Former NSA contractor develops font designed to combat government snooping

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

ZXX-Font-1372075525-0-11Sang Mun is a former contractor for the NSA. Mun created the font as a response to increasing government incursions on privacy. “I have become dedicated to researching ways to ‘articulate our unfreedom’ and to continue the evolution of my own thinking about censorship, surveillance, and a free society,” he explained to Reason Magazine, after releasing the font online in June 2013.

The font is intended to work by throwing off Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software with the unique and noisy style.

This font is reckoned to be a great weapon in the war on America’s privacy. It is encouraging to see such proactive measures being taken. You can download the font for free, here.

Below is an open letter from Mun explaining his reasoning for disseminating the ZXX font.

I do not know what OCR system the “author” of the fonts has used but in tests of converting documents written in any of those fonts, turned into PDF and then using an OCR extractor in a program the material was read back perfectly. This leads me to believe that it may work as far as letters are concerned but not for emails or other electronic communications. Especially after having used the font to write an email also and upon receipt it was nicely in clear text.

If you really want to avoid government snooping it would appear that we need to develop codes, like the spies of old did, using numbers derived from books that the sender and the recipient use as base, that is to say the book cypher. And, the book cypher is almost impossible to crack by electronic means as the finding of a message still attached to a dead carrier pigeon of WWII showed. The code cannot be broken without knowing the relevant book or books used to generate the code and not even the most sophisticated computers that the NSA or GCHQ use cannot do it.

Whether this font will be able to throw off the scanning software intend for storage of intercepted material will remain to be seen. The one that scanned from PDF to text that I used, a free program, did it with ease and even with the version with the greatest amount of “noise” of this font.

The jury is still out on this, I am sure. Thus, if you want to securely communicate use a good book cypher and change the books used all the time.

You should have at least six different books from which to generate the cypher – though you don't use those books all at the same time – and your communications will be uncrackable. You then use a number code, either five or six digits, corresponding to page number, number of line, and word in that line. Simple but basically uncrackable.

Use the font by all means if you want. I will do too. By mixing the font versions, as indicated in the picture, however, throwing the system off may be possible. But real important stuff will be sent in code.

© 2014