springmaus
a bantamweight block cipher


s n e a k   p e e k

springmaus is a bantamweight block cipher optimized for teaching the concepts and affordances of modern cryptographic design by examining it through the lens of industrial and biological design. It’s built on the coupling of cryptography plus user experience (or, crux), which captures the aesthetics (elegance) and athletics (efficiency) of adversarial design.

By focusing on the tactility and palatability of cryptographic concepts, we can arrive at designs that are engagingly approachable for a broader audience; to this end, springmaus is easily committed to memory and easily implemented on paper.

springmaus captures the four tenets of crux: cadence, calculus, clutch, finesse, or CCCF. Cadence asks, "Does the design perform smoothly, or are there bottlenecks?" Calculus asks, "Does the design demonstrate the designers' understanding of cryptanalysis, or the lack thereof?" Clutch asks, "Does the design do a lot with a little, or not a lot with a lot?" Finesse asks, "Does the design do what it does with style and grace, or is it hard to comprehend?"

springmaus is part of a family of bantamweight class ciphers that will be versioned, according to design alterations; the initial version of springmaus has the following structure:

These design attributes ensure a thorough, yet optimal experience for students; the work will feel substantial, but it's clear and designed to flow well. User testing in the classroom is currently underway, with a design paper slated for 5/8.

Variants of springmaus will allow for "hot-swappable" modular components, for tweaking the mechanics and performance of designs; this engages students in the consequences of changes within block cipher design.

The "springmaus" name is the German translation of "jerboa"; more specifically, the Baluchistan pygmy jerboa, endemic to Pakistan, is the world's smallest rodent (tied) and a fitting character for embodying a compact algorithm with swift and springy movement.

The inspiration behind springmaus has its roots in the design of basketball shoes, namely the traditional herringbone traction pattern and Nike's Air Zoom cushioning technology. Combined with offensive and defensive strategies from basketball play books, the parallel becomes evident between the movement of a springmaus, the movement of basketball players across a court, and the propagation of bits through an algorithm. Springmaus will be a featured component of an upcoming interactive tradecraft adventure, to be released in episodes throughout 2021.

The springmaus illustration was designed by the ultra-talented Pakistani/German illustrator Nadia Dar. The biggest thanks to her for bringing it to life.