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Wednesday, January 13, 1999 Published at 11:42 GMT


Teenager's email code is a cracker

The prize judges could not completely understand the "brilliant" code

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.

"It is a public-key algorithm and is based on matrices," her father told BBC News Online. Dr David Flannery is a mathematics lecturer at Cork Institute of Technology, Ireland.

"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.

[ image: Encryption technology codes internet messages to keep email and online commerce secure]
Encryption technology codes internet messages to keep email and online commerce secure
"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. She did a period of work experience with Baltimore Technologieslast April. And her cryptography skills also took her to Fort Worth, Texas, as the winner of an Intel prize. International job and scholarship offers have since flooded in, said Dr Flannery.

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 not."

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.

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