back to article 'Replace crypto-couple Alice and Bob with Sita and Rama'

A computer scientist has come up with a proposal to replace cryptography's Alice and Bob with characters from Hindu mythology. For decades, techniques to encrypt and decrypt communications have been explained using two imaginary characters, Alice and Bob, and potential eavesdropper Eve. Alice sends a message to Bob, and Eve is …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Is this what they term a no news day story?

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      No, something perfectly light for a wet Monday morning. I am immediately envious of you if your brain is already engaged and firing all pistons before 10am.


  2. Mark Wilson


    If it ain't broke don't fix it.

  3. tonysmith

    slight translation error

    The word "badmash" is not "bad man" but usually means a fornicator (when used in context) or generally very evil person. It's quite an insult to say it to someone.

    Also, I see no reason for changing it. Alice and Bob work fine.

    1. Jon Double Nice

      Re: slight translation error

      But the introduction of some fornication would certainly liven things up a bit.

  4. s. pam Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Oh FFS!

    Just STFU and go back into whatever cave you came from. The world is not India, nor the US, but if something has worked for 40+ years, just STFU and live with it.

    Damnit I hate crap like this.

    1. crowley

      Re: Oh FFS!

      Agreed. If he wants to suggest the conventional terms for a field of knowledge, he should be first to codify it.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge


        And there, in fact, you have identified a principle that has been applied to far more fields of knowledge than Alice and Bob have ever been involved with, and which has gone largely unchallenged for a good deal longer than 40 years.

        Can we have Brontosaurus back?

        Can we redefine the electron to be positive?

  5. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Longer is better

    We're told that long passwords are easier to forget better than short ones. And that longer crypto keys are better than short ones.

    So it follows that Alice and Bob should be replaced with better, or at least longer, name. to promote this philosophy. I would suggest that in the spirit of pointless changes the following are adopted henceforth:

    Anglithorpianositachinquate and Hatmaguptafratarinagarosterlous

    and possibly Opfogjrbskfeepnepnkaseyoinnbretn for the interloper

    1. hplasm

      Re: Longer is better

      Shouldn't there be numerics and case changes in there, just to make it roll off of the tongue better?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Longer is better

      And they all live in that place in Wales.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The real villain of the piece

    Maybe we could choose Kali to represent Microsoft? Ballmer certainly has the voice for it.

    1. dogged

      Re: The real villain of the piece

      Tell us how Microsoft do evil crypto, Tom. If you could include instances to demonstrate how it's objectively more evil than Oracle's, Google's, Apple's or IBM's, that would help your case.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The real villain of the piece

        Tell us how Microsoft do evil crypto, Tom.

        Well, if their crypto is anything like their GUID generators, then he may have a point.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The real villain of the piece

        "Tell us how Microsoft do evil crypto, Tom".

        I shouldn't think they do. The whole idea is silly.

        What I meant was that Windows, from a security point of view, reminds me strongly of the Kali Yuga. Utter disorder, a breakdown of law and custom, nothing can be relied upon...

  7. dogged

    A lot of hostility here

    But actually, I think it's rather nice. Finding an aspect of mythology (anyone's) that fits a modern discipline so well is pretty cool.

    Not that I think anything will change but it would make the mental images a lot richer.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A lot of hostility here

      I think that the less mythology that we have in reality is better. Just look at the wars and deaths throughout the ages that are happening because of imaginary friends in the sky.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Aaron Em

        Re: A lot of hostility here

        Oh, indeed! Take Stalin -- thirty million dead at a stingy estimate, and all in the name of that nasty ol' God! A more staunch believer it would be impossible to find.

        Or perhaps, if we're going to talk about it from a religious point of view, we'll need to concede that soi-disant atheism has racked up a quite impressive score of its own over the years -- rather more than any of the religions have been managing lately, in fact, Islam and all -- and, in light of this perhaps unpalatable but certainly incontrovertible fact, godly vs. godless appears to be a distinction without a difference? That what one finds atop a mountain of skulls is perhaps not the moral high ground?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: A lot of hostility here

          Aaron Em spluttered: "Take Stalin -- thirty million dead at a stingy estimate, and all in the name of that nasty ol' God"

          I hate to break it to you but Stalin was an atheist. This is a Big Clue as to why Catholics have a big downer on communists.

          1. Aaron Em

            Look who hasn't had his coffee yet

            And silly me for expecting that a mere full paragraph of explaining the joke would suffice. What can I have been thinking?

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: A lot of hostility here

            I hate to break it to you but Stalin was an atheist.

            Indeed. He was even trained as a priest. Oh ...

          3. harmjschoonhoven

            Re: A lot of hostility here

            @AC at 11:52 GMT

            Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili a.k.a. Stalin HAD a religion

            after he lost his faith at the Tiflis seminary in 1896: Marxism.

            He always has seen himself as special and deified himself

            with unimaginable consequences.

            Vid. "Young Stalin" by Simon S. Montefiore, page 66.

            1. Aaron Em

              No argument here, mate

              but it always riles the commies to point out the religious nature of Marxism, so I left it out.

        2. spatulasnout

          Re: A lot of hostility here

          Re: "... godly vs. godless appears to be a distinction without a difference"

          While I'd agree homo sapiens don't require a religious framework to justify the perpetration of evil acts, is it not relatively rare for someone to do evil /in the name of/ atheism? For instance, of all those involved in preaching the sins of contraceptive use in AIDS-plagued sub-Saharan Africa, are there any likely to be doing so on the basis of a lack of belief in a deity?

          On the Stalin question in particular, Christopher Hitchens had voiced a detailed reply:

          "Until 1917, millions of Russians were taught for hundreds of years that the Tsar is the head of the church. Which he was, the Russian Orthodox Church. That the leader of the country should be something a little more than human, not a god but he's a little more than, -- he's not quite divine but he's a Holy Father.

          If you're Joseph Stalin, you shouldn't be in the dictatorship business if you don't know how to exploit an inheritance like that: millions of credulous, servile people. And what does he do? Lysenko's biology, miracles.

          We can have three harvests a year if we believe in Lysenko's biology. Inquisition, heresy hunt, orthodoxy, everything comes from the top and must be thanked for and groveled for, a complete replication of the preceding theocracy.

          For your arguments to have any force at all, you'd have to point to a society that adopted the teachings of Lucretius, Spinoza, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Albert Einstein, and then fell into famine, dictatorship, torture, and genocide. And you won't, I think, be able to point to such. That's what you'd need for a level playing field."

          (Interviewer: You truly wish to blame the crimes of Joseph Stalin on Christianity?)

          "No, I was very careful to say, Stalin is gifted a legacy of backwardness, servility, and incredulity inculcated by Christianity and he replicates the conditions of political theocracy and he keeps the church in his corner all throughout the war and throughout the collectivization. Look it up. The church had to split on the question. Those who didn't like it had to leave for America.

          And the religious mentality is very clearly shown in the totalitarian mass movements of leader worship and the Fuhrer Princip and their heresy hunts and proclamations of miracles. Yes, it's an allotropic form of the same thing."

          1. Aaron Em

            Re: A lot of hostility here

            "No true Scotsman..."

            1. Anonymous Coward

              Re: A lot of hostility here

              Right. Now that things have settled down ...

              First, the position we start from. The old joke of the couple asking directions, "Well, if I was you, I wouldn't be starting from here..." is a good analogy. We've got what we've got. It isn't a brilliant start, but...

     I've said before in other arenas and I say it again now, if any religion had any proof of any of its claims then the world would be a different place ... so why should we tollerate the injection of anything else that further looses direction.

              Why the heck should one set of cultural claptrap simply be replaced by another set of cultural claptrap. Let's take things forward on a footing which is based in fact ... heck if you want analogies how about some stars, their agents and the nasty press hackers.

              Although I've nothing against religion and culture per-se, I'll get very hostile at anyones attempts to inject their culture, religion, lifestyle, etc. in to MY life, and that is what is happening.

              There. I said it. Spade firmly called a shovel. Flame suit donned. Le'mme havit.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: A lot of hostility here

                ...and let me further qualify that ... if there had been a similar situation in any other country, then I'd be open to that as well ... when I'm talking about culture I'm not talking about factual or historical events that made an impact ... but rather fictional things or stuff that multiple cultures would find offensive ... things that wouldn't cross the international borders very well. And we've had enough examples of that over the last few years.

                1. Uffish

                  @ Michelle Knight

                  Oh, do get down from your pulpit.

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: @ Michelle Knight

                    1) I didn't force you to read what I've written.

                    2) If I don't explain myself properly then someone can misconstrue what I'm saying and an argument can break out that takes away from the subject.

      3. dogged

        @Michelle Knight

        I don't see any reason to throw away a good story just because it's fiction.

        It's a much better story than poor old Alice and Bob ever managed.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @Michelle Knight

          You obviously don't know the original Alice and Bob, the swingers group they belonged to (hence the need for crypto), and why Eve is always trying to intercept their messages (she secretly has the hots for both of them but doesn't get invited to the same parties they do).

          It's all explained in that well-known cryptography textbook by E L James, Alice and Bob Get Down and Dirty with Fiona, George, Harriet and Eighteen Others.

      4. Tim

        Re: A lot of hostility here

        Ugh. This place is turning into Reddit.

        Back on topic. My employer, a US-based software company, has 45 developers, of which 40 are either Indian or Pakistani. I welcome anything that brings a cultural perspective to IT that isn't white, male and western, especially if it comes from a large and growing chunk of the industry's people. I'm no bleeding-heart multi-culti Grauniad reader; I'm just bored of sci-fi and sports analogies. Sita and Rama sound cool. I didn't know anything about them until now, and I'm pleased I've learned something.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

    Thought it was going to be about an Indian re-make of the 1969 film.

  9. andreas koch

    Has it occurred

    to his employer that Dr S. Parthasarathy might have too much time on his hands?

    Even if replacing Alice, Bob and Eve makes sense from his point of view: They're freaking placeholders!

    It's like me proposing to replace the names of directories bin, sys and usr with Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu (a hill in New Zealand), Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (a town in Wales) and Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg (a lake in Mass./USA)

    Someone will probably find a story to incorporate these three without the need of forest-incarcerated deities and fornicating fiends.

    Next proposal will be to replace the NATO phonetic alphabet with Amato (for A), Bemato (for B), Cemato (for C) and so on past Omato (for O) and Paradeiser (Austrian for Tomato [so that you don't confuse it with the actual fruit]) all the way to Zeemato (guess what*...).

    Zeemato is for X, Y, Z, ß, and ø. Got you there. Hah!

    1. Aaron Em

      He's probably tenured

      In which case, having too much time on his hands is practically his job description -- that, and publishing his grad students' research with his name on it.

  10. Guus Leeuw

    Mythology is optional


    Why would one want to introduce religion or mythodology (which led to religion) into a scientific subject?

    One might just as well go ahead and say: Sender: God, Receiver: Jesus, Eavesdropper: Maria Magdalena...

    As with so many topics in life: Religion / mythodology should stay out of it.

    Just my two pennies,


    1. Aaron Em

      Re: Mythology is optional

      Be a lot more sensible to say, for example, Adam and Eve, with Lilith as the amusingly malapropos "man in the middle". Tricky, making fun of something you've never bothered to understand.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Adam and Eve

        Surely it would be that horrible old guy, God, who would be the interloper?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh for heaven's sake...

    Yes, good idea… let’s just tear up 34 years of crypto literature on a whim and rename everything because you want to promote your own nation’s fairy stories.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Oh for heaven's sake...

      Yes, but there's no standard involved, is there? Nothing in stone?

      Surely any author, lecturer or teacher is perfectly free to make up their own names and their own stories to illustrate the concepts. If Dr P thinks its a good idea to suggest that any particular culture or country uses names that are familiar within that culture or country, then he's free to suggest that. The other 20% of India's population might want to come up with theirs, the Chinese with theirs, etc etc.

      The message is simple: when teaching, use stuff that is familiar to your students.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Oh for heaven's sake...

        Of course - making your students study an already complex subject where you've changed the names of the entities on a personal whim from all those in the standard texts is just bound to simplify their lives...

  12. Ottman001

    I'm sure there is room in the world for Alice, Bob, Sita AND Rama. The world is full of cultural differences. You say pot-ate-oh, I say pot-art-oh, etc. I''ll continue to use Alice and Bob in my circles as I presume most of my western colleagues will too. If other parts of the world use names they're more comfortable with, thats up to them. We will live.

    I know our American cousins continue to miss the U from colour and call the letter Z "Zee" when it is obviously "Zed". But we tollerate their wacky ways. We can live with reading "Alice" when we see "Sita", even if I do find it odd when messages are no longer sent from A to B but S to R.

    Beer, because differences of opinion are often resolved by talking it over with a pint.

    1. Ottman001

      By the way, I actually say "Pot-ate-oh". Important point, needed clearing up.

    2. Steve Knox

      I know our American cousins continue to miss the U from colour and call the letter Z "Zee" when it is obviously "Zed". But we tollerate their wacky ways.

      Thanks for that. By the way, we also miss out that second L in "tollerate".

      1. Ottman001
        Thumb Up

        You're welcome! Upvoted in the spirit of world peace. May we toller... toler... err... abide each others spelling mistakes for ever more!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I think he meant...

        I think he meant to type "trollerate".

  13. Dave Wray

    Tuition Fees Anyone?

    If this isn't a first class advert for exorbitant university tuition fees, nothing is.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I propose to replace Dr S. Parthasarathy with a turnip.

    Actually I don't, it would be a waste of a perfectly good turnip.

    If they *must* be replaced - Lister, Kryton, and Rimmer.

    I know we might need US support on this, so I could live with Lister Jr, Kryton Snr, and Rimmer Jr the Third

  15. Mystic Megabyte

    Sam wants to send a message to Bradley but it's intercepted by Assange.


    Darren wants to send a message to Sharon but FaceBook steal it.

  16. David Pollard

    Verity, Parity and Andrew

    El Reg provides an appropriate setting for a memorable modern-day myth, with Verity and Parity having a private sisterly chat when free-market capitalist interloper Andrew comes along.

  17. JakeyC

    Politically Correct Maths Textbooks

    This reminds me of some maths textbooks in the 90s, which tried far too hard to be politically correct.

    To the point where every problem was introduced with the same formula of two common British names and a random Eastern/Asian name thrown in:

    "Tom, Jane and Harkandreepashka have two apples each..."

    "John, Sarah and Cho-Hu-Fung are stood on the points of an equilateral trianle..."


    1. JakeyC

      Re: Politically Correct Maths Textbooks

      Oops. "trianle"?

      I did once, it was sore.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Politically Correct Maths Textbooks

      And later, they went all the way and just made them all Asian names.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How about ..

    "Sender", "Receiver" etc?

    Y'know, instead of having to remember who the heck "Nigel" is in all this ..?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How about ..

      Alice and Bob object strongly to being replaced with abstract nouns. (Nigel is the one who has to clean the qubits off the floor after a really exciting quantum cryptography session).

    2. Mike 16

      Re: How about ..

      Problem with "Sender" and "Receiver" is that in most non-trivial cases, there are multiple messages, sent both ways. So it really helps to assign fixed names to the endpoints rather than names that depend on only one message of a group. Thinking back to Modems, even half-duplex ones could both send and receive, just not at the same time. What distinguished roles in the original call setup were "originate" and "answer".

      (Me for symmetry. I even like the concept of the old hermaphroditic connectors on IBM channels, although I suppose today they'd be forbidden in U.S. government installations due to the Defense of Marriage Act)

  19. Cuddles

    I really hope he's taking the piss

    A message is sent from A to B. Calling them Alice and Bob is basically just a bit of fun, to make things less dry and a bit more human and relatable. Eve is the interceptor because sometimes there can be a C and D that you need to leave space for. While changing them to different letters wouldn't exactly be the end of the world, changing them so that they share the same letter actually would be. How are you supposed to make sense of a scenario where S sends R a message but it's intercepted by R?

    1. dajames
      Thumb Up

      Re: I really hope he's taking the piss

      Eve is the interceptor because sometimes there can be a C and D that you need to leave space for.

      Yes, indeed ... that and the fact that she's the Evesdropper. It's a wossname, mnemonic.

      ... and Trent is the Trusted Third Party because his name begins with "Tr".

  20. JimC

    Grief, what a sad bunch of commentards...

    Its entirely appropriate, indeed desirable, to replace the parties in one's analogy according to the culture one is communicating with. To claim otherwise is to be, at least, rather parochial... The schwerpunkt is after all the communication, not the analogy.

    1. Aaron Em

      Re: Grief, what a sad bunch of commentards...

      No doubt you'll provide a handy mapping between the heretofore standard Alice, Bob, &c., and a set of correct alternatives for every culture, so I can pass my email text through a simple filter based on the receiving address's TLD as it leaves my mailer.

      Or we could just all grin at a neat bit of nationalism from the former Raj, and get on about our daily occasions. Can you guess which I'd rather?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Obviously, supplying a mapping must be a function of an appropriate facet of the locales & streams library - suitably updated to use templates to allow for more than just Alice and Bob.

        Of course, Microsoft will implement it in a non-standard way, and will recommend the use their own alternative.

        Apple will sue over the idea of Bob having rounded corners (3 of them - 4 if rendered totally uppercase).

        The Gnome developers will decide that allowing any change in the names is a form of customization and remove it.

  21. Richard Harris

    Sorry in advance

    If this person wants to get rid of Eve, does that make him an Eve's dropper?

  22. Anonymous Coward

    I'm quite happy about it

    I've begun to get just a little bit tired of the way any security-related explanation jumps straight into 'Alice and Bob'-speak. I've become to see them as jargon and I often stop reading the moment they appear..

    It would be quite refreshing to see some new personnel. Changing the names doesn't have to be by international agreement - people just need to feel free to use whatever actor names best suit the context.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm quite happy about it

      I'm left wondering whether you suffer from Attention Deficit Disor ... ooh, I've got a Facebook message.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: I'm quite happy about it

        <Laugh> no, ADD ain't the problem.

        I really do try to wrap my brain around these sort of descriptions. It's just that Alice and Bob are so standard that the descriptions sometimes become standardised and don't necessarily fit what is required to enlighten the reader.

        If the author of a piece has chosen different actors then there's at least a chance that they have considered how best to express what they want to convey.

  23. theblackhand

    More importantly...

    Does he have a new name for "not invented here" syndrome?

  24. John H Woods Silver badge

    Sender and Receiver...?

    Whatever you call the protagonists, characterising one as a 'sender' and one as a 'receiver' is not, AFAICS, useful for 99% of crytographic communication, which consists of the establishment of a secure bidirectional channel. Alice might contact Bob, but that implies to me that she is the initiator of a secure duplex conversation, not a sender of a message that the receiver might not acknowledge, or that he might acknowledge in the clear.

  25. magickmark


    King Pelias has obtained the throne of Thessaly by killing Jason’s father, Jason is born and secretly sent to exile.

    Pelias, consults the Oracle and is warned to beware of a man with one sandal.

    Later at a series of games that Pelias holds Jason turns up to claim his place as the rightful king. He is wearing only one sandal, after an encounter he Hera, Pelias seeing this sends him on the quest for the Golden Fleece, which Jason accepts and completes, returning to claim his place as King. The story then gets more complicated at this point!

    This seems like a good analogy for getting and encrypted key and using it to send a message (in this case the quest for the fleece) and then also for the return message, when Jason comes back to claim the throne.

    Not quite a 100% analogy but I am sure it could be made to fit?

  26. G Watty What?

    2 Girls, 1 Cup - A modern cryptography analogy

    Surely a modern interpretation would be 2 Girls 1 Cup. Girl 1 wants to send something to Girl 2 but sometimes the cup intercepts it and passes it on.

    As a nice side-effect, it may well deter hacking because no-one wants to be "the man in the middle" of that lot.

  27. Charles 9

    I guess to each his own. For cryptologists, using a phonetic nomenclature makes some sense beacuse of historic military applications. And the military is well known for using a phonetic alphabet for transmitting letters clearly, so too here with the idea of phonetic names. The names simply refer to lettered parties, after all (Alice is really Party A and Bob is Party B, Eve is Party E(avesdropper) and Mallory is Party M(alicious)), and most westerners who study it come to realize it as such. If Indians can find a better relation in their lore, so be it; just remember to provide a translation guide should one cross over into the other.

  28. Stratman


    Dr S. Parthasarathy should stop standing on the shoulders of giants, and instead come up with his own oeuvre. Then he can explain it however he likes.

  29. DrGoon

    All Greek

    Zeus sent his messenger Hermes to rescue Persephone from Hades. Hades convinced Persephone to eat a poison pomegrane from the Underworld, thus preventing her from being fully restored to the heavens. So we have Bob = Zeus, Alice = Persephone with a message carried by the algorithm Hermes that is subverted by Hades inserting his own data Pomegranate. Since everybody in the whole wide world knows this tale it is perfect.

  30. Stevie


    Changing the names in the electronic age is NBFD. It is the *choice* of names that is the problem.

    Replace Alice with Elsie Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz Bob with Kevin Phillips Bong and Eve with Tarquin Fintimlin-Whimbimlimbim Bus Stop F'tang F'tang Olé Biscuit Barrel and have done with it!

  31. BlueGreen

    something from Jason and the Argonauts

    Well, circe did some hiding in plain sight so one up for stego, and didn't jason smuggle himself and his crew past the cyclops slung under sheep IIRC, so, um, ah, er,,,,,, Tor?

    Needs work.

    Probably in the form of vengeful cleansing fire.

  32. MichaelBirks

    The missing reference.

    A page and a half of comments from literate tech-types and no one's commented on the obvious fact that Sita wants to orchestrate a Rendezvous with Rama.

    Probably in his Garden, wherein he shall be Revealed.

    Apologies to Sir Arthur, and to Gentry Lee.

  33. asdf


    You got to be kidding. Even our fictional computer science jobs/examples are getting out sourced these days.

  34. Zero Sum

    You've been trolled

    Did anyone actually read the PDF?

    It's a joke.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Cryptography - its like trying to send a Birthday card in the post without the postman nicking the tenner inside it

  36. daveeff

    if it aint broke

    A wants to speak to B without an eavesdropper understanding

    Alice, Bob, Eve

    pretty damn simple, I'd leave it alone but I'll prob cope if individuals chose to use R, S & B (a rude word for fornicator? f*cker? really?)


  37. George 20

    Leave it to india

    to just take something that already exists and try to modify it and make it indian. ffs, if it was a swedish person he'd incorporate the nordic gods. It's just some sorry guy who teaches cryptography and finds that using a cultural bias that favors him is better than a cultural bias that favors americans.

    A good point was made at that if he wants to use indian mythology then he should come up with his own crypto algo and use impose his own cultural bias.

This topic is closed for new posts.