Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Month: September 2019 Page 1 of 7

Wartime Measures

It's important to take into account the circumstances of a situation. In times of war, different standards are often applied to domestic and foreign policy as countries are working in their best interests to defend their home front. In terms of the Zimmerman telegram, I think it was a strategic move for Britain to not reveal its contents to President Wilson. Had Britain not kept the information in the telegram a secret, Germany would have discovered that their communication system had been cracked. As a result, they would have come up with a stronger, more secure, method of encryption, making it much harder for the Allies to intercept their messages. In turn, it is possible that the Great War would have continued for much longer, and more lives would have been lost in the end.

Despite the United States claiming a policy of neutrality, it was obvious they were supporting the Allies. The British knew the Americans were on their side. Because of this unspoken alliance, I believe that if the United States were truly in a path of immense crisis presented by unrestricted U-boat warfare, the British would have notified President Wilson. Because the dangers presented weren't catastrophic, it was a good choice for the British to keep their knowledge to themselves.

All is Fair in Love and War

In The Code Book, Simon Singh details the codebreaking successes of the British military during World War I--successes that often needed to be kept secret and prevented the spread of some important, yet sensitive information during the war. One such piece of critical information was the Zimmerman telegram. While some may think it completely unethical of Admiral Hall to withhold the information gathered after cracking the Zimmerman telegram from American intelligence, it was simply a fact of wartime priorities. The British were the ones embroiled in war, which is a time when a nation looks out for their own interest over the those of other nations (especially the United States, which was not active in the war at this time). Additionally, while America would surely suffer from the impending unrestricted u-boat warfare and lives would be lost from torpedo attacks, there are many reasons why Admiral Hall’s actions to allow these attacks to happen would also save lives in the long run. First, the information gathered by Britain’s Room 40 was crucial in British victories and undoubtedly saved the lives of many British soldiers and civilians. Also, Admiral Hall hoped these attacks would implicate America in the conflict in such a way that necessitated their entrance into the war, a policy chance that would hopefully help the Allies to win the war sooner and thus save more lives in the long run. Therefore, the lines drawn in this instance of ethical dilemma are not black and white, as is usually the case in times of war.

I Forgot to Tell You I Broke That Awhile Ago

Germany having no clue their ciphers were practically useless during the First World War was genius on behalf of British Intelligence. Britain, haven broken their cipher and not allowing Germany to know had turned out well for the Allies because it discouraged Germany from creating a new cipher. In my opinion, it made sense for  Winston Churchill and the British Royal Navy to release their histories of the war and specifically their knowledge of German encryption when they did. Doing so gave the British a lot of clout within the world of crypt-analysis and national intelligence as well as it gave the men who worked in Room 40 the recognition they deserved. Also, it would be pretty naive to think that if another war were to come about that Germany would use the same codes and encryption techniques they used previously. Even if the British had kept it a secret, Germany increased their military technology so much during WWII that it would not be a far stretch to believe they would incorporate something similar to the Enigma at some point. I think what mostly came out of Britain revealing they had broken Germany’s cipher in the way they did was to make Germany look like a disorganized and careless nation, practically saying, “We beat Germany because they were oblivious to their intelligence and because they were blinded by their own pride.”

Problem Set #3

Here's your third problem set. It's due at the beginning of class on Wednesday, October 2nd.

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, September 30th.

Ineffective but Accurate

Philosopher Jeremy Bentham introduced a design he called a panopticon (“all seeing”) to be used in prisons or institutions such that all inmates can be watched by a single guard. Although there aren’t any structures of this model in existence, the concept can be viewed as a symbol for modern government surveillance. Benjamin Walker argues that this metaphor is weak, but I would argue that the panopticon, although not the most effective model, actually offers an accurate representation of our current system of surveillance.

The key feature of the panopticon is that each participant is unable to know whether he or she is being watched. The assumption, therefore, is that each inmate is inclined to behave as if they were in fact being monitored all the time. However, a single guard cannot watch a large number of people individually at the same time. Any informed inmate who knows the concept of the model understands that it is impossible that they are actually being watched all the time, realizing they  can get away with misbehaviors some of the time. For this reason, the panopticon is conceptually flawed.

Although the panopticon may not be the most efficient model, I think it actually offers a pretty accurate description of what we understand about the current system of surveillance. It is impossible for a single individual or organization to monitor all the online activity of everyone. If participants understand the system, they know that they can’t possibly be monitored all the time. People believe they can and still do get away with shady online activities.

We in Fact Know

The argument that Benjamen Walker presents is one that claims that the analogy of the Panopticon does not correlate with the surveillance of our conversations and our actions. For the most part, I believe that Benjamin Walker has every right to say this simply because of the fundamental basis for both of these concepts.

The Panopticon, in essence, is a building that serves as a "surveillance machine". It was a structure that Jeremy Bentham advocated for and mainly thought of its use as a prison, where the prisoners sat in their respective cells in the open circular building, while the guards stood in the illuminated tower, having the ability to watch the prisoners at any given moment. Due to the illumination of the center tower, the prisoners could not see outside their cell, which means that they do not know if they are being watched at any point in time. And while this analogy can be generally acceptable, understanding what surveillance is in our context can help us understand the flaws of this comparison.

One noticeable hole is that in terms of surveillance, we do in fact know that we are being watched. In fact, we have come to accept the fact that we are being watched practically all the time. Yet many a time, we don't let that thought affect what we decide to see or what we decide to say in our daily conversations. The comparison to the prison would be accurate if the government was hindering our every word, our every Google search, etc. But because this is not the case, the Panopticon cannot be an effective way to describe the surveillance that happens today.

The Panopticon -

I both agree and disagree with Benjamin Walker's assertion that the Panopticon is a faulty metaphor. The panopticon is a theoretical building where a circular building is located around a central watchtower. The watchtower shines bright light such that the people in the watchtower can observe what those in the building below are doing, but the observed individuals can't see when they are being observed. Thus they must always assume that they are being watched. Originally meant to be a prison, the panopticon can be applied to a wide variety of situations.

In today's surveillance era, we are constantly tracked by cameras wherever we go; the cameras, as Walker argued the watchtower was, served as a means of deterrence. The argument goes that if there was visual evidence of your actions, engaging in criminal acts would be discouraged. But in today's digital age, there are no "eyes" silently tracking us as we move from news apps to games to video-sharing websites. Instead, giant corporations and governments silently track our data usage to build algorithms that can help protect us from bad actors. But without those digital eyes, we are more likely to engage in harmful behaviors that we believe are anonymous. This is, I believe, the biggest strength in the concept of the panopticon - the deterrence of being in a constant state of being observed. But even though we know we are being watched today, we still act as if we are invisible. The watchtower is particularly interesting; it has migrated from being a physical building to being countless data surveillance tools arrayed by a variety of actors. The panopticon is very much real today in its surveillance sense; whether our behavior is being normalized or corrected because of its presence(whether or not we know about it) is another issue.

The Panopticon Metapaphor isn't All That Bad.... Sue Me

In the 18th century, philosopher Jeremy Bentham designed the Panopticon, meant for prisoners to be monitored by an all seeing guard, who himself, could not be seen. Comparing this to surveillance now, particular regarding the internet, even thought the metaphor is kind of bad. It is not too far off of what could be happening.

Anyone and everyone who is using the internet knows that their usage habits are being monitored; if you do not not know, now you know. It is called data mining. That is why when you are on Forever 21's website shopping for dresses, you see Forever 21 dress advertisements on Facebook not even minutes after you have clicked off of Forever 21. This technically fits in with how a company, whether Facebook or Forever 21, is watching your online activity similar to how a guard is watching several prisoners.

I am also going to take this time to compare internet users to prisoners within a Panopticon. Our data is constantly being mined and our usage being monitored, however, we cannot really do anything about it. Before using most of these websites, we usually make an agreement for said website to do so. This is similar to how prisoners cannot (and will not) do much about a guard watching their every move.

Now in relation to the government being said guard and internet users being "prisoners," the Panopticon metaphor is not the best. Although there are a vast amount of theories out, there is not an "all seeing government." At least not within the United States. It is completely possible for the government obtain information about a person if they absolutely have to, however, the government is not constantly watching millions of citizens.

To sum it all up, Panopticon metaphor for data mining? Good. For government surveillance? Bad.

The Panopticon as a Faulty Metaphor

Philosopher Jeremy Bentham came up with the idea of the Panopticon: a prison where a guard is located in a tower. He can see all the prisoners, but the prisoners can not see him. In addition, the prisoners are not aware if they are being watched or not. As a result, prisoners act on their best behavior. Some have equated the idea of the Panopticon to Internet surveillance. I agree with Walker's argument that you can not compare the two.

The main fault in this analogy is the fact that citizens are unaware of the fact that the government can look at their Internet data. We are mostly ignorant to the exact magnitude of the government's surveillance abilities. As a result, people do not try to make their search history particularly clean or innocent. In addition, I believe that if people were aware that the government was watching their online activity, most individuals would not alter their actions much as the average person is not doing anything illegal online.

Another issue with the Panopticon metaphor is that the prisoners are completely isolated from one another. The Internet has the complete opposite effect on its users, actually bringing people together and connecting individuals on a level never seen before in history. Because of this connection, individuals are able to share their ideas of surveillance. If someone becomes suspicious of their privacy, they would be able to share their sentiments with other Internet users.

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