The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Author: striclr1

The Captivating Story of a Serial Killer

The first thing that I noticed in the podcast "A Killer on the Loose: The Zodiac Ciphers" by Kelsey Brown was the background music. The music went well with the topic of the podcast. The music sounded very ominous and I think that relates to the dark theme of the podcast. Without even completing the podcast I was compelled because the background music captured my attention and made the podcast more interesting. The music would transition with the story when Kelsey would talk about the different subject matter.

One of the things that I admired about the podcast was Kelsey Brown’s use of storytelling. The podcast was very fluid. This makes me want to make my podcast in a similar way. I think that if my podcast was not fluid, there would be a disconnect with the listeners. Kelsey Brown’s podcast is so alluring because of how smoothly it transitions.

The topic of the podcast was very interesting to me. I am an avid enjoyer of murder mysteries, and crime television shows like Criminal Minds. I actually researched the Zodiac Killer a couple of years ago because the zodiac killer was a topic on one of the episodes on the show. I decided to listen to this podcast because the topic relates to my own interests in life. I know that for me to keep the listener’s attention in my own podcast, I have to be passionate about what I am speaking of.

The Logic of Codebreakers Beat Enigma

In the novel The Code Book, Singh argues that German overconfidence in the strength of Enigma was a primary reason why the Germans did not win the war. According to the blog post, “Never Become Lazy and False Genius During War”, the author, Naiksj, suggests that the laziness of the Germans and the way that they never change routine caused them the war. I agree with the author's argument. The Germans would usually begin the day with a weather report and many of their messages would contain similar phrases. This allowed the codebreakers to notice different patterns in the code.

I believe that the Allied powers succeeded because of the logic of the codebreakers. The Germans used the Enigma machine in the same ways every day, and the codebreakers were logical enough to realize this. Any random person would most likely not be able to notice the patterns in the encoded messages. It takes a level of intelligence to figure out what different patterns can represent. When we were first asked what trait is most important on Top Hat the first time I said creativity. I recently changed my answer to logic because after reading more of the book, I decided that logical reasoning has to be involved in codebreaking. Creativity and luck are both important attributes to codebreaking; however, without logic, those two traits cannot do much. I believe that there needs to be a foundation of logic for a code to be broken.

Never Become Lazy and False Genius During War

Solving an Encryption is Easier Said than Done

I believe that the examples in the book would be harder to decipher when no assistance is given. It would be hard to decipher the message while not knowing what type of cipher it is. Telling the readers what kind of code the message is encrypted as gives a hint in how to solve it. If there was no hint, the receiver of the message would have to just guess on how to decipher the message. There are ways to get clues on what type of code is used such as frequency analysis; however, frequency analysis may not be very helpful depending on what type of code was used.

It is easy to understand Singh’s examples in the book because he is trying to teach the readers how to decode the message. The examples that Singh gives are also easy to crack since no one is trying to keep the message hidden anymore. It is easier to decode the messages now than it would be during the time of war. I think that it is harder to decipher codes when in certain situations. The idea that the contents of a message can help alleviate impending war can put an enormous amount of pressure on a person’s shoulder. When I am in stressful situations, an exam, for example, I often make silly mistakes because of how nervous I am. That feeling is a thousand times worse during the times of war because it is not a grade that is at stake, it is the livelihood of a country.


A Small Amount of Privacy can be Lost to Feel More Secure

At the Newseum, there is a board that lets people voice their opinion on the privacy versus security debate. The people were told to write down what they would give up to feel safer on a dry erase board. Someone on the board wrote that they would give up some of their privacy. This corresponds with my own beliefs. I think that it is totally fine if the government uses some surveillance techniques. Even though I believe that the government should use surveillance to protect us, they should not be too extreme with the measures that they take. For example, in the novel Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, Marcus’s dad was pulled over multiple times in a single trip even though there were no signs of him being guilty of any crime. This is an example of the government being too extreme with their surveillance methods, I believe that these methods are unnecessary. When the government uses extreme surveillance methods that results in no privacy, everything turns into chaos as shown in Little Brother. There is a loss of trust between the government and civilians. It is the civilian’s jobs to trust that the government will protect them, and it is the government’s job to protect the citizens while not violating all of their privacy.

Why are the Beale Ciphers so Enticing?

The Beale ciphers are a mystery. No one truly knows if the treasure is real or fabricated. The book said that “Skeptics believe that the entire story was fabricated to profit from the greed of others.” Even though the story may possibly be a hoax, people will not stop trying to decrypt the message. One reason why people are still trying to decrypt the message is the reward. Twenty million dollars is a large amount of money, and some people will do whatever they can to get their hands on it. Greed can motivate people to do outrageous things, that includes solving an extremely difficult encryption.

Being acknowledged is another reason why people are still trying to break the ciphers. If I was to somehow be able to decode the Beale ciphers, the money would be amazing, but I want the acknowledgment that comes with it. It is a dream of mine to be recognized for my efforts, and I believe that others feel the same. If I was to crack a code that has not been broken in around two hundred years, I would be filled with pride. Solving encryptions takes luck, logic, and creativity. If a person was to decipher the Beale ciphers, they would feel accomplished for all of the work that they had to do to solve it since it is not an easily breakable cipher. I believe that the treasure has already been found either by luck or deciphering the encryption. According to the book, conspiracy theorists believe that the treasure has been found by the NSA. It is very likely that the treasure is not real, but people still want to solve it to get recognition.

Can Technology Truly Give a Feeling of Privacy?

In Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, the passage that caught my attention was in Chapter 5 when Marcus talked about how technology made him feel. He said that technology made him feel like he had control, and that technology works for, serves and protects him when it is used the right way. He says the when technology is used right, it could give “power and a sense of privacy”.

I believe that technology has so many good attributes, but with the good there is bad. Even if technology was used in a good way, that does not mean that everyone else would not misuse it. Technology can give a feeling of privacy and protection, but that can be easily violated by hackers or people that mean to do harm. Many people think that they are protected by their technology, and by thinking this they let their guard down. Technology does not work for a single person, it works for anyone who has access to it. While people may think that they are safe and whatever they put online is protected, that is not always the case.

In the beginning of the novel, Marcus abuses his power over technology. He used technology to discover everything there was to know about his vice principal including his social security number, birthday, hometown, and even his mother’s maiden name. Marcus did not use technology in the right way. Even though he wants to use technology for the better, he succumbed to the things he could discover and do with the power of technology. In my opinion, Marcus is very hypocritical. Marcus violated the privacy of his vice principal even though he says that he loves technology because of the feeling of privacy that it gives.


Should A Student's Data be Monitored?

In his essay, “Mining Student Data Could Save Lives”, Michael Morris argues that universities should implement data mining technology to prevent crime and make universities safer. Data mining technology would help a university predict crime.

In his essay, Morris uses pathos to gain the attention of his readers. School shootings are events that are emotional for the victims and the people that here about them. He talks about school shootings since it is something that the entire nation is familiar with and horrified of. He uses the school shooting example since a school shooting is an event that could be stopped by monitoring behavioral patterns. A student’s behavioral pattern can be shown through what they do online. Universities can monitor a student’s activity through school computers, conversation through the school’s emails, and the activity that is on the WiFi network. Michael Morris states that universities are not able to access a student’s data until after a catastrophic event has already occurred.

I agree with the author’s argument that universities should use data mining algorithms to monitor potential threats. I think that data mining is not as serious as everyone thinks it is. Whenever a person searches something online browser cookies are used to suggest future online searches. I believe that we also lose privacy when we use social media. I think that it is fine if our privacy is lost to prevent horrifying events such as school shootings.


Never Trust A Weak Encryption

In the first chapter of The Code Book by Simon Singh, he states that “a weak encryption is worse than no encryption at all”. A weak encryption is worse than no encryption at all because the sender and receiver of the message believe that the message is secure. A weak encryption leads to a false sense of security. If someone was to send a message with no encryption, they would know that their message was floating around and would be more cautious. People that send encrypted messages should always be mindful of what information their message contains. Over time many messages can be decrypted, and a sender of an encrypted message should remain mindful of that. No one should put all of their trust into a encryption since the message could possibly be deciphered. People that want to keep their messages secret should keep their messages very vague even if they are encrypted. There is always a chance that a message can be decrypted, so the sender should not only rely on a encryption to make sure that their message is secure. Mary Queen of Scots should have been vaguer with the messages that she sent. Since she truly believed that her messages would not be decrypted, she was not withholding the information that she sent. Her trust in the encryption led to her execution.


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