The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Month: October 2019 Page 1 of 7

Whether the public should possess strong encyption or not?

I think the general public should hold strong encryption, even though the criminals will also get it. First, although the criminals will possess a strong encryption method, the profits of the general public are more important. Among the general public, the numbers of the criminal are much less than the good citizens, which means the profits of ensuring the general public weights more than that of criminals. If the government provides the encryption method to the public, more people can be able to possess their privacy instead of affecting by the small number of criminals. Second, criminals may not even want to use this strong encryption method. For criminals, it is way safer for them to use their own encryption methods instead of something that is public. If they use the public strong encryption, their enemy the secret organizations will be able to know the methods of decrypting the message. Although the encryption is strong, it is originally produced by the secret organizations and they may hold the key unpublic. The secret organizations may not public the fact that they hold the key and deceive all other people. Thus, even if the strong encryption is public to all of us, the criminals may not choose to use this method to encrypt their message. All these reasons together, it shows the general public should hold the strong encryption for privacy.

What Singh Couldn't Have Predicted

Simon Singh makes many predictions about evident trends in the increasingly digital world. 20 years later, he got a lot of things right, although from our digitally oversaturated viewpoint, they seem obvious now.  Singh was definitely correct in his prediction that soon email would overtake normal mail, and this rang true for the early 2000s era when email was absolute king of the communications world. What Singh could not have predicted, however, was that email’s reign would be relatively short lived and soon give way to the era in which everyone walks around with a computer in their pocket, and instant messages and texting rule daily life (not to mention the communication capacities of every social media platform). Similarly, Singh’s prediction that ecommerce would become more prevalent in individuals’ lives also rings true. Widespread love of online shopping among most consumers, as well as ease-of-use companies like Amazon have created a world in which most people probably transfer credit card information on the internet at least once every day.

One topic that Singh does not touch on is the increased use of GPS technology. He could not have imagined that one day in the near future everyone would walk around with what can essentially be used as a tracking device in their pocket. Encryption for this kind of information is so necessary, to ensure that no foreign entity has the ability to track where you work, live, shop, or travel.

Many of Singh's predictions came true, but in a grand way that he could never have imagined. The digital revolution ushered in a new era of almost impossible privacy—encryption is now more necessary than ever, not just to protect our communications, but also to protect our finances, information, and even our whereabouts.

Encryption for the People

I enjoyed seeing Singh present arguments for both sides of the issue on if strong encryption should be available to the general public or not. One of the claims that I thought was particularly strong was the comparison of strong encryption to gloves. Singh included a quote by Ron Rivest, one of the inventors of RSA, which states, "It is poor policy to clamp down indiscriminately on a technology just because some criminals might be able to use it to their advantage. For example, any US citizen can freely buy a pair of gloves, even thought a burglar might use them to ransack a house without leaving fingerprints." I thought this assertion brought up an excellent point: criminals can use basically any non-harmful thing to their advantage, so why outlaw said thing for every day people? In addition, guns are legal, despite them being extremely dangerous for non-criminals and criminals alike. Why would someone advocate for firearm accessibility, yet consider encryption dangerous because it could keep criminal communication secret?

Another argument I thought was compelling in support of encryption availability was the notion that businesses require strong encryption for online commerce.  The Code Book was written in 1999. Today, e-commerce has reached a size far greater than Singh's world 20 years ago. With this fact, it is more important than ever to have secure online encryption as so many purchases are done through the Internet. Consumers don't want their credit card information stolen, and businesses don't want their customer databases hacked. If strong encryption wasn't available to the public, no one would want to conduct business online, which would be disastrous for today's economy.

Electronic Everything, Except...

It's almost comical to read Singh's prediction, considering the digital world we live in today. He predicts that "electronic mail will soon become more popular than conventional mail," and that governments will use the internet to help run their countries. These statements have long been true. In fact, I can't remember the last time I sent someone a letter that wasn't my mom forcing me to send thank-you cards after my 13th birthday party.

Almost every action we perform using the internet nowadays uses a code. Every time we log-in to a site, our credentials are protected through encryption. In many cases, this is lower-stakes, like on social media platforms, gaming websites, etc. However, this encryption can also be extremely crucial: private email, online banking, and health records are all contained online. For actions such as these, it is imperative that our information is well protected. Someone who had access to all the information we store on the internet could easily ruin our lives.

One of Singh's predictions, however, has not yet come true. In the US, at least, online voting has not become a reality. Some states do allow some sorts of online voting, whether it's, or electronic fax or portal, but the majority of voting is done in person at a booth or through absentee ballots. The overarching reason for this is the government's distrust in their own ability to maintain an uninterrupted and honest election. While smaller countries may find it easier to implement electronic voting, the U.S. faces several problems. First, many citizens in the United States are extremely well educated and well versed in computer encryption systems and hacking. The odds of all the top hackers working for the US government is extremely low. Secondly, there is always international interest in our domestic elections. There have been countless stories in the news (Russia, Ukraine) about other countries trying to interfere with our elections. Online voting would make this much easier, as the internet is very much a worldwide network. Containing voting to an old-school system limits the amount of electronic interference that another citizen or country could have.

Reading the news, shopping, sending messages, and so many more simple tasks have been taken over by the internet - it'll be interesting to see if the internet continues to develop and eventually takes over voting as well.

Updates and Reminders

It's a busy week, so here are some reminders and updates.

  • I have added a ninth problem to Problem Set 5. Be sure to download or print the latest version.
  • I've posted your blogging assignment for Friday, asking you to respond to one of the reading questions for Singh Chapter 7.
  • My drop-in hours this week are Tuesday 3-4, Wednesday 2-3, and Friday 2-3. Appointments are always welcome, too.
  • Your podcast episodes are due by the start of class tomorrow. Please post your MP3 files and producer's statements to Brightspace, in the assignment area. To submit your show notes, draft (but do not publish) a blog post with an episode description and information about your sources, including your references in APA format and your audio sources. Here's an example. Use the "Save Draft" button to save your show notes.
  • And once you've submitted your podcast, you're encouraged to start studying for the math exam scheduled for Friday, November 8th. I've posted a study guide with lots of practice problems (and solutions) for you to use.

Math Exam Study Guide

The math exam, scheduled for Friday, November 8th, will cover the mathematical concepts and techniques we’ve explored this semester.  The exam will not involve any codebreaking, although some questions on the exam may draw on cryptography for context.  You are encouraged to bring a calculator (scientific or graphing) to the test, but you will not be allowed to use a laptop during the test.

For a topic list and suggested practice problems (with solutions!), see the study guide.

Blog Assignment #10

For your next blog assignment, write a post between 200 and 400 words that responds to one of the reading questions for Singh Chapter 7.

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 Friday, November 1st.

Problem Set #5

Here is your fifth and final problem set. It's due at the beginning of class on Monday, November 4th.

Secure Encryption : Citizens : : Clothes : Human Body

I agree in believing that private citizens should have the right to secure encryption technologies. Throughout history, citizens have been granted the right of choice to encrypt their messages.  The idea of sending encrypted messages via the postal service was for citizens to prevent private information from getting in the hands of someone who was not meant to see it. More often than not, the unintended audience for these messages was the government, so encryption was necessary to speak freely without fearing consequences. There’s nothing stopping people from sending private information through the postal service, but in today’s era of instantaneous communication the use of snail mail is undesirable due to the speed of delivery. Email is necessary for communication between friends and colleagues that share private information. Secure encryption is necessary to protect the freedom of speech of individuals living in the United States.

 Prior to the conception of email, never before has the government had the ability to access and decrypt all communications sent by their citizens; or had the ability to dig up the history of mail sent and received in the past. Insecure encryption technologies unfairly gives the government the edge of surveilling their citizens without any ability by the citizens to hide their message. Secure encryption technologies would allow citizens to protect their information from being accessed by cryptanalysts, data miners, and the government. Therefore protecting their speech from being prosecuted by the authorities.

ECWDHMRSA Encryption

Ideas and inventions are not concocted inside of a vacuum. They grow from a wide array of preexisting knowledge and ideas already present in the scientific community from public contributions. However, there exists a break in this flow of information; as Singh points out in chapter 6 of The Code Book, government findings are often kept under lock and key. This was certainly the case for the work being done at England’s GCHQ in the 20th century. Researchers Ellis, Cocks and Williamson were working diligently on a solution to the problem of exchanging keys in the cryptographic world, and their findings culminated in a successful solution to their mission in 1973. But, because of the highly classified status of their work at the time, their discovery was unbeknown to the world until it was finally released almost 30 years later.

Meanwhile, without knowledge of the British intelligence, the same problem was being attacked by academics on the American front. On the West Coast, researchers Diffie, Hellman and Merkle theorized a solution to the key exchange problem by implementing asymmetrical ciphers. MIT scholars Rivest, Shamir and Adleman successfully implemented the idea in a working system that we still use today. The RSA encryption algorithm was officially patented in 1979.

So who are the true inventors of public key cryptography? Although the credit goes mainly to the men abbreviated by the letters R, S and A, I would argue that all of the parties deserve recognition. The combined efforts of both the British and American groups resulted in a successful solution to the problem at hand. Their discoveries took place six years apart, but the latter success did so without knowledge of the prior. Rivest, Shamir and Adleman secured a patent enabling them to claim the invention of public key cryptography, copyright laws are simply a social construct, so we cannot ignore the often classified contributions of those working in government.

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