Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Author: Carson

Analysis of One-Time Pod "Something Out of Nothing"

I listened to the podcast “Something Out of Nothing” by Maria Sellers. In this podcast, Sellers explained how a bi-literal cipher could point to Shakespeare not being who we really think he is.

Overall, I found the entire premise for the podcast to be very interesting. For me, the topic directly undermines a concept I learned in high school, and I am sure the same applies to many others. Due to this, I personally believe that the topic would be easy to present to almost any audience and keep their attention for the short fourteen minutes that it runs.

I also really enjoyed the introduction that featured several different voices. The pacing was nice and everyone flowed together perfectly. The chosen music fit very well, and it was used appropriately. The topic itself was interesting, but these stylistic choices helped me initially engage.  

One technical aspect I appreciated was the reintroduction of Seller’s music as she moved to different “acts” in her podcast. Not only did I find it clever that she chose to section off her podcast in this way, but her use of the music to bring in each section sort of felt like the curtain was closing and then opening into the next point. Based on other podcasts I have listened to, however, I would have loved to hear some more of the music or even other sounds/music.

This podcast has helped me realize how important the topic itself is. I will also be looking into using other voices and music when necessary.

British Pride and Competition

In reality, the knowledge that Britain had deciphered Germany’s codes should have remained a secret for several more decades. Regardless of the reasoning, staying ahead of the opponent, even in a time of peace, provides tactical advantages on many fronts.  I believe, however, that pride and competition with the United States ultimately lead Churchill and the British Royal Navy to publish the information.

A gruesome war that tore through most of Europe had finally come to an end. It was a time of celebration for the countries that had triumphed. Publishing the findings showed the military tact that had been used by Britain and their ability to triumph their foes. It proved the resourcefulness of the country and allowed for a sense of pride to be instilled in Britain’s citizens. This also allowed Britain to show that they had been vital in the victory of the war. To some, it looked like the United States had joined the war efforts, intercepted messages, and swiftly ended the war in a year. It allowed British citizens to not feel like their ally had done everything.

Although Britain allied with the United States during and after the war, superpowers in the world are still each other's competitors at the end of the day. Across the ocean, “Herbert Hoover had been elected President and was attempting to usher in a new era of trust in international affairs” (Singh, 1999, p 141). After the war, in several countries, a lack of transparency between the government and citizens was felt. Since the United States was appearing to be more open with its’ citizens, Churchill most likely felt pressured to respond in some way. By publishing his findings, he was able to show that by keeping some secrecy during the war, Britain was ultimately able to keep the upper hand on Germany. Now, the information was viewed as not being pertinent and it was a good way to loop the citizens in.

If Britain had not revealed this information publically, it is possible that the Enigma machine would not have been utilized by Germany. After all, many were hesitant to adopt new forms of encryption due to cost and ease of use; WWII potentially could have been a far different war.

"The Assault on Intelligence"

General Michael Hayden, the former NSA and CIA director for the United States, was interviewed by Professor Jon Meacham and Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos. Questions regarding national security and the current direction of the U.S. were proposed to Gen. Hayden.

To kick off the interview, Meacham proposed the question, "Does political partisanship and national security have a relationship?" This is when I realized that the debate was entirely a critique of Donald Trump's presidency. I was hoping to gain more insight into some actual non-biased perceptions of national security and their current relationship with the public. Nonetheless, I did find his answer to this question to be interesting. Gen. Hayden likes to classify political figures into groups such as the Hamiltons, Jacksonians, Wilsonians, or Jeffersonians. This allows him to align current political figures with a person that best represents them from history. For instance, according to him, Trump is a Jacksonian; he is not fully for isolation, but most of Trump's policy reflects separation from other nations. Later, he also states that Trump is trying to execute industrial policy in a post-industrial era. He contrasts Trump's Jacksonian characteristics with Obama's Jeffersonian views of nation-building. Whether his portrayal of these two figures is accurate or not, I do like the concept of pairing iconic historical figures with those of the present. It allows me to create a frame of reference for current politics and connect them to the past and see how they worked then and can be translated to the present.

Another interesting point Gen. Hayden made was that the three most important aspects that make the United States what it is are: immigration, trade, and alliances. He then states that since Donald Trump has taken office each one of these areas has seen a sharp decline and citizens will eventually see the effects of their decline. I do not claim to be a master of foreign or domestic policy. I do not even claim to be extremely knowledgeable in the subject. However, after doing some base-level research, such as viewing graphs and reading some statistics, I could not find any solid grounds to which this claim could be absolutely true. Trade, for instance, had a slight increase in the trade deficit. However, in the grand scheme of things, it was really not anything critical based on current and past trends. Also, with the current state of employment in the United States, I believe that this increase makes sense. This was very rushed research though, and to make a more sound counter, I would need to do far more research.

I am sure General Hayden is able to provide wonderful insight into the surveillance versus privacy debate, however, this interview missed that mark. While it may have been his intention to focus only on President Trump, I feel like there was much more to be said on the topic of "The Assault on Intelligence."

America on Privacy vs Security: Give up Everything?

The Newseum's "Voice your Opinion" poster on privacy versus security definitely drew some interesting opinions. While some chose not to take the activity seriously, some of the insight was actually very constructive.

On the security side, most people did not elaborate on their statement. I read a few that were essentially, "Give up privacy for security." There were also several hipster comments that were about spreading love and not evil/hate. Two particular comments stood out to me, however. One stated to "take away as much as necessary to feel safe," and the other stated, "Everything, we have nothing to hide." The first thing that I would love to know is, who made the comment? What background do they come from? Have they always lived in the United States? I feel like one's upbringing has much to do with formulating an opinion on this matter. Regardless though, these two comments really shocked me because I find it very hard to believe anyone would be okay with the government having total control. In my opinion, the first comment is very nieve. There is literally a part of our brain, called the amygdala, that processes emotions such as fear. I wonder if this person would next suggest that we sever this part of our brain until we do not "feel" at all. There is no way to totally prevent uncertain/unfavorable emotions such as safety - even in a Utopia.

The privacy comments on the poster were equally as interesting. For instance, one person said, "Living life is an honor, don't take our freedom away." I appreciated this quote for its simplicity. Life really is a privilege, but one can only take advantage of it if they are free to do so. Which ties into Benjamin Franklin quote: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." This quote is very interesting because he had no way of knowing anything about technology, yet he created such an iconic phrase that can be applied to it.

Academic Integrity Defines You

The Honor Council’s perspective on academic integrity revolved around violations being more than just cheating on a test or collaborating on an assignment. They positioned that how you conduct yourself at a critical time demonstrates the sort of student you are. This idea even extends beyond one’s academic career; it also represents the kind of person one will be after graduation.

The Vice President of the Honor Council, Nitya Venkat, presented a personal example that explains this approach to the honor code. Venkat is an aspiring medical student who wants to practice as a doctor in the near future. She explained that if she has graduated from medical school and is taking her own patientens, they instill a form of trust in her. This is not just the trust that she provides the right medical care, but it is the trust that she has become a doctor through trustworthy means and has the adequate knowledge to provide professional care. A patient’s trust exists because they assume positive intent, but this faith relies on the integrity of each prospective doctor being kept. Venkat stated that this concept extends beyond just the medical field: it can apply to all professions.

Several members of the Honor Council also provided their unique insight into what the honor code was to them and a breakdown of specific characteristics. One aspect that stood out was the fact that the honor code is nothing new. In fact, it has existed since 1875 and used to just be, “On my word and honor as a gentleman, I have neither given nor received help on this examination.” The Honor Council highlighted the fact that it’s changing and adapting to the times; it has always been used to uphold student accountability. After all, everything a Vanderbilt student does is not just a reflection of themselves but the community that they belong to. That is why it is so important to hold students to this standard.

Overall, the Honor Council advised to never be afraid to ask when uncertain if an action could be a breach of the honor code. Following the honor code ensures that one does not rob themselves or the professors and faculty of the investment made in students.

Uncertain Environments Generate Safer Practices

An environment in which one knows he or she must constantly maintain precautions is safer than one where they are unaware of the dangers that potentially exist.  

This concept is exemplified in the case of Mary Queen of Scots by the simple fact that her naive belief that she was speaking in secrecy directly resulted in her death. She essentially signed up for her own funeral by openly disclosing matters of treason. If she had been living in the era in which it was common knowledge that a “codebreaker might intercept and decipher their most precious secrets,” (Singh, p.45) then it is much more likely she would have been less forthcoming with the information she provided in her encrypted messages.

The new environment created was far more advanced than anyone in her time could have predicted. Mary’s generation falls in the era of monoalphabetic substitution, whereas the new age moved on to as many as twenty-six (polyalphabetic). Furthermore, everyone in this new era of cryptography frequently changed their methods. They would not be caught dead using such a basic cipher over a prolonged period of time to transport such crucial information. Even the ciphers used for general business information transported by telegraphs was more secure than the cipher Mary trusted her life with.

The new environment of encryption even allowed for progression in the cryptography field. As ciphers became more complex, more professional codebreakers emerged that continued to prove how difficult it was to create an uncrackable code. In turn, this generated more ciphers and the loop continues from there. Progression did not just make the population more cautious, but it also generated societal growth.

Universal Surveillance - Worse Than Terrorism?

In Cory Doctorow’s novel, Little Brother, an argument breaks out between Marcus and his new social studies teacher on pages 206-211. The logistics of the argument surround Mrs. Andersen’s opening statement to the class, “Under what circumstances should the federal government be prepared to suspend the Bill of Rights?”

Marcus openly engages the teacher and his fellow classmate, Charles, by defending his view that the “Constitutional rights are absolute.” Essentially, he believes that the Constitution should not be interpreted loosely in a way that would benefit the government. The two opposing him, however, firmly believe that it is okay to bend civil liberties so long as it is on the grounds of good intentions.

What stood out to me the most during this argument was when Marcus proclaimed that, “universal surveillance was more dangerous than terrorism.”

This brought me back to our class discussion over the second blog post, which was in regards to student surveillance. The belief that both Mrs. Andersen and the article writer, Michael Morris, had in common was that giving up a civil right, such as privacy, was the only way to secure safety.

Of course, there is no right answer to this debate. Everyone wants to be safe, but at what cost are people willing to secure it at?

My belief is that once someone experiences the true nature of universal surveillance, they see the complexity of the matter. That is why I side with Marcus on this debate. Universal surveillance creates a form of terrorism in itself. Everyone is forced to look over their shoulder and wonder if their actions will be interpreted as terrorism. As seen in the novel, teenagers were able to disrupt a government agencies’ system of universal surveillance. They were able to disrupt travel patterns, “walking identities”, and even create their own network that was practically unbreakable by the government.

My point is, everyone has something to hide - and not all of it involves breaking the law. Our privacy is something that makes us who we are. It gives us the chance to break away from society and digest what has happened during our busy day. Criminals will always find a way to get around the law: it is who they are. That is why a more organic approach needs to be taken to this new era of cyber warfare. Unfortunately, I do not have an answer to what that is, but I do know that society would not be the same if we were not able to freely be who we are today.

Is Your Safety Worth Losing Privacy?

What do you value more: your safety or your privacy? Essentially, this is the argument Michael Morris attempts to build through his emotional example of how horrific school shootings and other incidents could be avoided through data mining. He builds this thesis on the back of his statement that “universities must be prepared to use data mining to identify and mitigate the potential for tragedy.”

Like most, I started the article with the title, which is definitely very powerful. The idea of saving lives is always a step in the right direct in my opinion. As I began to read, Morris continued to pull me closer and closer to being totally on board with the idea. Several times he used the analogy of a “crystal ball” as being this omniscient safety blanket for all. These vivid heart-rending examples were what really drew me in. Morris relied heavily on the use of pathos, which is always a good idea for an argument. However, it did create bias that deterred me in more than one way. There were no examples of how this power could be abused, regulations that needed to be in place, or even how information could be misinterpreted. After all, there are no voice inflections over the internet and sarcasm is very hard to convey. Furthermore, for me, emotions alone are not a strong enough reason for the creation of more regulations.

I personally feel that desensitizing the public to agencies accessing personal information creates greater problems down the line. Slowly, our lives are already becoming more and more monitored. I do not believe that another layer is a step in the right direction. Also, by slowly implementing access to a plethora of our information, we further open ourselves up to people we could not even begin to imagine. While the average person would not be able to hop on the a school’s server and steal personal data, it is still a possibility that someone could. Apple was not even able to prevent their iCloud database from being compromised. So who is to say that we are really safe from data mining anywhere?

Both good and bad can be found in everything. I am sure a lot of good could come from data mining for public safety. In fact, I am sure it already exists to some extent and has prevented catastrophic events. However, I feel that once that door is publicly open, it is one that cannot be shut and will root too deep.

The Dangers of Weak Cryptography

For one who is not well-versed in “cryptography,” hearing the word might simply bring to mind the language game Pig Latin. However, Singh is trying to convey, in layman’s terms, that cryptography is not a child’s game for all; in Mary Queen of Scots’ case, it was literally an instance of life or death. The issue at hand is that while encryption is meant to show that one's guard is up, it actually creates a false sense of security when utilized poorly.

For instance, there has been a time in every person’s life when he or she whispered something to a neighbor in the hopes of keeping the message a secret. Unbeknownst to them, spectators who speak the same language were either able to eavesdrop and hear the secret or possibly even lipread bits and pieces. Yet, to the two that were whispering in their own world, it was as if they had been speaking a foreign language. Babington and Mary were in this same little world, where they had a false sense of reality and security. As Singh stated, this was honestly an unfortunate time for Mary to be communicating through cryptography because the first true cryptanalysts were emerging. The two did little to alter their patterns and believed that only they could read what was intended for one another. The problem is, in an ever-changing world, it is naive to think that one should not have to adapt to remain undiscovered. Like two people whispering, Babington and Mary let their guard down at a critical point of their mission

By trusting her basic encoding system at an essential turning point in the history of cryptanalysis, Mary left herself vulnerable to decryption and was caught openly aligning with the rebels attempting to free her. Had she been writing without encryption, she would not have directly given her blessing for the assassination. Singh wants other cryptographers to be aware that they cannot expect to simply lay encryption over their messages like some form of a safety blanket. If a message is truly meant to be a secret, cryptographers should work to ensure that their ciphers are unbreakable.

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