Singh Chapter 1 - Reading Questions

I meant to post this on Friday, but just in case it's still useful...

The-Code-Book-Singh-Simon-9780385495325Here are a few questions about Singh Chapter 1 you might consider. I'm not expecting you to answer these questions (on the blog or in writing), I'm just providing them as a resource.

  1. On page 41, Singh writes, “The cipher of Mary Queen of Scots clearly demonstrates that a weak encryption can be worse than no encryption at all.”  What does Singh mean by this and what does it imply for those who would attempt to keep their communications secret through cryptography?
  2. On page 15 of The Code Book, author Simon Singh writes, "Cryptanalysis could not be invented until a civilization had reached a sufficiently sophisticated level of scholarship in several disciplines, including mathematics, statistics, and linguistics."  If such a level of scholarship was required for the development of the frequency analysis approach to solving substitution ciphers, what do you make of the fact that amateur cryptanalysts today often use that approach "on their own," so to speak, without being trained in it?
  3. Most of the examples of cryptography in Chapter 1 were associated with well-resourced people—monarchs, military leaders, etc.  Is that because those are the only examples that have survived or is that because cryptography and cryptography development is dependent on exceptional resources?  If the latter, do you think that has changed over time?  What implications does that have for today’s uses of cryptography?
  4. Given that Singh was presumably trying to write an interesting and engaging book, why do you think he chose these examples for Chapter 1 instead of other potential examples of classical cryptography?

Singh Chapter 7 - Reading Questions

We'll discuss the seventh chapter of The Code Book in class on Tuesday. In case you'd like a little guidance for your reading or would like to prepare for discussion tomorrow, here are a few questions about the chapter you might consider. I'm not expecting you to answer these questions (on the blog or in writing), I'm just providing them as a resource.

  1. What do you see as the two most compelling reasons why strong encryption should be available to the general public, even if that means it's available to criminals and terrorists?
  2. What do you see as the two most compelling reasons that strong encryption should be restricted by law enforcement and national security agencies?
  3. Singh, writing around 1999, makes several predictions about the role of the Internet in our lives in the opening paragraph of Chapter 7. To what extent have these predictions come true? Are there other ways that the Information Age in which we now find ourselves has elevated the importance of encryption among the general public?
  4. On page 315, Singh writes that Zimmerman, through a friend, “simply installed [PGP] on an American computer, which happened to be connected to the Internet. After that, a hostile regime may or may not have downloaded it.” In your opinion, do you think that someone who makes a piece of software available on the Internet should be held at least partially responsible for what criminals or foreign governments do with that software?

Singh Chapter 4 - Reading Questions

We'll discuss the fourth chapter of The Code Book in class tomorrow. In case you'd like a little guidance for your reading or would like to prepare for discussion tomorrow, here are a few questions about the chapter you might consider. I'm not expecting you to answer these questions (on the blog or in writing), I'm just providing them as a resource.

  1. Given what you’ve now read about Bletchley Park’s role in World War Two, would you say that “Bletchley Park’s achievements were the decisive factor in the Allied victory”?
  2. Why might the Germans increase the number of scramblers and plugboard cables in their Enigma machines to make them more secure, yet also insist that the Enigma cipher could not possibly be broken by the Allies?
  3. We’ve seen that the Vigenère cipher was once though unbreakable but later broken.  Given that history, why might the Americans and French conclude that the Enigma cipher was unbreakable prior to the start of the Second World War?
  4. Singh writes on page 149 that “the creative codebreaker must ‘perforce commune daily with dark spirits to accomplish his feats of mental ju-jitsu.’”  In light of your own experiences breaking ciphers, which is more important to successful codebreaking-logic or creativity?  Or is an equal balance of both required?

Singh Chapter 3 - Reading Questions

We'll discuss the third chapter of The Code Book in class tomorrow. In case you'd like a little guidance for your reading or would like to prepare for discussion tomorrow, here are a few questions about the chapter you might consider. I'm not expecting you to answer these questions (on the blog or in writing), I'm just providing them as a resource.

  1. When the Zimmerman telegram was deciphered by the cryptanalysts of Britain’s Room 40, Admiral William Hall decided not to tell American President Woodrow Wilson about its contents because doing so might let the Germans know that Britain was capable of breaking their codes.  Given the danger posed to America by the unrestricted U-boat warfare indicated in the telegram, was this ethical of Admiral Hall?
  2. Germany learned that Britain had broken their codes from histories of the First World War written by Winston Churchill and the British Royal Navy.  Given that this knowledge prompted Germany to invest in the Enigma machine technology prior to the Second World War, should these histories have been published?  What might have motivated Britain to make their code-breaking success known in this fashion?
  3. Given the various incidents recounted in this chapter, what are some conditions that seem favorable to the advancement of military cryptography?

Singh Chapter 2 - Reading Questions

As noted on the syllabus, you'll need to read pages 45 through 62 in the second chapter of The Code Book for class on Thursday. In case you'd like a little guidance for your reading or would like to prepare for discussion tomorrow, here are a few questions about the first part of the chapter you might consider. I'm not expecting you to answer these questions (on the blog or in writing), I'm just providing them as a resource.

  1. For some time before the development of the Vigenère cipher, “anybody sending an encrypted message had to accept that an expert enemy codebreaker might intercept and decipher their most precious secrets.” (Singh, p. 45)  How is this environment different from the one that Mary Queen of Scots experienced, where one didn’t know how likely it was that one’s encrypted message was secure?
  2. Why do you think that the advent of the telegraph motivated the use of a more secure cipher like the Vigenère cipher? What are some examples of modern communication technologies that have changed the ways in which we communicate?  Do these technologies have implications for secrecy and privacy?
  3. Can you think of any ways to improve the security of the Vigenère cipher?

Singh Chapter 1 - Reading Questions

As I mentioned in class, you'll need to read the first chapter of The Code Book for class tomorrow. In case you'd like a little guidance for your reading or would like to prepare for discussion tomorrow, here are a few questions about Chapter 1 you might consider. I'm not expecting you to answer these questions (on the blog or in writing), I'm just providing them as a resource.

  1. On page 41, Singh writes, “The cipher of Mary Queen of Scots clearly demonstrates that a weak encryption can be worse than no encryption at all.”  What does Singh mean by this and what does it imply for those who would attempt to keep their communications secret through cryptography?
  2. Most of the examples of cryptography in Chapter 1 were associated with well-resourced people—monarchs, military leaders, etc.  Is that because those are the only examples that have survived or is that because cryptography and cryptography development is dependent on exceptional resources?  If the latter, do you think that has changed over time?  What implications does that have for today’s uses of cryptography?
  3. Given that Singh was presumably trying to write an interesting and engaging book, why do you think he chose these examples for Chapter 1 instead of other potential examples of classical cryptography?

Reading Questions for November 30th

Please read Chapter 7 in the Simon Singh book and respond to the following questions before class on Tuesday, November 30th. Thanks!

  1. What do you see as the two most compelling reasons why strong encryption should be available to the general public, even if that means it's available to criminals and terrorists?
  2. What do you see as the two most compelling reasons that strong encryption should be restricted by law enforcement and national security agencies?
  3. Singh, writing around 1999, makes several predictions about the role of the Internet in our lives in the opening paragraph of Chapter 7. To what extent have these predictions come true? Are there other ways that the Information Age in which we now find ourselves has elevated the importance of encryption among the general public?
  4. On page 315, Singh writes that Zimmerman, through a friend, “simply installed [PGP] on an American computer, which happened to be connected to the Internet. After that, a hostile regime may or may not have downloaded it.” In your opinion, do you think that someone who makes a piece of software available on the Internet should be held at least partially responsible for what criminals or foreign governments do with that software?

Reading Questions for November 4th

Please read Chapter 6 in the Simon Singh book and respond to the following questions before class on Thursday, November 4th. Thanks!

  1. The National Security Agency made sure that the Data Encryption Standard (DES) was weak enough that the NSA could break it if necessary.  This, however, meant that businesses were forced to rely on security that was less than optimal.  Was the NSA justified in doing this?  Why or why not?
  2. Singh writes on page 254, “[Whitfield] Diffie believed that if people then used their computers to exchange emails, they deserved the right to encrypt their messages in order to guarantee their privacy.”  Do you agree that private citizens have a right to have access to secure encryption technologies?
  3. Who invented public key cryptography-the GCHQ researchers Ellis, Cocks, and Williamson or the academic researchers Diffie, Hellman, Merkle, Rivest, Shamir, and Adleman?
  4. This chapter included discussion of several different mathematical aspects of modern cryptography.  What was one mathematical idea in this chapter that made sense to you?  What was one that didn’t make sense to you?

Reading Questions for October 26th

In preparation for class on Tuesday, October 26th, please read through page 201 in Chapter 5 of the Singh book and respond to the following questions.

  1. As we end our reading on military cryptography, what do you now say to the question of the importance of cryptography in World War Two?  To what extent was cryptography the decisive element of military victories?  Bear in mind Admiral Chester Nimitz’s quote on page 191 and Major General Howard Conner’s quote on page 200.
  2. Given the United States’ poor treatment of Native Americans over the years, what might motivate young Navajo men to join the Marines during World War Two?  What social challenges do you think they faced while serving in the Marines?
  3. Why have we not read much thus far about contributions of women to cryptography? Why does Singh limit his discussion of women at Bletchley Park to one sentence on page 161?
  4. What examples have you seen thus far of the work of cryptographers and cryptanalysts not getting the credit it was perhaps due? Is it important to give accurate credit to groundbreaking work in cryptography, mathematics, or science? Why?

Reading Questions for October 21st

In preparation for class on Thursday, October 21st, please read the fourth chapter in the Singh book and respond to the following questions.

  1. Given what you’ve now read about Bletchley Park’s role in World War Two, would you say that “Bletchley Park’s achievements were the decisive factor in the Allied victory”?
  2. Why might the Germans increase the number of scramblers and plugboard cables in their Enigma machines to make them more secure, yet also insist that the Enigma cipher could not possibly be broken by the Allies?
  3. We’ve seen that the Vigenère cipher was once though unbreakable but later broken.  Given that history, why might the Americans and French conclude that the Enigma cipher was unbreakable prior to the start of the Second World War?
  4. Singh writes on page 149 that “the creative codebreaker must ‘perforce commune daily with dark spirits to accomplish his feats of mental ju-jitsu.’”  In light of your own experiences breaking ciphers, which is more important to successful codebreaking-logic or creativity?  Or is an equal balance of both required?
  5. The Timeline: Take a look at the crpytography timeline you've built as a class. What insights about the history of cryptography occur to you as you examine the timeline? How could the timeline be improved to make it more useful to you, particularly as you think ahead to your "big questions" paper at the end of the course?