Way back in 1995 Netscape was king. It was king because it was a direct descendent of Marc Andreessen’s ground-breaking Mosaic software, one of the first cross-platform web browsers available to users on the newly paved superhighway. Those were the days. Sort of.
Unfortunately for the Netscape company, who saw part of their future in the secure transactions business, a 27 year-old graduate student in France broke the security code that allowed their commerce server software to offer security to its customers. This, in the world of web server software companies, was a very bad thing. Up to that point, Netscape advertised that its security was bulletproof and would allow all types of sensitive financial transactions to take place over the internet without fear of credit card numbers and bank account information falling into the wrong hands.
Yeah right. It took eight days, 120 workstations, and two supercomputers to crack the 40-bit digital key that protected all of that sensitive information but the student proved that it was indeed possible to decipher Netscape’s encryption.
CBC’s radio’s Almanac show, hosted by the lovely Cecelia Walters, called me to comment on the situation and I attempted to explain it to her listeners. You can listen to our conversation by clicking the play button above.