Do you want to send a secret message?

There are three points at which someone other than the intended recipient could read a message you send:

  1. At the point the message is composed
  2. At the point the message is received
  3. At any point in between, i.e. during transmission

Services like WhatsApp use a process called end-to-end encryption to make sure only the sender and intended recipient can read the messages (points 1 and 2), and that messages cannot be intercepted by the technology involved in sending the message (point 3).

What does this mean in practice?

Messages you send on your phone using WhatsApp are scrambled (encrypted) using a code, which acts like a computer generated lock on the message. Only you and the person you are messaging have the key to undo that lock and decrypt the messages you send. No-one else, not even WhatsApp, can read your messages because they don’t have the right key. They have another lock and key that keeps the message safe in transit and makes sure the it gets delivered to the right person, but if WhatsApp deceided to bust that lock all they’d see is an unreadable, encoded message.

End-to-end encryption is mind-boggling for many reasons. One of the head-scratchers is the maths – your “key” is in fact a number (because computers like numbers) and the “lock” is what the computer has to do with the key to get it to work. Between the sender and recipient, what the computer has to do with the key to unlock the message takes milliseconds. For anyone else, what the computer would have to do to unlock the message would literally take it longer than the age of the universe. It is this impossible length of time which makes the code unbreakable.

What about Knitwitter?

When it comes to Knitwitter, “loose end-to-end encryption” is a reasonable description of the process: messages are encrypted by the knitter with the help of the Knitwitter app; neither the message itself nor the encryption method are stored on a server (so they cannot be accessed remotely); the message is created physically from loose ends of yarn; it’s then sent and delivered without an accompanying key, thus anyone attempting to decrypt it would incur a significant time penalty.

So if you do want to send a secret message – one that no-one can read, an innermost thought or feeling, a dark or frightening thought, or one that reveals your fragility, or your strength – then Knitwitter and loose end-to-end encryption could be just what you need.

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