A secret key scheme can be used to generate a fixed-length cryptographic checksum associated with a message. This is a rather no intuitive use of secret key technology. What is a checksum? An ordinary (no cryptographic) checksum protects against accidental corruption of a message. The original derivation of the term checksum comes from the operation of breaking a message into fixed-length blocks (for instance, 32-bit words) and adding them up. The sum is sent along with the message. The receiver similarly breaks up the message, repeats the addition, and checks the sum. If the message had been garbled en route, the sum will not match the sum sent and the message is rejected, unless, of course, there were two or more errors in the transmission that canceled one another. It turns out this is not terribly unlikely, given that if flaky hardware turns a bit off somewhere, it is likely to turn a corresponding bit on somewhere else. To protect against such “regular” flaws in hardware, more complex checksums called CRCs were devised. But these still only protect against faulty hardware and not an intelligent attacker. Since CRC algorithms are published, an attacker who wanted to change a message could do so, compute the CRC on the new message, and send that along. To provide protection against malicious changes to a message, a secret checksum algorithm is required, such that an attacker not knowing the algorithm can’t compute the right checksum for the message to be accepted as authentic. As with encryption algorithms, it’s better to have a common (known) algorithm and a secret key. This is what a cryptographic checksum does. Given a key and a message, the algorithm produces a fixed-length message integrity code (MIC) that can be sent with the message. If anyone were to modify the message, and they didn’t know the key, they would have to guess a MIC and the chance of getting it right depends on the length. A typical MIC is at least 48 bits long, so the chance of getting away with a forged message is only one in 280 trillion (or about the chance of going to Las Vegas with a dime and letting it ride on red at the roulette table until you have enough to pay off the U.S. national debt). Such message integrity codes have been in use to protect the integrity of large interbank electronic funds transfers for quite some time. The messages are not kept secret from an eavesdropper, but their integrity is ensured.