The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Author: batsonhr Page 1 of 2

Privacy Makes Sense

I have never needed much persuading when it came to believing in the privacy argument, as it actually makes a lot of sense. However, I can see how someone could be tempted to be in favor of surveillance if they did not understand the meaning of privacy. As Snowden has noted several times throughout his journey, privacy is not necessarily about hiding information, but about the ability to protect it if necessary. For this reason, the right to privacy encompasses many of our rights that we have today. For instance the freedom of speech. Most people would not argue against the First Amendment even though it has similar properties. As snowden remarks, “Arguing that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is like arguing that you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say” (Snowden.) Freedom of speech is wanted twenty-four seven, even when we do not appear to need it. The argument that “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” is additionally problematic for a different reason. Today both regular citizens and politicians use this phrase alike, unaware of its background. Snowden reminds us that this phrase was common in Nazi propaganda, and is being missuesd today. 

The uses of surveillance in the past have been mediocre at best. Many times, surveillance has been abused, and used to take down minority groups. An example of this could be the wiretapping of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. beginning in 1963, and finally ending after his death. The FBI at this time closely surveilled Dr. King, hopping to reveal a communist background. When evidence of this did not arise, they turned petty, and revelaed sensitive information on his sex life. Clearly, surveillance at this time did not halt terrorism, if anything it hindered the civil rights moevemnt.


Is FaceApp a Trap?

In Episode 62 of Leading Lines, I found the example of FaceApp extremely interesting. I remember using FaceApp this summer without a care in the world. At the time I was overseas looking for a bit of fun while waiting for food at a restaurant. My friends and I transformed our faces into ones of the far future with just a click of a button. We did not have a care in the world. After listening to this podcast I can now see how this may have been a mistake. 

As mentioned, the pictures that we used in FaceApp (and the transformed old people pictures) could be sent overseas and used for training exercises for similar technology, or for simple data collection. So, it’s possible that somewhere in Russia or China some machine knows what I will probably look like when I am 70. That has a lot of implications. In an extreme way, who knows what life will bring to people in the next few years. Lets say someone has to go on the run from the government. Now they cannot, simply because many countries have an image of what they look like at various stages of life. Or, in a less extreme case, when traveling overseas, you can be monitored more closely. Not only would they be able to use metadata like credit card history, or the times of calls made, they would also have visual data that would be useful at any point in life. Scary. 


Why We (Teens) Post

“Adults complain that teens are wasting their time publicizing trivia, whereas teens feel as though their audience can filter out anything that appears to be irrelevant.” (Boyd, 62).

Yes. Adults are correct. As teens we tend to post things online that others may or may not find enticing. However when we post we hope that our followers will interact favorably towards the content. My friend Gabby and I were actually discussing this earlier this year one late night. The other day, instagram announced that they would soon experiment with taking away the “like” function of their app. Users would still be able to “like” pictures and videos, however only the creator of the content could view the amount of likes the post received. Like Nikki Minaj, I hated this idea. Unfortunately the point of instagram is to gain followers and “likes”, not to actually connect with friends. Deleting this aspect of the app would completely defeat the purpose of posting. Because of this, I can see why parents believe us teens are wasting our time.

However, I also agree with the notion that if people don’t actually care about my content they will not waste time viewing it. Although I post pictures partially because I believe my viewers might enjoy it in some capacity, I also do it for myself. Instagram is a great modern-day picture book. It has all of my favorite pictures from the years on one easy page. If someone doesn’t like what I am posting, they simply ignore it. Just like if someone posts a picture that I do not like, I will not “like” it, I’ll just continue scrolling. 


Internet Responsibility

The question of internet responsibility is one that has been debated for an extraordinary amount of years. I remember first hearing about it on the news with the site yellow pages. At the time, the owner of the site was being sued for the illegal use of yellow pages for sex trafficing. The argument was that since the owner was aware that the site was used for trafficking he should be held responsible for the illegal activity. In this case I believe the owner won as he did not do anything directly wrong. 

Although I could see how it would be easy to sue someone because of the activity done on their online forum, I do not believe it is just. The owners of the software or websites are simply creators and should not be held responsible for other people’s actions. Should google be sued for housing illegal content? No, because it is not responsible for what people upload to it. That seems obvious.The purpose of the site is important, however. A website made for a positive reason can not be punished if someone abuses the system. However, if a website is made for something negative it should reap the full consequences of its actions. 


How Much Should We Hide?

In the least controversial way possible, I believe this can be related to arguments for and against the second amendment. In a sense, cryptography, similar to guns, can be easily weaponized. If a person encrypts a message it is because it contains something extreme that they do not want to get out to the public. The key is the word ‘extreme’. For instance, I wouldn’t want the world to know if I had cheated on my S.O., however I would not encrypt an email to my friend discussing the incident considering my everyday acquaintances would not take the time to decipher it, and the people that could decipher it would find no use in the information. On the contrary, if I was planning an event that impedes on national security I would most likely encrypt it considering the U.S. government would probably take special interest in its content. In this case, I understand why the everyday person should not be able to encrypt their messages.

Encryption could also, however, be used to save us in the future. For instance, if for some reason the government turned against the people, we should be able to use cryptography to fight back. If the NSA has full knowledge of our lives they could easily control us or keep us contained in the extreme case of a large uprising. 


WWII Codebreaking Badass Women

Although women born in the twenties could enjoy the results of women’s suffrage, they were not treated as equals in society. During the time of WWII, many families were extremely broken down. The adults in the family had to live with PTSD from growing up in the Great Depression. The kids in the family had to deal with the threat of their fathers death. Women were left to deal with many of the tasks that men normally handled (at the time) because of the lack of men in society. 

The war, in full affect, demanded the attendance of nearly every eligible US man. Because of this, women were needed to handle some of the duties outside of the battle field pertaining to the war. Hence, the usage of women in cryptography. Although these intelligent individuals were finally given the opportunity to be involved in work that demonstrated their intellectual capabilities, they were still not regarded as highly as men. Yes, they worked in math and science along side the opposite sex, however they were forced to complete the busy work while the men got to be involved in the larger discoveries. These women were also sworn to secrecy and kept these secretes very well, as their involvement in the war was not known until after many of their deaths. 


The Zodiac- Killer Podcast!

The Zodiac Killer episode produced by an old cryptography Vanderbilt student was surprisingly entertaining, and well made. Not that I was expecting it to be sub-par, I was just impressed with the podcast’s high quality. There were a few aspects in particular that I really enjoyed, and would like to incorporate into my podcast. The background music was extremely useful and made everything less awkward. There were also additional audio clips other than those of the speaker, breaking up the podcast. These clips made the podcast more interesting and easy to follow. I liked how the writer used her friend to play the voice of the Zodiac killer too. I am extremely nervous about the idea of listening to my own voice for several minutes, so I will definitely be incorporating my friends’ voices in my podcast. 

I really enjoyed the content of the podcast as well. To be honest I had never really known the true story of the Zodiac Killer, so this was very interesting. I really enjoyed her telling of the story. It was extremely detailed but not in an excessive way. I found the reasoning behind his name to be quite interesting. There was, surprisingly, not much that went into it.


Admiral Hall’s Ethics

I found the first question quite interesting as it related to a few topics that I discussed in my Ethics class of junior year. When is something morally justifiable? And, is a bad deed moral if it leads to the greater good? Obviously Admiral William Hall would argue that not telling President Woodrow Wilson about the United States’ potential danger in order to pull the wool over Germany’s eyes was ethical. He was focused on the greater good. This most closely follows consequentialism; the idea that the morality of an action lies in the consequences it bears. I have always disagreed with the ideas of consequentialism. To be completely frank, I think they are a bit ridiculous.

The results of an action are extremely important in determining the morality of the deed, however the results are not everything. An action can, in itself, be ethical or unethical. Certain things, at least in my opinion, are never up for debate. For instance murder is always unethical. Even if something good came from murder, the action would never be moral. Who are we to decide the value of a life? William Hall clearly had no issue valuing human lives. He saw– what could have been– death and destruction and found that potential outcome of his actions to outweigh the more probable consequences. In the end, his decision paid off. However, the decision he made, although great, will never be ethical. 


The Panopticon Isn’t That Bad… But It’s Not Good Either

As explained in the podcast, the Panopticon is essentially the idea of a tower that looks over a prison. The tower is illuminated so that the guard in the tower can see the inmates, but the inmates cannot see the guard. Although this could used to exemplify today’s government surveillance, Walker disagrees, saying that it is a “terrible metaphor.”

To take a side in this debate is very difficult. On the one hand, the government has bribed sites like Yahoo, or Facebook, allowing them to access all of our information without our consent. On the other hand, data mining goes further than the negative assumptions we place on it. As Walker points out, in todays society we see data mining as exclusively negative. The government must be using our information for their personal gain right? However data mining does not solely have bad implications. One could use data mining to conduct studies in order to improve our internet experiences. You could also use data mining to research children in a comfortable setting. These are not bad things. In this case, I would agree with Walker. 

However things get a bit sketchy when you remember the negative possibilities of surveillance. We do not know what the government is using our data for. They could be simply conducting research to better our lives, or they could be discovering ways to most efficiently imprison members of society in order to create a mass genocide. That’s a bit extreme. But I guess it could happen theoretically. My point is, just like the prisoners, we do not know what the people in charge are doing. Because of this, I could never definitely say that the Panopticon is a bad metaphor.


Not So Easy Anymore

In the previous chapter of The Code Book, Singh discussed cryptography during the time of Mary Queen of Scotts. During her time, cryptographers needed to be highly skilled and educated people who spent time dedicating themselves to the art of code breaking. The average person could not decipher encrypted messages. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, the education level of the average person was very low. An educated person was one who was extremely privileged. Because of this, certain ciphers used during the time were generally not difficult to decode, but still required a specialist.

Cryptography became more widely used after Mary Queen of Scots, which meant that more and more people were learning the art of reading cipher text. Because of this, a more complicated form of cryptography needed to be created. Fortunately, Vigenere cipher was in the process of being perfected. Vingenere ciphers uses two or more alphabets instead of one, meaning each letter is equivalent to two (or more) cipher letters. This substitution cipher could be extremely confusing, which is why keywords were used to assist in discovering the alphabet. The addition of keywords made it so that only the people who had communicated with the author of the text had access to its cipher alphabets. 


Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén