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I've been working on a new encryption for about 5 years now with a friend of mine. We're nearing completion, but we've discovered something brand new about LFSR loops (Wikipedia) that we believe has never been tried or thought of before. We can't explain why it happens, only about 50 situations where it does happen.

Would SO be the place to explain our findings and ask for help? What consequences might this entail later on when we wish to market our encryption? We discovered the phenomenon, but an SO user might more accurately explain why it happens. Or should we just not ask on SO to avoid all possible legal quarrels?

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If anybody has an alternative place to go where I can get this algorithm solved, that'd be appreciated. I've been working on this algo for 6 months now and haven't made much progress. Some, but not much. – Corey Ogburn Aug 4 '10 at 19:11
Bear in mind that there are excellent crypto algorithms that are free to use. These also are much better tested, since more experts will try to break a freely available system than a proprietary one. I wouldn't pay a cent for a proprietary crypto algorithm, nor would I advise anybody else to do so. – David Thornley Aug 4 '10 at 21:36
This seems to be about patents rather than copyrights. If there is prior art on SO a patent issued after that may be unenforceable. – gnibbler Aug 5 '10 at 2:12
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Everything on StackOverflow is CC-Wiki. This means that you can not control what anyone else does with the code you published.

Anyone will be allowed to republish and reuse your work, as long as they admit that they got it from you (attribution). You cannot stop them from using it.

Generally, anything you wish to retain ownership of, or anything that could be considered intellectual property should not be posted.

For further information, see a copyright lawyer.

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Actually, you do retain ownership, you simply agree to assign some rights to the content. In particular, you agree to allow others to make derivative works based on the content. IMO, the CC-Wiki was the wrong license to use. It really seems to be targeting artistic expression, not software or even Q/A. "Really, I can perform StackOverflow publicly, how nice." – tvanfosson Aug 4 '10 at 19:07
  • If you put something on the public Internet, it's in the wild. You've lost effective control of it, although you might make a lawyer's next boat purchase from your efforts to control it...
  • Consult a lawyer who specializes in IP questions
  • Consult a crypto specialist - a professor(or multiple professors) would be ideal - under a NDA drawn up by the IP lawyer.

If it's a genuinely original contribution, you should investigate presenting this at an academic conference specializing in crypto. That would establish your algorithm's credential, as well as putting it through the academic proof-test.

There is also a competition for the next AES standard; you might look into similar situations where your algorithm will be examined carefully.

Best of luck, this is a hard field.

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+1 in general, but especially for #2 – Tobias Kienzler Aug 5 '10 at 8:45
We accept it's a hard field. We picked this field because of a passion we shared and we know we still have A LOT ahead of us (including what you say about consulting a crypto specialist, we found a Mr. Sujeet Shenoi and we are beginning talking to him). What can you tell me about this next AES Competition? – Corey Ogburn Aug 5 '10 at 20:21
@Corey: Excuse me. I got AES confused with SHA. The competition I was misremembering is the SHA-3 competition. . AES was selected in a competition like this one in 2001. – Paul Nathan Aug 5 '10 at 22:53
I remember hearing about the AES competition long after it was closed, and long before I even started this project. I was hoping there would be another one, I'd surely enter. – Corey Ogburn Aug 17 '10 at 20:19

Not a lawyer, but much of this will probably be down to wording. If you ask abstract enough questions (Can phenomenon X apply while working with an encryption that makes use of Y)... There probably won't be a problem.

Anything you publish here, you publish under a cc-wiki license (see the bottom of every page), so you should probably not share any parts of your actual encryption code or too intimate details about how it works.

To make totally sure, you need to talk to a lawyer who deals in intellectual property - especially if you are planning to file any patents or otherwise market your findings.

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I think that encryption algorithms ought to be public. Encryption algorithms that rely on algorithmic secrecy, in contrast to publicly known algorithms with secret keys, are not particularly trustworthy. I probably would not publish it on SO given the implicit rights that you assign away, but you might be able to ask questions about the math. The Mathematics StackExchange might be more helpful. I would refrain from publishing any of your code, though you might make it available under NDA so that people can verify that it does, in fact, implement your algorithm (once your algorithm has been completed and verified).

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We're not aiming for secrecy through obscurity, I wouldn't trust that either. We're only being obscure until we protect ourselves with a patent and then the patent requires that it's publicly available. At that point, we do plan on releasing the process. Just protecting ourselves first. – Corey Ogburn Aug 5 '10 at 20:06

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