Cryptography’s Alice and Bob are Here to Stay

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The article "Replace crypto-couple Alice and Bob with Sita and Rama" caught my attention today. A professor of computer science Dr. S. Parthasarathy and full time employee at "Indian biz Algologic Research & Solutions" has wrote a small but concise paper [PDF] on why he believes that the main characters "Alice", "Bob" and "Eva" should be replaced with characters of a Hindu epic "Ramayana."

He goes to state that the Alice and Bob analogy has no connection to cryptography:

It is always Alice who wants to send a message to Bob. We also encounter another couple: Carol and Dave. And then, we also have Eva (the evesdropper), malicious Mallory and rude Rudy (the intruder). Apart from the alphabetic order of their names, we see little or no connection to cryptography in their names.

This is because Alice, Bob, Eva, Carol, Dave, Mallory and Rudy are not cryptographers and are just characters used to explain a difficult topic. We could have said "Person A wants to send a message to person B and person E wants to intercept that message." But this is too confusing and it makes more sense to use simple, ordinary names. And it just so happens that it was thought up by an individual with an American cultural background.

Dr. Parthasarathy admits that Alice and Bob is good:

Using the fictititious characters Alice and Bob does make it easy to explain and understand certain tricky concepts in cryptography.

Well of course we use fictitious characters, we would not want to offend any one. The characters he is proposing are also fictitious. Further more, stating that it helps explain tricky concepts in cryptography better, then why change a good thing? As the saying goes "if it aint broke don’t fix it."

We understand why he would want to do such a thing:

For several years, I have been using a very different set of characters, to introduce cryptography to my students : enter Sita and Rama. Sita and Rama are the two central characters in the Hindu mythological epic Ramayana.

By all means, he can teach it using any names he want. No one is forcing him to go the Alice and Bob way. People in Germany maybe using Hansel and Gretel, in Arab countries they may be using Fatima and Ahmad. It is true that the original document is culturally bias, but if we replace the names with Hindu mythological names then it remains culturally bias.

I believe that Dr. Parthasarathy should stop advocating the change of the names and do something more productive. Next thing you know someone from Greece or Italy or Sweden will find some myth and characters that fits the context of sending secret messages and want to change the names to their liking. Sorry, no. The person who created this amazing cryptography system gets to use whatever names they deem fit. Perhaps Dr. Parthasarathy can invent some new encryption algorithm and name it after whatever he wants, that would be fine.

Alice and Bob, you are here to stay. And Eva… I would have called you Eric Cartman because your first name starts with the letter E which also is like eavesdropper and last name starts with the letter C which is 3rd in line after A (Alice) and B (Bob). Also Eric Cartman is worthy of being an Evil Man-In-The-Middle character ! 🙂

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