The researchers said they had struck upon a unique approach that
relies on “shattering” an encryption key that is held by neither party
in an e-mail exchange but is widely scattered across a peer-to-peer
file sharing system.

The pieces of the key, small numbers, tend to “erode” over time as
they gradually fall out of use. To make keys erode, or timeout, Vanish
takes advantage of the structure of a peer-to-peer file system. Such
networks are based on millions of personal computers whose Internet
addresses change as they come and go from the network. This would make
it exceedingly difficult for an eavesdropper or spy to reassemble the
pieces of the key because the key is never held in a single location.
The Vanish technology is applicable to more than just e-mail or other
electronic messages

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