In the 1983 movie, "A Christmas Story," one of my favorite scenes is when young Ralphie gets a much-coveted Little Orphan Annie secret decoder ring in the mail.
This little plastic gadget was meant to decode messages from the 1930s Little Orphan Annie radio series. You had to drink a lot of Ovaltine, tune into the radio show, and join Annie's Secret Society just to participate. It was an excellent customer-engagement campaign.
As Ralphie discovers, the secret message—as intriguing as it was to decode— was a "crummy commercial." But it was an early testament to the fun—the intrigue and mystery—that kids can have with decoding. In a more modern update, beyond decoder rings, kids can still have fun with cryptography while learning its importance in data and transactional security. Designers young and old can create practical applications with a bit of basic programming.
For many, a good starting point is a cryptographic development kit. These kits include adaptable modules that allow users to add encryption, digital signatures, and message authentication to applications. Several companies sell the kits.
In this week's New Tech Tuesdays, we'll take a close look at the SparkFun Cryptographic Development Kit.
The kit has everything needed to learn the fundamentals of cryptographic authentication and how to use the ATECC508A Cryptographic Co-Processor Breakout to boost security in your projects. It does not actually encrypt or decrypt data but performs several cryptographic authentication processes such as secure private key creation, secure key store, and digital signature creation and verification.
The ATECC508A chip can create and securely store unique asymmetric key pairs based on Elliptic Curve Cryptography (FIPS186-3). It can generate and verify 64-byte digital signatures from 32 bytes of message data. It also can create a shared secret key on a public channel via the Elliptic Curve Diffie-Hellman Algorithm. It also can generate a standard hash-based challenge-response protocol using an SHA-256 algorithm. The chip includes an internal FIPS random number generator.
SparkFun emphasizes that users read through the hookup guide before using the board. The chip can only be configured before it is permanently locked.
The SparkFun cryptographic development kit gets design engineers going with the fundamentals. Enthusiasts can develop any number of applications, from simple button controls to wireless control. Best of all, they can do a lot better than decode a commercial.
Tommy Cummings is a freelance writer/editor based in Texas. He's had a journalism career that has spanned more than 40 years. He contributes to Texas Monthly and Oklahoma Today magazines. He's also worked at The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, San Francisco Chronicle, and others. Tommy covered the dot-com boom in Silicon Valley and has been a digital content and audience engagement editor at news outlets. Tommy worked at Mouser Electronics from 2018 to 2021 as a technical content and product content specialist.
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