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Irish teen's e-mail code could transform Internet commerce

January 14, 1999
Web posted at: 1:46 p.m. EST (1846 GMT)

BLARNEY, Ireland (CNN) -- An Irish schoolgirl has become a technological celebrity after devising a code to send secure files over the Internet -- a code said to be 10 times faster than the one currently in use.

The phone in the Blarney home of Sarah Flannery, 16, has been ringing off the hook since her idea won a student science contest last week.

"We haven't been able to peel two potatoes in this household," said Elaine Flannery, Sarah's mother.

"It's so weird. I could never have imagined it would be this big," said Flannery, who has been inundated with offers of jobs and scholarships from international computer companies and universities.

Her code for the Internet transmission of credit card numbers and other information that needs to be kept secure could transform the future of Internet commerce if it proves successful.

The e-mail data protection code now in use was formulated by three students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1977.

Flannery's grasp of cryptography astounded the judges at the Irish Young Scientists and Technology Exhibition last weekend. They described her work as brilliant, and one judge advised her to patent her e-mail idea.

"If she plays her cards right I think she will make a lot of money. I would be very surprised if a lot of companies are not knocking on her door very soon," said Dr. Tony Scott from University College in Dublin.

Flannery, however, said she is not after financial gain. "I certainly didn't set out on this project to make money. I set out to have some fun with it," she said.

She said that she would prefer to publish her discovery rather than patent it, because making money from it would go against the spirit of science.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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