Imagine for a moment that everything you’ve ever hidden is completely public. Everyone has access to your private emails and your bank account information, among other things. This would be life without cryptography.

Cryptography is hiding the meaning of a message, and it is typically used in most forms of modern communication. In The Code Book, the author, Simon Singh notes that secret writing has been a part of human civilization since the fifth century (Singh 4), but it was widely accepted that the most typically used cipher of ancient times, the substitution cipher (Singh 13), was impossible to crack until the 8th century when the Abbasid caliphate’s place as a center of learning allowed it to become the homeplace of cryptanalysis (Singh 16).

Singh defines cryptanalysis as “the science of unscrambling a message without knowledge of the key” (Singh 15). As Singh states on page 15, cryptanalysis was only possible in the beginning due to the Muslim civilization achieving “a level of scholarship in several disciplines, including mathematics, statistics, and linguistics”.

The important debate, though, is whether or not this level of scholarship is still necessary in today’s society. I am of the opinion that, although our society’s era of secrecy necessitated well-trained cryptanalysts, this is no longer the case. As our class demonstrated on only the second day, breaking of the more common codes is fairly simple for most modern humans. The difference, I believe, lies in the fact that in ancient times, education and widespread knowledge had not progressed to the point it has now reached. The internet, as a portal to almost all human knowledge, has made it simple for anyone to pursue any knowledge or expertise that they desire.

Without modern technology, and modern education, I am of the opinion that intense training would still be required to become a cryptanalyst. However, due to our civilization’s widespread resources, it has become much easier for individuals to discover and crack codes and ciphers on their own.  Cryptology began as a secretive science, but has become an integral part of modern society, and as such we are all cryptologists in some form or another.