The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Environments that promote or discourage confidence in codes

Before the development of the Vigenère cipher, those sending encrypted messages understood that if the message was found, any good codebreaker would be able to decipher it. Mary Queen of Scots experienced a very different environment. She had total faith in her cipher and never guessed that anyone would be able to decipher her messages if they were intercepted. Because of this, Mary Queen of Scots did not bother to write discretely about her plans with her aides.
Before the Vigenère cipher was developed, those that wrote and sent encrypted knew the risk of interception did not speak so plainly about the topic of the message as someone that had confidence in their encryption would. This kind of environment that fostered insecurity was complete with numerous Black Chambers. Black Chambers were centers where messages intercepted through the mail system were then analyzed and attempted to be deciphered. Through this, valuable messages that had been deciphered could be then given or sold to various European powers as crucial intelligence.
Due to these kinds of operations, there was no way for people to be totally confident in their ciphers, something that got Mary Queen of Scots executed. The development of Vigenère cipher allowed for a greater confidence in the security of people's messages.


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1 Comment

  1. kims46

    I agree and find interesting the push and pull of cryptographic use throughout history. You discuss the transition from Mary Queen of Scot's complete faith in her cipher communication to the understanding that any cipher was bound to be cracked by an expert cryptanalyst. The creation of institutions such as the Black Chambers greatly attributed to this decrease in confidence of using codes. I think that the interesting connection to be found here is the relationship between cipher prevalence in the common population and the precise motions of confidence that Allison speaks on. The advancements in codemaking and codebreaking are greatly dependent on the popularity of cryptography; we see that during the time of more "skeptical" use, ciphers were being used for everyday and more casual means, such as sending love letters through the newspaper. As new methods were developed and old ones largely abandoned by serious cryptographers, the amateur cryptographer (or perhaps simply, an average person) would pick it up and spread it for mass use. However, Singh does also convey that cryptographers had the "lead" above cryptanalysts for significant amounts of time whenever a new method was created, although this may be to be naturally expected.

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