For many, the word “encryption” has a mysterious quality that invokes images of math virtuosos in secret bunkers working feverishly during wartime to break the enemy’s coded communications. My first exposure to encryption came in 1996 when I began working with Paul Kohut on the first version of CADLock software for locking AutoCAD drawing files. After overcoming my initial struggle to understand the terminology and get a handle on the mathematics behind encryption, I realized that it wasn’t nearly as mysterious and complicated as it first appeared.
I knew it would take a long time for encryption terminology to become standardized and commonly understood by laypersons. From the first days of CADLock, we recognized that the key to success for our software was going to be our ability to educate consumers about our technology, it’s possibilities and its limitations, its strengths and its weaknesses, what it could do and what it could not do. I felt that we needed to be realistic and patient while we waited for the market to catch up with our technology at its own pace. In the meantime, we needed to resist any temptation to needlessly bandy about sexy buzzwords like “encryption” lest we delay our mission by further muddying the waters in an already crowded ocean of technical jargon.
This recognition of the need for patience and perseverance has led me on a personal crusade to prevent encryption terminology from being perverted or hijacked by overeager marketing departments and uninformed experts. I’ve also tried to nudge the learning process along by adding my two cents whenever the opportunity arises. With this last goal in mind, I have prepared the following three part essay about digital signatures, tailored for the CAD industry. This is not written to academic standards, nor do I claim to be the final authority on the subject. Let me be clear about my agenda: I hope that furthering the common understanding of encryption related technology such as digital signatures will indirectly help sell more CADLock software!