The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Author: browkm10

The Spectrum of Privacy

“Privacy is not a static construct. It is not an inherent property of any particular information or setting. It is a process by which people seek to have control over a social situation by managing impressions, information ows, and context.”

In other words, privacy is what you make it. There is not a definite definition and it is varies from person to person. I think that everyone perceives privacy differently and that in someways it is a spectrum. While some adults struggle to understand how teens can demand privacy while maintaining a social media presence, it is completely feasible and possible for teens to do so. Privacy isn’t synonymous with being off the grid and anti-social and it shouldn’t be. I think, especially in the 21st century, there is an expectation that everyone has a social media presence and there still exists the expectation to keep somethings private. It all depends on what each person is comfortable with. Some teens are comfortable with sharing every aspect of their life on a public account while others control their social situations by maintaining a private account that only a select few can see. It all depends on the range in which someone is comfortable with sharing personal information about their lives. For instance, it lately has become a trend that many teens will have “rinstas” or real Instagram accounts where they may share less personal, general posts and “finstas” or fake accounts which usually are private and only followed by close friends. Finstas give teens the opportunity to be more open about their lives and many people use it has a place to post rants and more personal information, all while controlling more specifically who can see what they post.

I personally think that there is this connotation that if you have a social media presence, you must be comfortable sharing anything. That is not the case, I think when posting something online most teens put it through their own personal filter, their own definition of privacy. This filter questions whether something upholds the image they want to maintain and does it give followers a look into their life without revealing too much. This is the modern way that teens interpret privacy and seek more control over the social situations and expectations.

Bright Defiance: Greenhow Girls

The story of the Greenhow girls, as portrayed in this podcast, is incredibly interesting and intriguing. The investigation of the story of little Rose and her blatant defiance to an authority draws the listener in within the first few minutes. It was very fascinating to hear about the use of even the simplest cryptography in the civil war and how Rose was viewed as an integral part in the war and because of her cryptographic efforts was seen as a person of interest to the North. I think it is incredibly compelling how as Little Rose grew older, the defiance that she presented to the guard slowly dissipated. Instead of having a continued strong alliance to the Confederacy and despising all things Yankee, she instead grows up to marry one herself. She even begins to question if the events surrounding her mother were even true but lives as the “living after picture” of the events. Little Rose matured in a time where the meaning of the war changed time and time again. I think that how the podcast was portrayed had a lot of impact on keeping the me intrigued. The music and his choice of words made the podcast incredibly smooth and thought-provoking. The most captivating part of this podcast was the conclusion, “we don’t have enough messages to break the code.” For my podcast, I really want to focus on the importance of word choice and the influence that background music can have on the overall tone.

An Interdisciplinary Approach

While German overconfidence in the enigma did eventually contribute to the cracking of the code and their subsequent downfall,  the use of mathematicians and scientist as opposed to linguists and classicist ultimately made the most difference. Many mathematicians and scientists are interdisciplinary. For example, Alan Turing was both experienced in math and building machines. Being interdisciplinary helped the breaking of the Enigma to be approached in both a creative and a logical sense. As opposed to the linguist and classists, that may just look for the patterns within the code, mathematicians and scientists will find the algorithm within the code and  the applicability behind the code and then find a method to apply it broadly. But while there were many mathematicians and scientists, Bletchley park was also made up of “an authority on porcelain, a curator from Prague Museum, the British chess champion and numerous bridge experts” (Singh, 178). This gives breaking the code many different ways of thinking and approaches. I think this mixture of knowledge filled the need to balance both creativity and logic. This is a balance that is needed to break any code. I also think that their motivations behind breaking the codes also had a huge impact. For the British it was a matter of breaking this codes in order to save more lives and keep their country safe. On the other hand, the original way of finding out more about the Enigma was through Hans-Thilo Schmidt’s want for revenge on his brother and damage of his country’s security. So while the Bletchley park codebreakers were compelled to figure out Enigma for their own countries’ sake, Schmidt was driven by hate for his country and his own brother.

Essential Liberty vs. Temporary Privacy

The first quote I noticed on the board was the Ben Franklin quote stating “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” This seems like a perfect and very compelling quote for the pro-privacy argument, especially since it was said by an important figure in United State’s history. But in actuality it is used largely out of context; after some further investigation, I came across an NPR article about the actual context of the quote. Robert Siegel points out that this quotes is more of a “pro-taxation” and “pro-defense spending” quote since is was in response to the legislature trying to tax the Penn family for property. While this quote has lost its context in the 21st century debate, I think it still serve a good purpose in putting many people’s thoughts into words . It portrays the idea that being willing to trade some freedom for some confinement feels inherently un-American and goes against everything the nation was built upon. I personally still have mixed feelings towards the pro-privacy, pro-security debate. I think that Little Brother showed the absolute extreme of invasion of privacy that could occur. Since it was so extreme, it seemed unrealistic to me and has left me on the fence regarding pro-privacy. While I would rather not have people reading my personal text messages, I can understand being pro-security and being willing to give up “as much (privacy) as necessary to feel safe.”

This is the NPR article:

An Insecure Environment

Before the Vigenère cipher, which gave more security for code makers, “anybody sending an encrypted message had to accept that an expert enemy codebreaker might intercept and decipher their most precious secrets.” (Singh, p. 45).  Nothing of extreme importance should have been sent because the risk that it could be read by a code breaker was always present, but that was not known to the code makers. With Mary Queen of Scots, she did not have the luxury of knowing that there was a possibility of her secrets being unveiled and because of this she revealed crucial information about her escape. She was arrested and subsequently executed because she naively believed in the safety of her method. But in an environment where it is known that there is a risk, code makers can be wary of the information they send. They know what and what not to say. So that if their message does get broken by their enemy, any information that they reveal won’t be of too much importance. On the other hand, this could possibly be an advantage to code makers. For instance, if they want to give code breakers false information, they could portray it in their messages and the code breakers will take it to be the truth. Code makers could potentially take the upper hand and manipulate the code breakers. Also with having the luxury of knowing the the codes can be broken while in route, the makers can be more discrete in what they are saying and even use certain code words within their encryption. While the environment gives less security, it does provide the opportunity to make sure that the enemy code breakers think what the code makers want them to think, ultimately helping the makers come out on top.

Paradox of the False Positive

In Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, the main character Marcus discusses the paradox of the false positive after the Department of Homeland Security had set up certain security measures in order to capture possible terrorists and keep people safe. But instead of keeping people safe, they instead instilled fear of simply walking around the town and then being searched. People were being flagged left and right, and were constantly having their privacy invaded. Marcus explains how if you try and find something that is very rare like “Super-AIDS”, the accuracy of the test will be 99% but it will also 99.99% inaccurate. Meaning that to find someone that actually has Super-AIDS, first 10,000 other healthy people will be inaccurately tested and identified as having Super-AIDS. When this is applied to terrorists, out of 2o million people, 200,000 people will be identified as terrorists but only ten people actually are. So to catch the ten terrorists, first 200,o00 people would have to be wrongly investigated.

This reminded me of our discussion of the use of data mining in order to prevent potential campus violence. At first I was all for it, sacrificing the privacy of a few to keep the safety of many. But after reading about the paradox of the false positive and how using a system like date mining in order to keep tabs on people could actually do more damage than good, I am now on the fence. School shooters are actually very rare, we perceive them to be a big threat because of the role of media in society and how they portray the world to be a big, scary, violent place. But to catch one actual school shooter, a multitude of innocent people will have to be interviewed and investigated, all while being treated as possible criminals when they actually aren’t.

Is data mining the key to preventing campus violence?

The central argument of “Mining student data could save lives” by Michael Morris is that data mining of students could be the key preventive solution to stopping acts of violence on campuses. After utilizing data mining after attacks had occurred revealed huge warning signs that led to eventual shootings, universities realized that technology exists that would allow them to study potential warning signs and then take action. The information is already within their access, its just a matter of getting it screened and to then detect what future behaviors may be. While in retrospect this seems like the most ideal solution to preventing campus attacks, it calls a lot of privacy vs. security issues into question. Is it morally and ethically correct to have behavioral surveillance on unknowing students?

This kind of behavioral surveillance occurs on a daily basis;students have been “systematically forfeiting its rights to online privacy over the past several years through the continued and increased use of services on the Internet” (Morris). So if we are content with data mining that only is getting information on us in order to show us more things to spend money on, shouldn’t we also be content with data mining that can determine our safety? I agree that data mining can be the key and necessary way to enacting campus safety. A college campus should prioritize the safety of its students, especially considering the large amount of money spent to attend. But before any interception, a thorough analysis of any potential threat should obviously take place. Certain protective measures should be put in place to effectively avoid any chance of a false threat. But since the technology is there and exists to keep more people safe, it certainly should be taken advantage of.



The Vulnerability of A Weak Encryption

Having been arrested for the murder of her husband and imprisoned by her cousin Queen Elizabeth, Mary Queen of Scots was in a extremely vulnerable position. Any correspondence between Mary and the outside world would need to be of the highest concealment, so she and her correspondent Babington utilized a nomenclature that consisted of code words and a cipher alphabet. After successfully exchanging messages using this system, both believed that this system would be strong enough to formulate a plan for her escape and Queen Elizabeth’s assassination. This false sense of security proved to be more risky and dangerous, as opposed to any lack of security or encryption.

In the case of Mary Queen of Scots, her trust in both her method of sending messages and in her seemingly weak encryption led to her arrest and subsequent execution. Their naive trust led Babington to even fall victim to the forgery of Thomas Phelippes, a man working in close quarters with Sir Francis Walsingham. Since the fact that her codes had be cracked was unbeknownst to Mary, she exchanged incriminating evidence and was ruthlessly killed instead of staying safely imprisoned.

Through the story of Mary Queen of Scots, Singh portrays the idea that while utilizing cryptography can work in favor of those wanting to keep information secret, it also can serve to do more damage than good. Sometimes making an attempt to keep something concealed is not necessarily better than no attempt at all. In this case, they missed the opportunity to be discreet in their messages and keep all serious information to themselves. Singh is not only giving important information about Mary Queen of Scots’ story, but also warning cryptographers that are unaware of the power of cryptanalysis that can break even the codes that they perceive to be secure.

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