Tales From The Cryptographer

An Irish Teen Comes Up With A Key Discovery

In the Irish village of Blarney, where tradition is as strong as the famous medieval castle that graces its landscape, a story of a young local heroine has become part of modern folklore. Correspondent Troy Roberts reports for CBS News 48 Hours.


A busy Irish teenager from a large family, Sarah Flannery divides her day between school and the application of her most celebrated skill: cryptography.

Cryptography is the mathematical art of writing messages in code. These codes are instrumental in mantaining the security and confidentiality of e-mail and Internet business transactions. In a world with an increasing reliance on computers, Sarah's talents are in great demand.

The tale begins last year. Sarah was working as an intern at a Dublin cryptography company. Her mentor, William Whyte of Baltimore Technologies, gave her a formula just to see what she could do.

"She spotted something we should have spotted," Whyte remembers. From that sudden insight emerged a code that has made Sarah famous.

Her father, a mathematician, knew she was onto something big. Sarah's secret code earned her first prize in a prestigious young scientist's competition awarded by Ireland's prime minister. When asked why her revolutionary new code made such a stir, Sarah puts her answer in less than cryptic terms: "It's because of the speed and mystery surrounding it. It's 33 times faster than any secret code out there," she says.

Her formula may just revolutionize computer commerce around the world.

With her discovery, Sarah became an overnight sensation. Since the media picked up on her story, she has been inundated with job offers from international computer companies, and scholarship offers from respected universities.

While no one has put a price on her formula, several experts agree that the school girl from Blarney could be sitting on a small fortune.

"If everything goes as planned, then there is a lot of money to be made," says Whyte. The prospect of the proverbial pot of gold has brought her a great deal of attention.

"In three weeks we have had 300 phone calls," says Sarah.

So far the fame and the talk of potential riches hasn't changed her. "Sarah has a passion," her father says. "She is a very clever girl who did a lot of very good mathematics because she became interested and passionate about the project she was doing. It's about doing good work."

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