Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Author: Andrew

What is Privacy?

"the failure to reach consensus on a definition of privacy may be frustrating to some, legal scholar Daniel Solove argues that each approach to privacy reveals insight into how we manage privacy in everyday life" (boyd, 59).

The above quote highlights an issue that we have peripherally mentioned since the beginning of this course. We have focused on privacy versus surveillance, or privacy versus security. We have alternated using surveillance and security because it is hard to pinpoint exactly which of them to which we are referring. However, although a slight majority of the class is on the side of privacy, we have not debated the use of the word privacy. We also haven't reached a clear consensus on privacy as a class, which is interesting to me. How can we be so sure privacy is the word we want to use if we don't have an actual definition of the word in the context we wish to use it.

boyd lists three different definitions of privacy, and although they are all similar in some ways, they are all definitely different definitions. I am also interested that the three definitions she list are all presented by people in law. I do not wholeheartedly agree with any of the definitions, and I'm sure that there each member of our class has their own personal definition of privacy. Technology experts would have different definitions, and I suspect that each privacy-oriented career would have individuals with their own definitions.

How can we continue to debate privacy versus surveillance or security when we do not have one clear definition of privacy for this debate? I do not believe that this debate will ever be settled, but I also think that it will be even harder to be settled without clear definitions for both sides of the issue. The definition of privacy was not something that I had previously considered before reading this work by boyd, but now I am extremely interested in its definition.

Illegal Math: Fact not Fiction

I chose the beginning of chapter 17, when Marcus and Ange went to the journalist, Barbara Stratford, to expose the rampant abuses of power that were occurring in San Francisco. During this, they discovered that Barbara herself had covered the original ‘crypto wars’ in the 90’s. Barbara describes how the government had labeled cryptography as a munition and made it illegal to use it or export it, all in the name of national security. While I thought this was really interesting, the next sentence blew my mind. This means that we had ILLEGAL math. MATH, made illegal.

Can you imagine there being a time when certain equations and formulae were considered illegal? This interests me most because less than two decades after this illegal math, we are taking a class specifically about this illegal math. We’ve seen in class how cryptography has been used throughout history, and it always has been, and probably always will be, a part of life in government. However, it was always that it was only accessible to the wealthy, and those in government. No one else could afford the knowledge required, so we couldn’t keep secrets from the government. With the rapid spread of computers and advancement in technology, suddenly average citizens could afford to encode their messages, and it is very interesting to me that the government was so threatened by this that they felt the need to ban this knowledge.

Of course, it is also my opinion that, like Prohibition, this just proliferated the use of cryptography, but with even less government control. My favorite part of class so far has been our discussions about the intersection of cryptography, government, and privacy, which is why Little Brother, and especially this chapter hold my interest so well. With cryptography and cryptanalysis becoming ever more advanced, it will be exciting to see how the government handles all this as well.

Allies versus Germans: they won because they were Allies

It is my opinion that one of the prominent and yet overlooked reasons that the Allied cryptanalysts were able to end up winning against German cryptographers was that they were indeed Allies. Although there were times when they kept information from each other, they were able to share their breakthroughs in a way that Germany could not share with its allies. Every time an advancement in breaking the code was made it was possible for them to share that advancement with each other, and this allowed them to break more codes faster. Germany, on the other hand could not share breakthroughs with codewriting and codebreaking with its allies. This is for a pretty obvious reason.

The Allies were only intent on defeating Germany and its allies, to keep the world balance as it was. Germany and its allies were intent on conquering as much territory as possible. This meant that Germany was afraid to share information with its allies, because there was always the chance that once they defeated the Allies, they would turn on each other. An interesting parallel of this would be that of supervillains. The issue with them joining together to defeat superheroes was and is always that they can't work together for very long before turning on each other.

The Allies could communicate with each other. Germany could not do so. This, as simple as it is, is one of the key reasons that the cryptanalysts worked so efficiently. The Allies were allies.

4 Codes, 1 Sculpture: Kryptos

During the talk Elonka gave to the class on Friday, I found myself fixating on one thing, Kryptos. I was so surprised by the fact that there was a statue located on the grounds of the CIA, which has an unsolved code written on it. The CIA are supposed to be some of the greatest minds of our time, and they can't solve a cipher that is quite literally sitting right in front of them.

To give a little more information, Kryptos is a large sculpture which contains four codes. Each of these codes was placed onto the sculpture by stamping through the metal, so that the letters are holes in the metal. The four codes were created by Ed Scheidt, who at the time was the Chairman of the CIA Cryptographic Center.  The first three codes have been solved, by the public and from within the CIA, but the fourth remains a mystery.

The connection between Kryptos and our course is fairly obvious. Four encrypted messages, or codes, in a class about codemaking and codebreaking? Sounds like exactly what we're looking for I think. It's also worth mentioning that the first codes use a Vigenere cipher, something that we were discussing in class at the time Elonka came to visit. Vigenere ciphers were the code standard for quite some time, so it doesn't surprise me at all that they were used for a sculpture as famous as Krpytos.

Many famously unsolved codes were solved at a much later time. With this famous code sitting in front of some of the world's best codebreakers, I am sure that Kryptos will soon be cracked. Maybe Elonka will be the one to solve Kryptos, or maybe even one of the students of our course.

Here's a link to her Kryptos page: http://elonka.com/kryptos/

Ethical, Unethical, or Both?

I am of the opinion that there are two ways that the question can be looked at. Personal ethics, I think, are different than the ethics of a nation. This is something that must be taken into account when questioning the ethics of decisions surrounding national security; it most certainly must be taken into account when considering the Zimmerman telegram.

From a personal standpoint, this decision is unquestionably unethical. Letting America know the contents of the Zimmerman telegram would have saved American lives, and potentially shortened the length of the war. Although it could be argued that more lives might have been lost if Germany knew that the code had been broken, I vastly disagree. Creating a new and equally strong code for their messages would have taken Germany a long period of time, because creating codes that function and are very strong is not an entirely simple process. Even if Germany became aware that their code had been broken, with the advantage given to both America and Britain, the war may have been won before the new code was invented. It is completely unethical for someone to break a code with the intention of shortening the war, and then not use the broken code to save as many lives as possible.

At the other end of this issue is the standpoint of national ethicality.  It is my opinion that a nations ethics are typically focused first and foremost selfishly, on the survival of that specific nation. It is quite possible that Admiral Hall believed that telling the Americans about the contents of the Zimmerman telegram would jeopardize the very survival of his nation, in which case he simply obeyed his national ethics, which told him that survival came first. In following this duty to his country he also follows another part of national ethicality, that the homeland must come first.

With these two sides to keep in mind, it is impossible for me to conclude that one is more correct than the other. Personally, it is unethical. Nationally, it seems it may have been quite ethical. In the end, this is a murky issue. However, in the tumultuous and interconnected times we live in today, this will be an issue I think we will revisit very soon.

More Data, More Leaks

I am currently planning to write my first essay about the essay "Hello Future Pastebin Readers" by Quinn Norton. This essay is mainly intriguing to me because it is an important reminder that the publication of most people's private information is nearly inevitable. It is interesting to realize how much of our information we make freely available without any concern about the repercussions. From Snapchatting our locations to checking in on Facebook, we constantly broadcast our information to everyone who can listen without any hesitation.

It's also important to me that I had never considered the concept of "Over time, all data approaches deleted, or public." This is a 'law of data' penned by the author, Quinn Norton. He claims that this rule has always been applicable to data, but it is only with the internet that the rule became so important to recall. The point of this rule is to remember that data often ends up in locations where it wasn't intended to end.

I'm excited to write an essay about this topic specifically, because it is an issue which I believe is important and needs to be brought to light for modern society. It's compelling to me that this topic is so obscure to most people. I hope that my essay will help change everyone's opinion about public data.

The Beginning of an Era of Secrecy

Imagine for a moment that everything you've ever hidden is completely public. Everyone has access to your private emails and your bank account information, among other things. This would be life without cryptography.

Cryptography is hiding the meaning of a message, and it is typically used in most forms of modern communication. In The Code Book, the author, Simon Singh notes that secret writing has been a part of human civilization since the fifth century (Singh 4), but it was widely accepted that the most typically used cipher of ancient times, the substitution cipher (Singh 13), was impossible to crack until the 8th century when the Abbasid caliphate's place as a center of learning allowed it to become the homeplace of cryptanalysis (Singh 16).

Singh defines cryptanalysis as "the science of unscrambling a message without knowledge of the key" (Singh 15). As Singh states on page 15, cryptanalysis was only possible in the beginning due to the Muslim civilization achieving "a level of scholarship in several disciplines, including mathematics, statistics, and linguistics".

The important debate, though, is whether or not this level of scholarship is still necessary in today's society. I am of the opinion that, although our society's era of secrecy necessitated well-trained cryptanalysts, this is no longer the case. As our class demonstrated on only the second day, breaking of the more common codes is fairly simple for most modern humans. The difference, I believe, lies in the fact that in ancient times, education and widespread knowledge had not progressed to the point it has now reached. The internet, as a portal to almost all human knowledge, has made it simple for anyone to pursue any knowledge or expertise that they desire.

Without modern technology, and modern education, I am of the opinion that intense training would still be required to become a cryptanalyst. However, due to our civilization's widespread resources, it has become much easier for individuals to discover and crack codes and ciphers on their own.  Cryptology began as a secretive science, but has become an integral part of modern society, and as such we are all cryptologists in some form or another.

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