Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Author: youngar

Our Version of Privacy

“Kids today. They have no sense of shame. They have no sense of privacy. They are show-offs, fame whores, pornographic little loons who post their diaries, their phone numbers, their stupid poetry—for  privacy God’s sake, their dirty photos!—online.” - Emily Nussbaum

I strongly disagree with this statement, as it makes a lot of assumptions about today's youth. Maybe the vocal minority do all of the things stated above, but the vast majority of us are very private about our lives. I, for one, have all of my social media behind a private wall, and even then I pay careful attention to what I post. The same goes for all of my friends. I don't know a single person who has posted a 'dirty photo' online, and I've only heard of those types of photos circulating a handful of times. Sure, some of us might post our diaries, but we're doing it behind closed doors, on private accounts, for very specific people to see. While older generations might not consider this private, it's more than enough for our generation. As teenagers, we present a very cultivated public online presence to the world, one which doe does not include rantings or poetry or 'dirty photos'. We post things that make us look good. Everything else (things that won't make us look 'good') is private, in a sense. So, yes, we do have a sense of privacy.

Cryptography Based in Recreation

99% Invisible's "Vox Ex Machina" tells of the history of vocal synthesis. This episode of the podcast was very informative, following vocal synthesis from it's inception to its modern-day applications. As I learned during the episode, vocal synthesis played a key role in secure communications for the Allies during World War 2. I found this interesting because I would never have thought to use such a method to encrypt communications. When I think of vocoders, I think of Black Moth Super Rainbow, one of my favorite bands, not cryptography.

The podcast producer made the material presented interesting by including interviews with people who worked on SIGSALY and providing a simulated conversation between Wilson and Churchill. This gave me a better idea of what SIGSALY actually did.

The producer made technical aspects of the material accessible by providing concrete examples of everything mentioned in the podcast.

Based on this episode, I think I want to talk about something that is not originally based on cryptography but instead was later applied to the cryptographic field. In terms of format, I would like to include examples of what I am discussing, making the material easier to digest for the listener. I would also like to have multiple speakers covering different portions of the show, as that makes things easier to understand.

 

What Would I Give Up?

In a post 9/11 America, which is all I've ever known, I am paranoid. When I enter public spaces like movie theaters or airports, there's always an irrational fear in the back of my head that something is going to go wrong. This fear was undoubtedly placed there by terrorists, so they are clearly succeeding in their goal of instilling fear into the public. Oddly enough, my main concern in these scenarios is the lack of apparent security. For example, as I'm sitting down to watch a movie, it dawns on me how easy it would have been to sneak a weapon into the theater, even after the attack at Aurora. The same can be said for school. In fact, I know of someone at my high school who brought a lethal weapon with him to school multiple times. Not once was he caught. I feel like I have a good reason to be paranoid.

So what would I give up to feel safer? If anything, I'd be perfectly ok with more security. The most obvious implementation would be metal detectors at entrances to places. This would be a small inconvenience, and it would ease my paranoia immensely. I'm tired of living in fear, and enhanced security measures would make me feel much safer. Despite popular belief, more security in this regard would not mean the terrorists are winning, because I (and likely many more people) would feel safer as a result.

200 Years of Strength

The first thing The Great Cipher used by Louis XIV did well was not being a monoalphabetic cipher. These ciphers are too susceptible to frequency analysis, making them crackable in a matter of hours at the most. Instead, the Great Cipher is more along the lines of a polyalphabetic cipher. Instead of letters, however, the cipher alphabets are compromised of numbers. But the thing that really makes this cipher a strong one is the fact that these numbers represent single syllables, letters, or even commands instead of just single letters. In doing this, deciphering The Great Cipher would take years.

This cipher took 200 years to decipher due to the odd nature of the cipher. No conventional ciphers substituted numbers for both syllables and letters, as well as having some traps lain within. Due to this, nobody knew how to begin deciphering it. It was only through the efforts of Bazeries that this cipher was eventually cracked. Even so, it took Bazeries 3 whole years to figure out the messages hidden behind the code. He was only able to crack the code as a result of his very out of the box thinking and pure determination. After trying polyalphabetic combinations, which are hard enough to crack on their own due to the pure number of possibilities that exist, and diagraphs, which also took a long time, Bazeries thought to try syllables. It was only after trying many different combinations that he found a single phrase which worked. He then used this word to painstakingly decipher the rest of the text. The pure creativeness of The Great Cipher led to its strength, and the only way it could be decoded was through equal creativity.

A Young Snowden

Whether or not he was willing to accept it, Marcus is the leader, the figurehead of a revolution against his own government. He created a secret network over which he could securely communicate with other defectors and used it to plot against the DHS, eventually getting them removed from San Francisco. As displayed during the scene at VampFest, Marcus garners at least 1,000 followers who trust him enough to partake in the event. These were people who would do anything for him. They idolize him. He embodies what they are fighting for.

 

"'Can I just say,' Nate said, 'can I just say that it is the biggest honor of my entire life to help you? Can I just say that?'

I was blushing now. There was nothing for it. These two were totally starstruck, even though I wasn't any kind of star, not in my own mind at least." (Doctrow 330)

To me, this passage shows how much Marcus means to the average Xnet user. They quite literally worship him, even after he insists time and time again that he is not the leader of any movement. The reason the idea of Marcus heading a revolution against the DHS interests me is because of how impressive it is. Marcus is just a humble 17-year-old high school student. After he was imprisoned by the government, he vows to take them down, to make things right again. All the while, he just views himself as an ordinary part of the machine he created.

I view Marcus as a leader in this novel. Time and time again, I found myself comparing him to the likes of Edward Snowden and others who fought government security agencies. He has no fear, accepting the inevitability of his own downfall.  The way he handles himself in the difficult situations he is put in, the passion for privacy which he displays, and his ability to remain anonymous despite the DHS's best efforts makes him great. I'd say that his followers are justified in viewing him as a hero, considering what he was able to accomplish against such a powerful organization.

A Sacrifice for the Greater Good

In Michael Morris's essay "Mining Student Data Could Save Lives," Morris argues that by allowing universities access to student's online histories, campuses become much safer. In accessing this data, colleges can tell if a student is planning to cause harm to themselves or others and then step in to prevent the student from taking any drastic actions. At one point, universities didn't have the right to access students' private data, but after the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, schools sought to gain the right to access this information. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (Ferpa) was revised to grant them this access. Morris believes that since universities have access to this information, they should use it to their advantage rather than just ignoring it.

I agree with Morris's argument. I am all for Vanderbilt monitoring our activity to keep us safe. Personally, I have nothing to hide, and even if I were about to do something drastic, I'd want to be stopped before it was too late. Our community and others can only benefit from this type of monitoring. I can understand how some people could be up in arms about the breach of privacy, but it serves the greater good and helps communities become safer than they were before monitoring was implemented.

A False Sense of Security

In saying "The cipher of Mary Queen of Scots clearly demonstrates that a weak encryption can be worse than no encryption at all.", I believe that Singh is implying that in using a cipher, Mary and her recipient felt much safer than if they had used no encryption at all. They believe their message is secure, so they do not feel the need to be discrete in their language. Had they not used any encryption, the content of their messages would not have been nearly as direct as it was with the encryption.
For those who attempt to keep their communication secret through encryption, this statement implies that their encryption method needs to be rather strong if they expect it to be effective at concealing their messages. One cannot hope to use a simple Caesar cipher effectively, as that encryption method is rather weak. It could be cracked by even the lowliest of amateur cryptographers in a small amount of time. The fact that Singh describes the cipher of Mary Queen of Scots, an encryption method that I couldn't hope to begin to comprehend, to be weak implies that for an encryption method to be effective, it must be very complex. This tells me that unless you and your recipient are seasoned cryptographers, you shouldn't bother trying to encrypt your messages, for one could decrypt them with ease. Instead, you should try to use more discrete language and keep in mind that your words could very well fall into the hands of your enemies.

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