The Prisoners’ Problem and the Subliminal Channel

  • Gustavus J. Simmons

Abstract

Two accomplices in a crime have been arrested and are about to be locked in widely separated cells. Their only means of communication after they are locked up will he by way of messages conveyed for them by trustees -- who are known to be agents of the warden. The warden is willing to allow the prisoners to exchange messages in the hope that he can deceive at least one of them into accepting as a genuine communication from the other either a fraudulent message created by the warden himself or else a modification by him of a genuine message. However, since he has every reason to suspect that the prisoners want to coordinate an escape plan, the warden will only permit the exchanges to occur if the information contained in the messages is completely open to him -- and presumably innocuous. The prisoners, on the other hand, are willing to accept these conditions, i.e., to accept some risk of deception in order to be able to communicate at all, since they need to coordinate their plans. To do this they will have to deceive the warden by finding a way of communicating secretly in the exchanges, i.e., of establishing a “subliminal channel” between them in full view of the warden, even though the messages themselves contain no secret (to the warden) information. Since they anticipate that the warden will try to deceive them by introducing fraudulent messages, they will only exchange messages if they are permitted to authenticate them.

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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gustavus J. Simmons
    • 1
  1. 1.Sandia National LaboratoriesAlbuquerqueUSA

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