The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Month: December 2014 (Page 1 of 2)

Writing Process

In the past, I have written many papers of similar magnitude for purposes varying from competing for an award to a research paper. However, this is the first time I have written a paper of this magnitude with the purpose of informing and persuading the everyday citizen, or college student of something which they should be doing. With that, one of the biggest challenges was getting the tone of the paper correct. Most of my writing prior to this course was extremely formal and/or technical, and so it has been interesting finding the right balance in dropping a slight amount of the formality in the paper while keeping it at the level of an academic paper.

I have a fairly routine process I like to take when writing longer papers, and it is the process I went with to write this one. After choosing my topic, the very first thing which I do is to look for resources which I can use to learn more about the topic and for references to cite in my paper. After I've got a few of these, I outline the paper with a general layout of what I plan on doing, and in what order. My topic is multi-factor authentication. After an intro, I give some background on multi-factor authentication and all of the types of "factors" one can use. Then I discuss why not implementing multi-factor authentication can be harmful by making it significantly easier for hackers to break into your accounts. Next, I go through each of the main additional factors to passwords which college students can/should implement doing a cost-benefit analysis on each one. What I did once I initially sat down to write the paper was get a good start on each of these main sections to the paper. After that, I just go back and fill each section in until complete, which is my current stage in the writing process.

The most enjoyable part of the writing process for me has always been outlining. I love the imagining at the beginning, thinking of all the different ways one could go about writing the paper, and then choosing one and figuring out how to best implement it.

Behind the Scenes of a Practical Cryptography Paper

While writing my practical cryptography paper, there have definitely been some challenges. The first and probably hardest part of my paper was choosing a topic. I had no idea what someone would want to read about that would directly relate to cryptography and didn’t know what advice I could give. Eventually, I settled on searching the internet anonymously and began my research. This part was equally enjoyable and frustrating, because while I like perusing interesting articles for information, oftentimes the articles I was finding were saying the same things. To solve this problem, I searched for sources that pertained to different parts of my paper; there were sources I used for history and background, sources I used about actually taking steps to search anonymously, and sources I used about the ethics and legality of it all. With a little creative searching, I found most of what I needed.

Now, I am still in the process of actually putting all this information into a coherent guide and finishing writing my paper. So far, it hasn’t been extremely difficult to organize; the paper itself is fairly straight forward in its components, and it’s easy to choose an organization scheme that boils down to ‘introduction, background, methods, ethics, and conclusion’. This was unquestionably the easiest part of my journey writing this paper. One of the things that I’m still struggling with is adopting the proper tone for the paper. Because it is supposed to instruct college students in a practical cryptography topic but is still an academic paper, I find myself needing to balance two different tones (one more casual, and one more formal).

Protection of Privacy

Citizen Four opened my eyes to the many different ways the government invades privacy in order to protect its citizens. The government uses many devices to spy on its citizens, including location tracking and following people online with tracking cookies. This invasion of privacy can easily be avoided by any citizen. This is the topic of my paper. Now that I have watched citizen four, I plan on taking a slightly different approach to my paper. One can avoid tracking cookies to prevent themselves from being tracked by businesses and even the government itself.

Businesses today can use search history information in order to price discriminate online. Many companies, most famously airlines, but also amazon and other online shopping companies can use your history in order to charge you a higher price. This is the original take on my paper. However, after watching citizen four, I realized that the government can use the exact same type of procedure to spy on you directly. For example, if you commonly search the word “bomb,” you are very likely to be targeted by the government as a potential terrorist simply because of your search history. Simple tracking cookies can result in big accusations from the government.

Simply put, Edward Snowden revealed a lot about the way the government tracks its citizens. This tracking can also be easily avoided by simply deleting one’s cookies. In this form and fashion high school students can both avoid price discrimination and having their privacy invaded by the government of the United States.

The Writing Process

The first part of my process for writing the practical cryptography paper was selecting a topic. This was quite time consuming since nothing that I found particularly stood out at me. The main problem with selecting a topic was finding something interesting, applicable, and with enough information available. I eventually settled upon Bitcoin. The reason I choose this topic was that it was not well known among college students and represents the future of money. The next step in working on the paper was research. I knew very little about the topic before starting this paper. The most challenging part for me understood how Bitcoin works. This portion was the most time consuming by far. Once I understood the process of Bitcoin, I was about to start outlining my paper. I spend a large portion of my paper explaining Bitcoin and its functions. The remainder of the paper is about its application and implications in our lives. I have finished the rough draft of the essay. I will make further revisions and edits once I get feedback. The most enjoyable part of the paper was learning about something new that I would never have thought to read about. The paper overall was a good experience for me.

Encryption Use for Journalists

Because my paper is directed at students who wish to pursue a career in journalism, many of my sources are articles found in the Columbia Journalism Review, a magazine aimed at journalists. There have been several articles written about encryption use for journalists in the past few years, especially in the wake of the Snowden leaks. The movie Citizenfour provided some additional background on the events surrounding these leaks. Additionally, I may use Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras as specific examples of journalists using cryptography. While their situation was a bit more extreme and sensitive than what the average future journalist is likely to encounter, it is still useful for students to know something of what they did to communicate with Snowden. I have discovered in the course of my research that encrypted communications, in addition to protecting anonymous sources, also serves an important purpose for journalists in that it makes those sources more comfortable communicating sensitive information. (Additionally, some experts believe that journalists should continually operate under the assumption that if someone truly wants to find out information about their anonymous sources, that they will be able to do so.) Apparently, there is not much of a focus currently in journalism programs or within the news agencies themselves on teaching encryption techniques, so until things change this is something important for students to study on their own.

The Security of Email and the Privacy

Now I just collect some information and have not started my paper yet, so I find that I will take a huge amount of effort to deal with this paper.  In this paper, I want to talk about the security of the emails during the international communications (like the legal access of the government, the physical location of the service and so on) and the strength of the passwords of emails accounts. There are two most challenging parts of this paper. The first part is to get the way how government access the email because I am not familiar with the internet. I need to search more information and spend more time to understand the process. The second part is to understand the way the hackers use to break the emails accounts and the method the emails use to keep the passwords of the accounts safe. These need I spend a lot of time on mathematics and I might also need to explain them clearly in my paper. The  more enjoyable part in this paper is to think about the method to improve the strength of the passwords of the email accounts and to keep people's email accounts safe. This part is very useful and interesting. To improve my paper, I still need to search more resources and organize the arguments clearly.

Tor and the Dark Web: Exploring and Explaining

In writing my paper, a guide on Tor and the Dark Web and a their role in the future of privacy, I have had to research the technology behind Tor and how the encryption and routing scheme works to enable anonymity of origination of user data. Along with the mechanics of Tor, most of my time was devoted to reading articles and stories about Tor to gain a better understanding of the view the media has of Tor and the effect the view has had on the public’s understanding and usage of the tool. I have already finished a draft of the paper, and so the only thing left to do is to further ponder over the question of Tor’s relation to the future of privacy.

The most challenging part of the process was explaining the mechanics behind Tor in a way that was easy to understand for any reader, especially those without a technical background. Overall, the entire paper has been fun to write because the topic itself interests me greatly and has given me the opportunity to give others a better understanding of a useful tool, Tor, and a potentially different perspective on its role in the future of privacy.

The Process of Writing

Writing my practical cryptography paper requires a lot of time and effort. Firstly and most importantly, I have found all of the sources I need in writing this paper. This took a great amount of time to find the perfect articles on the internet to address my topic, phishing. After finding and printing out all of my sources, I then needed to figure out how to organize this paper from beginning to end. In addition, it is imperative that I organize this paper without the classic "slow wind-up" and make it interesting for the audience.

I have made good progress so far in this paper with about one-third of the word count left to go. I need to continue improving my introduction and conclusion and expand my body paragraphs to increase the word count. By far the most challenging part of completing this paper is getting to the word count. It is difficult to write a large amount about this topic without feeling like I am just rambling or repeating. Perhaps I need to add another source or two to my paper. It has been enjoyable to learn all about phishing and its impact on our society. I have enjoyed becoming familiar with the topic as a whole and even learned new steps and measures I should take to avoid being "phished".

The Path to Online Voting

I've only recently begun working on my paper, but it has proved to be much more interesting than I originally anticipated. Online voting is such a relevant and current issue, as it very well could be widely instituted in the near future, and it has such large implications. It is basically a distillation of the security vs. privacy debate, throwing in the issue of trust in government. My research has mostly consisted of Google Scholar and the Vanderbilt databases, which are far more helpful than any resources I used in high school. I was surprised that when I search a topic in google scholar, if Vanderbilt has access to it, a link appears on the side of the search results page, which has really streamlined the research process.

The most challenging part of the process thus far has been sifting through all of the information, as there is much more of it than I expected. I'm trying to read sources on all sides of the issue - both pro-online-voting and anti-online-voting - and it's just a lot to take in. Also, a lot of the studies and information I'm finding is from the 2004 to 2008 period, which, while not completely outdated, also aren't completely current in the world of technology. Since online voting still hasn't become a widespread American practice, however, the research and arguments still seem to apply well to the current situation.

I'm currently in the drafting stage, pulling all of the information together. It's a bit difficult to synthesize all the material, but the actual writing is always my favorite part of the process - figuring out which arrangements work, and what words feel right. My topic has definitely pulled me in, and I'm excited to continue exploring the nuances of the issue.

Figuring Out Location Services

Currently, I am still very early in the process for writing my practical cryptography paper. I am starting to realize the amount of effort the paper will  take, which gives me a sense of urgency to really get underway. So far, I have really enjoyed thinking about the ways that I will be able to relate the ideas in my paper to other college students' lives. Location services is an interesting topic because it is very prevalent right now. People in the United States are becoming wary of the control that government can have in their lives. Therefore, it is possible that people will want to take steps in order to protect their location. The difficult question that I will have to deal with is why people will want to take these steps.


If a mother and father wish to take a family trip to New York and take pictures of their kids in front of the Statue of Liberty, they will want to post a geotag to show off their family vacation to an awesome city. However, they are much less likely to want a geotag if they are taking pictures of their kids inside of their home. This is just one side to location services. I am still early in the writing process and there is much to learn about why location services should be concerning to the average college student.

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