Of course this is referring to Dan Brown’s latest best selling novel, The Da Vinci Code. Since this is GQ, I’m not going to review the book but rather ask a question which I think is sufficiently “factual” for placing it here.
Brown states that Leonardo da Vinci invented a rudimentary form of public jey encryption centuries ago. Apparently he’s referring to a device called “cryptex,” basically a combination-lock container where you can store documents that get destroyed if someone attempts to open it without knowing the proper number.
Now I’m not a cryptologist, but AFAIK public key encryption means you have separate keys for encrypting and decrypting your message, so you can publish the former and keep the latter secret. Unlike in symmetric encryption, this means everybody can send you a coded message that only you and nobody else will be able to read.
I don’t see how the cryptexes, that play a vital role in the novel, can properly described as any form of public key encryption. So there are three possibilities:
(1) With the statement about Leonardo’s invention, Brown is not referring to the cryptex but to some other good idea LDV had;
(2) the statement is crap;
(3) my understanding of public key encryption is wrong.