Quick Burning Paper

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jewish_scientist
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Quick Burning Paper

Postby jewish_scientist » Mon Apr 30, 2018 6:53 pm UTC

Imagine you are a researcher dealing with extremely dangerous things. I mean Manhattan Project level. You obviously want to keep all the documents away from the enemies. How would you go about doing this?

An idea I had was to make the paper out of gun-cotten. If someone tried to forcible take the papers from you, then you just need a lighter and a few seconds to upset their entire plan. The downside, if someone reads your notes while smoking years or research can go up in flames.

The next idea was weaving strands of magnesium into the paper. It is much more stable than gun-cotten and burns so hot there is no reasonable way to put it out. The downside to this is carrying around pure magnesium all day is a bad idea even if it was properly stored.

Do you have any ideas?

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby LaserGuy » Mon Apr 30, 2018 7:15 pm UTC

I think that any cryptographic approach to secrecy is going to be vastly superior to an option where you have to be physically present to set something on fire. If somebody just stole those documents without your notice, the fact that they were super flammable would not be a significant hurdle unless they were combustible in contact with a common substance... e.g. the documents are made of something that must be kept in a vacuum chamber and explodes on contact with air. But I think it's probably just better to use some encryption scheme.

[edit]I'm assuming we're not considering digital storage here?

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby doogly » Mon Apr 30, 2018 7:20 pm UTC

Are you actually committed to your framing narrative and want to talk about security, or do you just want to talk about things that are flammable?
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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby speising » Mon Apr 30, 2018 8:31 pm UTC

the classic spy trope involves a miniature camera with which the intrepid spy photographs the pages secretly, preferably while suspended from the ceiling.
anything that requires knowledge of the breach won't help against that.

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Eebster the Great
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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby Eebster the Great » Mon Apr 30, 2018 10:26 pm UTC

Messages sent to and between spies generally are intended to be destroyed after reading. But you don't need anything fancy to do that. Regular paper is already flammable enough, or you could just crumple it up and drop it into the ocean. Of course, now that messages are sent digitally, none of this really applies anymore, anyway.

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby p1t1o » Tue May 01, 2018 8:44 am UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:
An idea I had was to make the paper out of gun-cotten.


If you're set on this approach, "flash paper" made of nitrocellulose (otherwise known as guncotton) is absolutely a thing.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrocellulose#Other_uses
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2zp_TQfzCo

Though I think edible paper would be safer. Crypto isnt always the best solution, for example if you want to draw an impromptu map, or want it to be readily readable. Flammable storage probaly isnt the best for important research though.

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby Soupspoon » Tue May 01, 2018 9:43 am UTC

Try the reverse! Encode your private data in something like a Rubens tube which, interfered with/taken away from an authorised handler stops being on fire and a bimetal and/or Seebeck detectors no longer prime the wave generator.

Never mind your Flash memory, Entropically Erasable Pulsed Rapid Oxygenation Memory is the way to go!

(Flash paper came straight to mind as you described your scenario. Perhaps, in this day and age (or at least with "day after day after tomorrow" tech) the paper could be treated with a biofilm primed with antibodies keyed to certain common proteins not carried by the handlers, such that a casual exposure to an unauthorised person (or deliberate application of a substance known to be active in this way) sets off a rapid enzymic chain reaction across the sheet to destroy its structure and/or the specialist 'ink' in use. Just watch out for drifting dandruff when trying to keep it in a usable state!)

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby jewish_scientist » Tue May 01, 2018 3:03 pm UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:Messages sent to and between spies generally are intended to be destroyed after reading. But you don't need anything fancy to do that. Regular paper is already flammable enough, or you could just crumple it up and drop it into the ocean.

I was thinking more along the lines of the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis.

doogly wrote:do you just want to talk about things that are flammable?

Yes, but that is true most of the time.

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby Eebster the Great » Tue May 01, 2018 8:48 pm UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:
Eebster the Great wrote:Messages sent to and between spies generally are intended to be destroyed after reading. But you don't need anything fancy to do that. Regular paper is already flammable enough, or you could just crumple it up and drop it into the ocean.

I was thinking more along the lines of the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis.

I think "better paper shredders" is a more feasible solution than "light it all on fire." Paper records are already a huge fire hazard when stored in such quantity.

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby LaserGuy » Tue May 01, 2018 11:26 pm UTC

Just as a note too, it is apparently possible to recover at least part of the text from burned pages depending on the type of paper and ink used. Especially if you're doing quite ignition rather than a sustained burn, it's entirely possible that the pages will still be usable. You might be better off using a dissolving paper, which can dissolve quickly in water or acid... so you can just flush your important documents down the toilet or something and they'll be gone forever.

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby Eebster the Great » Wed May 02, 2018 3:36 am UTC

Yeah, I would be willing to believe that feeding paper into an incinerator might leave legible bits in the middle that would be much easier to restore than shredded paper. (Unshredding a mound of paper still sounds like the most agonizing task ever.)

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby p1t1o » Wed May 02, 2018 8:11 am UTC

You know those wax tablets the Romans used to use?

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/ ... _times.jpg

Replace wax with plastic explosive.

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby ucim » Wed May 02, 2018 2:01 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:it is apparently possible to recover at least part of the text from burned pages
Sure, if you carefully burn the paper keeping it intact. This is easily solved by stirring the ashes (which also helps burn the parts of the paper that weren't quite exposed to the flame).

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby jewish_scientist » Wed May 02, 2018 2:16 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:You might be better off using a dissolving paper, which can dissolve quickly in water or acid... so you can just flush your important documents down the toilet or something and they'll be gone forever.

Thats a pretty good idea. Much safer that magnesium-infused flammable material. There is the downside that it is much less exciting. Hmm...

Eebster the Great wrote:Unshredding a mound of paper still sounds like the most agonizing task ever.

If you want to talk agonizing, there are some cases where people of debatable character where able to take pieces of hard-drives from the trash of government offices and extract information from them. They literal went bit by bit through the fragments of drives and ran the results through random programs until something legible came out.
Last edited by jewish_scientist on Wed May 02, 2018 2:24 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby Tub » Wed May 02, 2018 2:23 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:I think that any cryptographic approach to secrecy is going to be vastly superior to an option where you have to be physically present to set something on fire.

It's probably superior against most attacks, but it has a downside: encryption does not destroy information. If a spy runs off with an encrypted disk, they have all the time in the world to break it, and we simply don't know if our current crypto algorithms will survive future mathematical insights or quantum computers.

If you're only interested in maintaining a headstart against the competition, then crypto will delay your spies for long enough. If you intend to keep a secret until the end of humanity, then crypto alone is risky.

p1t1o wrote:Crypto isnt always the best solution, for example if you want to draw an impromptu map, or want it to be readily readable.

Tablet computers with full disk encryption are a thing, including pens for doodling maps. Configure them to shut down when leaving the facility (i.e. when out of reach of the wlan) and you're pretty well protected against physical theft.

Soupspoon wrote:Entropically Erasable Pulsed Rapid Oxygenation Memory is the way to go!

I see what you did there :lol:

Eebster the Great wrote:Yeah, I would be willing to believe that feeding paper into an incinerator might leave legible bits in the middle that would be much easier to restore than shredded paper. (Unshredding a mound of paper still sounds like the most agonizing task ever.)

It is sometimes possible to restore information from burnt paper (didn't you watch that one episode of MacGyver where he did it?), but crumbling and mixing the ashes should solve that.

Restoring shredded documents is surprisingly easy. Dump everything on a table, flip each part text-side up, take a picture, let the software handle it. You won't find suitable software for $1.99 on the app store, but it exists.


As others have said, neither crypto nor flammable things will prevent a spy from taking photos or memorizing information. If your information can be read, then it can also be copied.

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby p1t1o » Wed May 02, 2018 2:54 pm UTC

Tub wrote:
p1t1o wrote:Crypto isnt always the best solution, for example if you want to draw an impromptu map, or want it to be readily readable.

Tablet computers with full disk encryption are a thing, including pens for doodling maps. Configure them to shut down when leaving the facility (i.e. when out of reach of the wlan) and you're pretty well protected against physical theft.



Indeed, if you happen to have an encrypted tablet with you, thats an option. But for example, right now, I have no secure hardware with me but plenty of destructible matter.
Further, even an encrypted tablet is vulnerable to social engineering attacks and other leftfield approaches.
You can't trick me into giving you the password to a pile of ash. Nor can you make a copy of it, or even gain access without coming into direct physical contact.

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby jewish_scientist » Wed May 02, 2018 3:09 pm UTC

Tub wrote:
LaserGuy wrote:I think that any cryptographic approach to secrecy is going to be vastly superior to an option where you have to be physically present to set something on fire.

It's probably superior against most attacks, but it has a downside: encryption does not destroy information.

Technically, nothing a person does can actually destroy information due to the Laws of Thermodynamics.

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby ucim » Wed May 02, 2018 7:23 pm UTC

Technically, we are all part of the information that is in question. Read Hofstaeder's works about this. They are excellent.

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby DaBigCheez » Wed May 02, 2018 8:47 pm UTC

Tub wrote:Restoring shredded documents is surprisingly easy. Dump everything on a table, flip each part text-side up, take a picture, let the software handle it. You won't find suitable software for $1.99 on the app store, but it exists.

Assuming said documents only have text on one side, at least.
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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby Soupspoon » Wed May 02, 2018 9:42 pm UTC

If it has text on both sides, then there might be more difficulty determining common-front vs common-back to the sheet, but once you think you've got a neighbourly match you have twice as much edge-to-edge to compare to verify it.

What you need is paper printed on the obverse with mismatching stripes of text that (carefully aligned to the slices that would be eventually made by the shredder) that carefully parodies the content on the normal side, plus obfuscates all attempts to check mutual alignment so that you're as likely to produce a William S. Burroughs novel as any original or contextually-checkable near-original.

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby elasto » Wed May 02, 2018 10:26 pm UTC

With text on both sides surely all you need to do is take a picture of all the strips one way round, reverse them, take another picture, and it's an equivalent problem to solving a one-sided piece of paper twice as big.

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby Soupspoon » Wed May 02, 2018 10:43 pm UTC

Give or take, although it starts off with something close to (2n)! rather than (n)! at the stsrt, but then gets easier and easier as each successful placement of a strip on the left half of the double-width, or lower half of a double-height, simultaneously places the opposite-side-of-the-strip in a mirror position to the right, or reverse-complimentary position on the upper.

(Assuming that you don't go for my "subtly gibberish obverse" idea being implemented (and ignored entirely by the reader of the intact sheet), when you've made sure that this provides for garden-path mis-steps aplenty, fouling up the matching algorithm with many credible but wrong flipped-and-shifted that can't even be double-checked by the obverse 'matching' process. Depends on the deviousness involved, though.)

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby Bloopy » Thu May 03, 2018 7:30 am UTC

speising wrote:the classic spy trope involves a miniature camera with which the intrepid spy photographs the pages secretly, preferably while suspended from the ceiling.
anything that requires knowledge of the breach won't help against that.

I suppose it'd be possible to have something that can only be read from close up with a special lens. Perhaps even to the point that you only need to destroy the lens and not the paper itself.

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby p1t1o » Thu May 03, 2018 8:09 am UTC

As far as I know, you still cant beat one-time-pads for secure encryption.

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby Tub » Thu May 03, 2018 10:34 am UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:Technically, nothing a person does can actually destroy information due to the Laws of Thermodynamics.

Being true to the comic, everything following "Technically" is complete nonsense.
p1t1o wrote:As far as I know, you still cant beat one-time-pads for secure encryption.

All asymmetrical cyphers rely on the unproven assumption that one-way functions exist. You can avoid that reliance by using symmetric cyphers like OTPs, but they have the distinct downside of being symmetric.

Also, these primitives are about communication. Document or disk encryption typically uses entirely different primitives, and usually the secret key is a passphrase. The LUKS disk format is documented, if you feel like diving in.

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby Thesh » Thu May 03, 2018 3:59 pm UTC

Flash paper (nitrocellulose) burns cleanly without leaving behind traces of the text. I've seen it recommended for key storage that can be quickly destroyed if your door is busted down by government agents, to be used in combination with a hand cipher like Solitaire.
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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby Tyndmyr » Thu May 03, 2018 5:07 pm UTC

Flash paper is basically the commercial solution to this, yes.

That said, a white phosphorous grenade will also do the job just fine, with entirely normal paper. Presuming you are storing whatever it is securely, you would be well served to keep the destructive device separate from the presumably important documents. Accidental destruction would probably be a problem. If you are particularly concerned about reconstruction from the burned paper, following up the WP with a standard frag grenade ought to work just fine to disperse the burned remnants. That ought to handle quite a significant amount of documents.

I advise you not be anywhere close to the items you intend to destroy if using this method.

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby p1t1o » Thu May 03, 2018 5:10 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:Flash paper is basically the commercial solution to this, yes.

That said, a white phosphorous grenade will also do the job just fine, with entirely normal paper.


Classic internet XD

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby pogrmman » Thu May 03, 2018 5:45 pm UTC

If you really want to be secure, keep your special papers mixed in with papers of random stuff (say, a copy of war and peace). Then, use the frag grenade to incinerate and thoroughly mix your papers up with the random, unimportant stuff.

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby p1t1o » Thu May 03, 2018 6:55 pm UTC

You could spell out your information will 2mm ballbearings on a huge flat floor, like a warehouse.
Men in Black come calling? Just tilt the floor by a degree or two.


Or Dominos.
Spell out your information with dominos.
MiB come around? You know what to do.


Or you could use an atomic force microscope to inscribe your information with atoms onto a large sheet of...I dunno...graphite? At a random location on the sheet.
It is secure by virtue of being unable to find the text on the sheet within the age of the universe.

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby Thesh » Thu May 03, 2018 7:11 pm UTC

p1t1o wrote:Or you could use an atomic force microscope to inscribe your information with atoms onto a large sheet of...I dunno...graphite? At a random location on the sheet.
It is secure by virtue of being unable to find the text on the sheet within the age of the universe.

If you can easily remember the location, it can be brute forced (the location is just a key, and if it's memorable then it's not random).
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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby Tub » Thu May 03, 2018 9:26 pm UTC

p1t1o wrote:You could spell out your information will 2mm ballbearings on a huge flat floor, like a warehouse.
Men in Black come calling? Just tilt the floor by a degree or two.

a suspicious pattern of dust-free spots emerges on the floor.

You really need to turn that warehouse upside-down and shake it a couple of times.

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby gmalivuk » Thu May 03, 2018 9:39 pm UTC

Thesh wrote:if it's memorable then it's not random.
This is perhaps the wrongest thing I've read all day, and I read (okay skimmed) CU's posts about economics in the Other News thread.

If I remember that the last time I rolled a die it was a 3, does that roll become retroactively nonrandom? How about if I remember the last 50 rolls?

The actual (theoretical) problem is the fact that the location of a particular atom on a 1m^2 sheet of graphene has only about 64 bits of entropy(based on carbon-bond lengths and assuming it's a square arrangement rather than hexagonal--the different shape isn't going to change the result by more than one or two bits in any case).

(That's a theoretical problem because actually checking each location takes far longer than checking a password, so if the message is sufficiently small it will take long enough with present technology to be a fairly secure method.)
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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby Thesh » Thu May 03, 2018 10:08 pm UTC

No, a dice roll is not random because if you know the initial state and the forces acted on it, then it is completely predictable.

Okay, fine, it was a poor choice of wording.
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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby gmalivuk » Thu May 03, 2018 10:39 pm UTC

The entire point of correct horse battery staple is that memorable is not synonymous with weak when it comes to passwords.
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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby Thesh » Thu May 03, 2018 10:49 pm UTC

Going from a passphrase to a location is a lot easier than going from a location to a passphrase. The point I intended (but apparently forgot) to make when I started writing that was that it just turns a problem of storing information into a problem of storing the key. If you just pick a random location, you aren't likely to be able to memorize it and are then going to have to store it somewhere.
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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby Soupspoon » Thu May 03, 2018 10:52 pm UTC

A) Dust-bomb (talcum powder would do it!) set to disperse across the floor almost immediately after the floor-tilt. Even if the dust doesn't exactly match, without significant dust (since the last time you used a low-power air puffer to send dust into extraction filters without moving the balls) archaeologically digging into new dust to discover the 'post holes' in the old dust is going to be an excrutiating task for a 'data-recovery' specialist.

B) With both the ball-bearings and the STM/grqphite-sheet 'solutions', employ obfuscating sort-of-steganography. The key pattern, you remember from an initial arbitrary choice, is centred upon 1/10th of the way from one edge and 3/10ths of the way from the other edge of the floor/sheet and is the array of bearings/atoms (or lack) that is, say, 45 times 35 in size. Outside this footprint, you ensure that cryptologically indistinct (but not footprint-repeating in any meaningful way) distributions of bearings/atoms are laid down. Without the location/size knowledge (which you can even crib in another easier to remember locale, like encoded in the pattern of the third row away from the left edge) all the intensive scanning of what remains of your 'destroyed' data (or even the intact record, if you've done enough to make the key Key location indistinct) is just going to add to the failed runs the decrypt-team is going to have to rule out.

(Not that you can rely upon that method for an eternity of protection, or even rely upon it being an effectively unfinishable task prior to the development of quantum-processing or novel mathematical techniques extracting the necessary patterns from the fog of surrounding 'static'. But it's a definite additional layer of impedance to those who would come after your data, especially if the system you use is part of the What You Know factor, on top of the parameters you plug into it.)


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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby Eebster the Great » Fri May 04, 2018 1:07 am UTC

Tub wrote:Restoring shredded documents is surprisingly easy. Dump everything on a table, flip each part text-side up, take a picture, let the software handle it. You won't find suitable software for $1.99 on the app store, but it exists.

As far as I know, such a program has only ever been created once, for a competition, and though it was somewhat effective, it only worked for shreds in ideal conditions (single sided, no marks or stains, no pieces missing, etc.), and it still requires humans to operate it and effectively build the page up from scratch but with the computer offering possible matches along the way. I have no doubt that a better program could be invented, but shredding may be superior to printing all your documents on explosives.

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby LaserGuy » Fri May 04, 2018 8:32 am UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:
Tub wrote:Restoring shredded documents is surprisingly easy. Dump everything on a table, flip each part text-side up, take a picture, let the software handle it. You won't find suitable software for $1.99 on the app store, but it exists.

As far as I know, such a program has only ever been created once, for a competition, and though it was somewhat effective, it only worked for shreds in ideal conditions (single sided, no marks or stains, no pieces missing, etc.), and it still requires humans to operate it and effectively build the page up from scratch but with the computer offering possible matches along the way. I have no doubt that a better program could be invented, but shredding may be superior to printing all your documents on explosives.


The Fraunhofer Institute has something like this for reconstructing documents from the Stasi. It wouldn't surprise me if some of the major intelligence agencies have an in-house version of this as well.

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Re: Quick Burning Paper

Postby jewish_scientist » Fri May 04, 2018 12:26 pm UTC

Thesh wrote:Flash paper (nitrocellulose) burns cleanly without leaving behind traces of the text. I've seen it recommended for key storage that can be quickly destroyed if your door is busted down by government agents, to be used in combination with a hand cipher like Solitaire.

Flash paper is the same things is gun cotton, which is disqualified in the OP as being too easy to accidentally set off.

pogrmman wrote:If you really want to be secure, keep your special papers mixed in with papers of random stuff (say, a copy of war and peace).

War and Peace = random stuff
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