The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Author: Xinyi Zhang Page 1 of 2

Criteria for Debate

The first criteria I am planning to use to evaluate the two teams is clarity of argument. This refers to whether the presenter can clearly convey the main points they are trying to make in an orderly manner. I am looking to see if I can isolate some a sort of thesis statement in each of their arguments. I will then be evaluating the strength of the evidence for the argument. I will see if the presenter has relevant examples to support their thesis, whether it be empirical or anecdotal evidence. There are many examples we studied in this course which can benefit the position of both teams and it will be interesting to see if any teams make connections to the coursework.

I will also be evaluating whether each team is able to find weaknesses in the other team’s arguments and consequently, present counterarguments. Each team should be able to defend against any counterarguments. To be able to refute the opposing side’s arguments, each team needs to listen. They need to listen to what the other side is saying and digest the information instead of just listing off the arguments they have. There is a difference between a debate and a speech. A debate is a conversation.

Effective Podcasting

In the Darkode episode, the podcast producer structures the podcast as two narratives scattered with technical information to make the material more interesting. The first story told in the Darkode episode is about Alina Simone, who was extorted by a cybercriminal. The producer invited all the people involved in her story, including herself, her daughter and the Coin Cafe employee to join the podcast so, there were many different voices telling their side of the story. Additionally, the producer only introduced a new guest at the point in which they had entered Alina’s story. For example, when Alina was telling the listener she had called her daughter, Inna Simone, that was the point when Inna was introduced in the podcast. This technique contributed to creating a feeling as though the listener was in the moment with Alina, watching her disaster unfold. As the two narratives in the podcast unfold, there are technical explanations and terms thrown around such as botnet, script kitty and installs. The producer ensures there is an explanation of all the technical terms which might be unknown to the average listener. Furthermore, the podcast host makes metaphors to simplify more complex concepts. For example, to explain the function of the website Darkode, the narrator compares the Darkcode to a fair where people purchase goods. He simplifies the transaction between Darkcode users as, “I have a burglar's tool. Do you have a door you want burgle?  I’ll give you my tool.”

Similarly, The Ceremony episode also uses sound to maintain the audience’s interest. For example, at one point when describing the creation of cryptocurrency, the narrator says “BOOM!” which is followed by the sound of waves crashing. These sounds are meant to illustrate how instantaneously cryptocurrency can be created.

Social Media as Proof Surveillance Affects Behaviour

“In his book Discipline and Punish, philosopher Michel Foucault describes how surveillance operates as a mechanism of control. When inmates believe they are being watched, they conform to what they believe to be the norms of the prison and the expectations of their jailors. Surveillance is a mechanism by which powerful entities assert their power over less powerful individuals.”

This quote well summarizes the effects of surveillance we have studied and discussed in class. People act differently when they are surveilled and it is for that reason people need privacy and privacy is a human right. This idea is illustrated in the podcast about Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. The Panopticon is circular jail building with a watchman in the center who cannot watch all prisoners at once so the inmates are not able to tell when they are being watched. Therefore, the prisoners behave as though they are being watched. I think this effect of surveillance affects teens’ use of social media today. When using social media sites, such as Facebook, teens accept that they can be surveilled and thus they act accordingly. For example, our parents advise us not to post pictures on social media that we would not want our potential employers to see.

The result of a difference in behavior when being surveilled means online activity does not always reflect our genuine selves to the degree human interaction can. Knowing that they are being surveilled, many teens tend to post the best parts of their lives. When looking at a teen’s Instagram profile, it tends to look like a carefully curated highlight reel. This is more evidence that we act differently with surveillance. It is ironic that social media is a means to connect people but at the same time, it distances people because we do not portray our most genuine selves as we do with human interaction.

Privacy and Changing with the Times

In my opinion, the best argument for making strong encryption available to the general public is the necessity of privacy for the individual and businesses. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, privacy is a fundamental human right. An idea that was highlighted in Little Brother was having privacy is liberating and everyone needs privacy. This idea is also applicable to the pro-encryption argument. Just as no one wants to defecate in a glass washroom in Times Square, people do not want their private matters to be made public, even if those matters are not criminal. Asies from the need for personal privacy, businesses also need privacy. Without strong encryption, e-commerce would be dead. People would not use their emails or social media sites as often to send messages. People would be more hesitant to use the internet knowing their every move was being monitored. Companies would have no way of protecting their customers' information and their private records. As such, many large companies such as Amazon and Facebook would not exist without strong encryption. Withholding strong encryption from the masses is equivalent to holding society back from expanding technologically and economically. As the population grows, it is not wise to hold back economic growth or the average standard of life would decline.

A second strong argument for pro-encryption is the adaptability of policy. As Singh mentions, it is possible to reverse policy and create new policy that best suits the social, economic and political environment. A analogy to this, is when it is cold, we put on a coat. When it gets hot, we take off our coat. Like a coat, policy concerning encryption is not permanent. It is more logical to adopt policy that is suitable to the environment than to think one policy should govern for the rest of time.  

Sounds in Cryptography and Podcasts

What I found most interesting about the "Vox Ex Machina" podcast was Homer Dudley’s choice to use a pair of vinyl phonograph records as the key both the encryption and decryption process. Prior to listening to this podcast, I had not considered noise could be used as an encryption method. What surprised me even more was the security of Dudley’s encryption method.The single use keys were extremely secure because the enemy cannot replicate a record with the same random noises. Furthermore, even if the enemy was able to lay their hands on the keys, it would be useless without the SIGSALY machine and without knowledge of the agreed time to conference. To add an additional layer of security, the SIGSALY could only function in a narrow temperature range so it needed to be maintained specifically by an entire division of engineers. Enemies who got their hands on the machines might lack the knowledge about how to maintain and use the machine, thus rendering it unusable.

The podcast producer added audio tracks to the podcast which helped to better tell the story. For example, in the beginning of the podcast, the narrator is talking about the debut of the Voder at the New York World’s Fair, so he plays a recording of the Voder in action. A second example of this is when the narrator explains that as the SIGSALY machine processes voices, the voices are slightly mutated but the message is still intelligible. He then inserts a recording of what a SIGSALY communication might sound like to illustrate his statement. The variation in sounds also keeps the listener interested because he or she is not listening to the same voice speak for 20 minutes.

The narrator states an entire division of engineers was necessary to maintain the machine because it was so technically demanding. To make the technical aspects of the material accessible, the producer omits the technical details of the machine’s processes that were nonessential to the listener’s understanding of the SIGSALY. This way the foundational ideas are not lost but the processes that might confuse the general audience are not included.

This podcast inspired me to consider researching some non-conventional applications cryptography for my podcast. I will also aim to include different voices or sounds as this podcast has done to keep my audience captivated.

A Higher Moral Purpose

The Chancellor's Lecture series featured guest General Michael V. Hayden, the former NSA and CIA director interviewed by Chancellor Zeppos and Professor Jon Meacham. A topic General Hayden addressed was the morality and ethicality of his past work. He acknowledged “We (intelligence agencies) operate in a grey space...It (the work of the CIA and NSA) only has a moral justification because it is attached to a higher moral purpose. If you believe a higher moral does not exist, it undercuts your job.” He said for those employees of intelligence agencies who question the ethics of their work, they should ask question such as “ Am I still part of the good thing? Does this matter? Does what I do make a difference?

My interpretation of his words were: it is acceptable to invade people’s privacy if it reaps a greater benefit for the people. This is a similar stance to the one I took in my first paper: protection of life justifies the means. However, after hearing his words, I realized the analysis of the existence of a higher moral purpose is very subjective. For example, person A may believe invading the privacy of 20 people to capture one criminal may be morally acceptable. However, person B may value privacy more and believes the benefit is worth the cost if only ten people's privacy are invaded. This lead me to wonder, how do you define a higher moral purpose if morals differ from person to person? What self-regulating policies are in place for central intelligence agencies to ensure every single action which invades the privacy of a citizen or foreigner is serving a higher moral purpose? 

Necessity and Usability

The primary factor favouring the advancement of military cryptography is when a country realizes their war efforts have been compromised due to the lack of strong encryption. For example, Arthur Scherbius’ Enigma machine was unpopular with the German military prior to the publishing of the histories of the First World War as written by Winston Churchill and the British Royal Navy. The Germans’ had yet to discover their war efforts were been manipulated by the British and saw no need to improve their current cryptography methods. Once the Germans were made aware of their cryptographic fiasco during World War I by the two British documents, they were forced to advanced their military cryptography. The Germans saw the need for the Enigma in their war efforts and thus began mass production. It is important to note that Scherbius first saw the need to replace the ineffective cryptographic methods used in World War I while the German government did not. One person realizing the inadequacy of a country’s cryptographic methods was not enough to advance military cryptography. For example, Alexander Koch, Arvid Damm and Edward Hebern all failed to find a market for their cryptographic advancements because the need for stronger encryption was not recognized by the masses. Although the art form itself was advanced, the advancement was lost in history if recognition by the masses was absent.

A second factor favouring military cryptographic advancements is usability. During the early phases of the first World War, Germany had advanced into French territory. However, the French destroyed their landlines as their armies retreated so Germans were forced to use radio communication. The French did not need to use radios so there were no messages for the Germans to intercept and decrypt. Thus, the art of decryption was unusable to the Germans and they did not develop a military cryptanalytic bureau until two years after the start of the war.

Safeguards for Privacy

I can say with certainty I would give up some of my privacy to feel safer however, I would not give up all of it. The USA PATRIOT Act passed after 9/11 in my opinion disregards the trust of the American people in the government. For example, part of the USA PATRIOT Act, passed after 9/11 before its revisions, enabled the Federal Bureau of Investigation to tap the telephones of people inside the US without a warrant. This violates the First Amendment because Americans are not free to speak. Someone could be eavesdropping. They can be investigated for exercising their right to free speech. This means their speech is not free, their words cannot be expressed without fear of sanction. In order to maintain a balance between privacy and security there needs to checkpoints to ensure the government is not overstepping the bounds of the Constitution. I believe an effective checkpoint to hold the government accountable to obeying the Constitution is the court of law. There should be a judge, a second opinion who is experienced in executing the law, to permit the eavesdropping on private conversations. If the issuing of a warrant might alert the terrorist that he or she is under scrutiny, the court proceedings can be kept secret and made public when the information is no longer relevant. This way, we can be sure the world Cory Doctorow writes about in Little Brother does not become a reality.

Academic Integrity Beyond the Scope of College

During the Honour Council’s “Academic Integrity 101: Winning the Right Way”, Nitya Venkat’s perspective on academic integrity stood out to me. Nitya Venkat is a MHS and Neuroscience major who is also the Vice President of the Undergraduate Honour Council. She highlighted that academic integrity was important to her beyond the scope of college. Nitya is planning to apply for medical school this year. She said when patients trust her with their lives, they can do so knowing she earned her credentials the right way. Patients can trust that she has the necessary knowledge to help them because she did not cheat her way to medical school. The connection of academic integrity to the real world was one that never seem very prominent to me until I attended the Honour Council’s presentation. I had not deeply considered that a student’s choice to cheat might affect more people than just him or herself. For example, that student might be missing knowledge necessary to help a patient.

Another piece of information that I did not know prior to attending the Honour Council’s presentation was that catchy phrases can be plagiarized. For example, the presenter showed us a catchy phrase that had been slightly modified by changing the order of the words and the tenses. I learned that copying a slightly modified catchy phrase without citation is still plagiarism.

The Honour Council’s presentation also offered so information about the history of the Honour Council. It was created in 1900 by students and it is still student-run up to this day. It was inspiring to see Vanderbilt students’ who were not only interested in “Winning the Right Way”, but also so self-motivated to help others “Win the Right Way”.

Why The Great Cipher Remained Great

The Great Cipher used by Louis XIV encoded syllables and single letters using 587 different numbers and remained unbroken for 200 years. One factor contributing to the strength of this cipher could be that during the time period in which the cipher was in use, the most well known ciphers included the monoalphabetic substitution cipher, the polyalphabetic substitution cipher, and the homophonic substitution cipher. People had commonly being encoding their message one letter at a time. Consequently, many trying to break The Great Cipher may have not considered syllables, consisting of a varying series of letters, were being encoded as one number. To further increase the strength the cipher, some single letters did correspond to a single number which would further confuse the cryptanalyst as to which numbers represented single letters and which represented syllables. To add to the confusion there were numbers that were traps which did not represent a syllable or a letter. Trap numbers deleted the previous number in the ciphertext. This cipher incorporated three layers of complexity which could attribute to why it remain unbroken for two centuries.

Furthermore, Louis XIV’s plaintext was in French meaning that enemies who potentially intercepted the messages would be unlikely to known common French syllables unless they were literate in French. It was probably more likely for a French-speaking people to loyal to his or her king than to Spain or other enemy countries during Louis XIV’s reign.

Lastly, after some time passed after Louis XIV’s reign the group of people interested in decoding his secret messages shifted from enemies to historians. Historians acknowledged the value of decoding the king’s secret messages to gain insight regarding the 17th century however, the urgency was nowhere near that of the enemies. Enemies need to decode his messages of his political scheming and planned attacks within days for the information to be of any benefit to them. A century later, the details of the dead king’s plans did not need to be deciphered within days considering they were events of the past. The lack urgency may have also contributed to the long lasting unbreakability of the cipher.

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