Kids say the darndest things

Tom Whore (
Wed, 13 Jan 1999 11:07:22 -0800 (PST)

As seen on Slashdot (

Making your email secret is now 30 times faster, but the innovation has
come not from a multinational computer computer but a schoolgirl from
Blarney, Ireland.
Sarah Flannery, 16, has developed a brand new mathematical procedure for
encrypting internet communication.

"The algorithm is based on matrices," her father told BBC News Online. Dr
David Flannery is a mathematics lecturer at Cork Institute of Technology,

"Sarah has a very good understanding of the mathematical principles
involved, but to call her a genius or a prodigy is overstated and she
doesn't want that herself. "She's a normal young girl, who likes
basketball and going out with her friends."

International job offers

But her number-crunching feat is undoubtedly remarkable and won her the
top prize at the Irish Young Scientists and Technology Exhibition.
International job and scholarship offers have flooded in, said Dr
Flannery. Last year, Ms Flannery's cryptography skill took her to Fort
Worth, Texas, as the winner of an Intel prize.

Even when high security levels are required, her code can encrypt a letter
in just one minute - a widely used encryption standard called RSA would
take 30 minutes. "But she has also proven that her code is as secure as
RSA," says Dr Flannery. "It wouldn't be worth a hat of straw if it was

Ms Flannery currently has a bad cold and has not had time to consider the
advice of the judges to patent the code. "She wouldn't mind being rich but
she wants to stress the great joy that the project has given her," says Dr
Flannery. She may publish the work to make it freely available to all.

Her code is called Cayley-Purser after Arthur Cayley, a 19th century
Cambridge expert on matrices, and Michael Purser, a cryptographer from
Trinity College, Dublin, who provided inspiration for Ms Flannery.