the information on a postcard.
In his March 3 Lunch ‘n Learn seminar, Dickinson College Assistant Professor John MacCormick explained how public key cryptography works using some fun and easy-to understand techniques.