Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Month: September 2018 Page 2 of 9

Breaking Codes Is Much More Difficult In Practice

In Chapter 3, Singh provides an example of breaking codes with keywords and makes everything seems quite easy. However, in practice, breaking such a code is definitely difficult and needs a lot of time and work.

Say you have a message which is enciphered by using a keyword as long as the plaintext. The first thing is that you can’t use the Kasiski examination technique. The only way to start is to try some common words to find a clue about the keywords. In Singh’s example, he assumes that the first word is “the”. That is a reasonable strategy because “the” is one of the most frequent words in English. However, what if the first word is not “the” but one of the other common words? There is a problem that if the common word in the plaintext is a word with only one or two letters like “a” and “in”, Singh’s method described in the book will be useless that he couldn’t find any corresponding key letters because there are too many possible combinations of two letters to check one by one. Also, Singh’s deduction of the construction of the keyword is actually a special situation. Consider if you guess “CAN” and “YPT” in the keyword, it’s actually hard to correspond them to “Canada” and “Egypt” and it must take a long time to try all the possible combinations. Finally, the work to find out the last four letters in the keyword is also a hard work which needs a lot of time even with the clue that it is a country name, let alone that in a usual time we don’t have an explicit clue like the country name. Singh just assumes he is the most fortunate one that his every shot is perfect when breaking this code.

Besides all of these above, there is another thing we should know that probably we would face the problem of false positives in our breaking procedure. There are thousands of combinations with several certain letters and short words, how could we make sure that we get the right one? Each time we go on with an assumption means that we will spend a lot of time on this assumption and if we failed, everything needs to run again to check the next one.

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.

“The Assault on Intelligence”

General Michael Hayden, the former NSA and CIA director for the United States, was interviewed by Professor Jon Meacham and Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos. Questions regarding national security and the current direction of the U.S. were proposed to Gen. Hayden.

To kick off the interview, Meacham proposed the question, “Does political partisanship and national security have a relationship?” This is when I realized that the debate was entirely a critique of Donald Trump’s presidency. I was hoping to gain more insight into some actual non-biased perceptions of national security and their current relationship with the public. Nonetheless, I did find his answer to this question to be interesting. Gen. Hayden likes to classify political figures into groups such as the Hamiltons, Jacksonians, Wilsonians, or Jeffersonians. This allows him to align current political figures with a person that best represents them from history. For instance, according to him, Trump is a Jacksonian; he is not fully for isolation, but most of Trump’s policy reflects separation from other nations. Later, he also states that Trump is trying to execute industrial policy in a post-industrial era. He contrasts Trump’s Jacksonian characteristics with Obama’s Jeffersonian views of nation-building. Whether his portrayal of these two figures is accurate or not, I do like the concept of pairing iconic historical figures with those of the present. It allows me to create a frame of reference for current politics and connect them to the past and see how they worked then and can be translated to the present.

Another interesting point Gen. Hayden made was that the three most important aspects that make the United States what it is are: immigration, trade, and alliances. He then states that since Donald Trump has taken office each one of these areas has seen a sharp decline and citizens will eventually see the effects of their decline. I do not claim to be a master of foreign or domestic policy. I do not even claim to be extremely knowledgeable in the subject. However, after doing some base-level research, such as viewing graphs and reading some statistics, I could not find any solid grounds to which this claim could be absolutely true. Trade, for instance, had a slight increase in the trade deficit. However, in the grand scheme of things, it was really not anything critical based on current and past trends. Also, with the current state of employment in the United States, I believe that this increase makes sense. This was very rushed research though, and to make a more sound counter, I would need to do far more research.

I am sure General Hayden is able to provide wonderful insight into the surveillance versus privacy debate, however, this interview missed that mark. While it may have been his intention to focus only on President Trump, I feel like there was much more to be said on the topic of “The Assault on Intelligence.”

A Dissection of the Round Table with the General and the Chancellor

I thought that this lecture was very interesting, although it didn’t really focus on what I thought it was going to focus on. Instead of talking about the debate between surveillance and privacy, they mainly focused on political issues as well as the art of on the ground surveillance. The general was the former director of the CIA, and he talked a lot about how the new presidency has shaped intelligence gathering. I thought he made an interesting point when he categorized the presidents by “archetypes,” and showed that most presidents fit into one of a few categories. He characterized President Trump as a “Jacksonian” and President Obama as “Jeffersonian.” By this, he meant that Trump was a populist that was holding America back from the inevitable. He compared Trump to William Jennings Bryan who ran in an election where he pushed that the US currency should be based on silver and not gold and how the US should be more agrarian and less industrialized. Now, he said he believes that industry as we know it is changing and that the US needs to adapt to these changes.  He said that industry that Trump is only delaying this process. It was also interesting how the General thought that Trump was going to change intelligence gathering. He said that as of right now, the US relies on a lot of liaisons for intel gathering and that in the future, due to the America first policy, it may be necessary to have more autonomy when it comes to on the ground surveillance. Although this debate didn’t focus on the idea of privacy vs. surveillance, the General did talk about the work that the CIA does on the ground and how the President and the government, in general, can influence the way that this has to be carried out. Although this lecture was not what I was expecting and didn’t really relate to our class that much, it was still very interesting.

Problem Set #3

Here’s your third problem set. It’s due at the beginning of class on Wednesday, October 3rd.

And some resources that might be useful…

Blog Assignment #6

For your sixth blog assignment, write a post between 200 and 400 words that responds to one of the reading questions for Singh Chapter 3.

Please (1) give your post a descriptive title, (2) assign it to the “Student Posts” category, and (3) give it at least three useful tags. Your post is due by 9:00 a.m. on Monday, October 1st.

The Hidden Meaning Behind Words

The display in Newseum raised the matter of privacy v. security, with a special focus on FBI and its increased security measures after the 9/11 attack. The issue posed striking similarities with the story of the Little Brother, as the DHS increased the scale of its surveillance after a terrorist attack on the Bay bridge.

What I found interesting is the link people drew between words. For instance, surveillance means security and privacy means liberty. On the other hand, increased surveillance measures doesn’t necessarily mean that safety is ensured. The loss of privacy to social media and websites such as Google/Amazon might not have such a strong connection to liberty.

If we discuss the terms surveillance and security at face value, they are both neutral words. Although there is a negative connotation associated with the word itself, surveillance without further action on the information obtained can seem harmless at times. However, as we discussed about the podcast, surveillance acts like a Panopticon, altering people’s behaviors as they know they’re being watched.

The wording on the display board itself is also interesting. It uses the words privacy and security instead of privacy and surveillance. On the other hand, on the bottom it raises the question: what would you give up to “feel” safer, this time using the word “feel” instead of “be”.

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.

Security vs Privacy: The Level of Surveillance Divides Advocates of Pro Security

When I looked closely at the various responses on the whiteboard I noticed that the people who advocated for surveillance held different opinions about the intensity that our surveillance has on people’s data. Some people in this pro surveillance group believed in a strong surveillance systems and wrote things such as “text messages and phone records” and “as much as necessary to feel safe.” I usually argue pro privacy on these debates and what I believe is that the government may define one aspect as a flaw and deem it dangerous to the public, while the public who is being watched by the government may have a different opinion about what is flawed and needs to be addressed in order to stay safe. By comparing these two ideas from the whiteboard you can see that this idea holds true between advocates of surveillance. While one person may feel comfortable with donating their privacy of their text messages to keep the country safe, another person may see that watching our texts is not necessary to keep us safe. Realistically I do not think that the government will continue to increase the level at which they monitor the public because people have strong opinions and are willing to speak up if they experience that think is wrong. In our country, people stand on every point of the spectrum just how the whiteboard illustrates. It would be very difficult to convince a large enough portion of the country to support surveillance to a certain extent.

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