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“A program obfuscator would be a powerful tool for finding plausible constructions for just about any cryptographic task you could conceive of,” said Yuval Ishai, of the Technion in Haifa, Israel.
Precisely because of obfuscation’s power, many computer scientists, including Sahai and his colleagues, thought it was impossible. “We were convinced it was too powerful to exist,” he said. Their earliest research findings seemed to confirm this, showing that the most natural form of obfuscation is indeed impossible to achieve for all programs.
Then, on July 20, 2013, Sahai and five co-authors posted a paper on the Cryptology ePrint Archive demonstrating a candidate protocol for a kind of obfuscation known as “indistinguishability obfuscation.” Two days later, Sahai and one of his co-authors, Brent Waters, of the University of Texas, Austin, posted a second paper that suggested, together with the first paper, that this somewhat arcane form of obfuscation may possess much of the power cryptographers have dreamed of.
I am a co-author of the research quoted in the article. I realize it is likely pointless to write this comment in an Internet forum, but let me attempt to clarify the situation, in the hope that some thoughtful participants will find it useful. Please note: I will not be monitoring this forum in the future. If you are a researcher, please feel free to contact me.
1) The title is misleading: secure obfuscation does not necessarily create "unhackable" software, whatever that means.
2) Secure obfuscation is a mathematical term of art. It is unfortunate that the word "obfuscation" has an ordinary meaning that is very different than what we mean. An analogy might be the word "countable" which for mathematicians usually refers to infinite sets, while lay readers would likely not think this way.
3) The right way to think of what secure obfuscation allows is to create, *under many technical conditions*, software that has secrets built into it. These secrets are used by the software to compute output, and yet the secrets remain hidden even if an attacker obtains the entire machine-level code of the software, which of course the attacker could run and analyze. Thus the attacker would be able to *use* the secrets only in the way that the software allows, but not recover these secrets in any way beyond that.
4) In no direct way does secure obfuscation have anything to with DRM, software copy protection, etc.
5) Obfuscation is really a terrible name, but unfortunately it is the mathematical term that has become widely used in the academic (non-hacker) community.
6) All of this is based on mathematical computational assumptions, which may be proven false by future algorithmic advances.
David Kahn's The Codebreakers takes the measure of what codes and codebreaking have meant in human history in a single comprehensive account, astonishing in its scope and enthralling in its execution. Hailed upon first publication as a book likely to become the definitive work of its kind
Beat you to it FOUR DAYS ago.