The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Author: conna

NFC Chips

I have struggled to find a lot of information about my topic. There is not a problem in finding sources of information: I have 10 sources that are very good. Sifting through and combining them into relevant and on topic information is not a problem either. Most of the information can be condensed from how the sources presented it. I have researched all aspects of it from the stages to developing the chips, how they actually work, how security elements work within them, the present applications and the future applications. I have even extended to as far as to comparing the uses of NFC chips with QR codes and as to why one would be better than the other. I have also examined the possible security risks and benefits to the present uses of near field communication chips as well as to the future uses of the near field communication chips. The most challenging part is making sure I meet the word count requirements. I do understand that there has to be some substance there but I also believe that saying something simply is better than being too wordy. The most enjoyable part of my project is researching current and future uses of the NFC chips. This is because I realize how technology is going to advance and converge in the future, it is rather exciting.

Finding a Balance

The US government should be given some latitude to infringe on citizen’s privacy when it comes to national security. The reason I say some latitude is because this should only pertain to national security, not to daily breaking of laws.

Singh identified on page 293 that privacy for ordinary people has never entailed cryptography until recently. That is because exchanges between people have not been in a public space (the internet) until the internet was available to everyone. Singh also said on page 250 that the government weakened the encryption so that the average person cannot hack it and only they can. There has to be a sense of privacy for the citizens while maintaining security for the country.

The government should be able to computer based algorithms to intercept certain keywords on electronic media that may indicate a national threat. This process should be done by a computer with no human interaction, however, once a threat has been flagged it would allow someone to evaluate whether intervention is necessary. The government employees should not be allowed to individually eavesdrop on standard communications without a warrant, but if it is computer automated it should be allowed. If the infraction is anything that is not a national security issue, it should be ignored, no matter how severe the law being broken. This discrepancy should keep a balance between security and privacy.

At the end of the day we all have to trust our government; As long as the government is out to protect our national security and not to prosecute the citizenry, the balance will work.

Photo Credit: "afghanistan" by The U.S. Army via Flickr CC

Photo Credit: “afghanistan” by The U.S. Army via Flickr CC

False Security


Photo Credit "Die Luftwaffe (Air Force) ENIGMA" by brewbooks via Flickr CC

Photo Credit “Die Luftwaffe (Air Force) ENIGMA” by brewbooks via Flickr CC

The plugboard of the enigma machine provided a false sense of security to the Germans. The sheer number of possible combinations, 10,000,000,000,000,000 is a daunting number, however, the plugboard itself can be isolated and broken by frequency analysis. The most complex part of the enigma machine is the scramblers, placement of them, and the their settings. This only has around 100,000 different combinations, a completely possible human task to handle; way easier than the 10,000,000,000,000,000 combinations of the machine. The hubris of the Germans to believe their machine was impregnable allowed them to get lazy when sending messages, like repeating the codes twice. The Germans had no idea that repeating the codes twice would create links that corresponded with an exact ratio to scrambler settings. The Germans were simply mesmerized by the large number of possible combinations.

Many times nowadays companies hire hackers to intentionally hack into their security and provide information on how it would be improved. Had the Germans done this, they would have realized that repeating the keys was a bad idea and allows for breaking the code. Being complacent allows for error, always believe that the other side is one step ahead, otherwise they will undoubtedly become one step ahead.

Protection & Prosecution

The passage in Little Brother that drew my attention the most was at the beginning of the book when Marcus and Darryl are escaping school. The emphasis on the face detection and gait detection that was used around the halls of the school for “protection” was something I could relate to. My Senior year of high school my school got a grant for around $80,000 to put in security cameras around the entire school, inside and out. (There was a small amount of irony in the grant because the money could only be put toward the security system. By the end of the year the school could not even afford standard school supplies like paper. I actually got extra credit in several classes for bringing stacks of paper for teachers to print the final on.) The idea of the security system was to protect students from unwanted intruders, however, the cameras are more often referenced to incriminate students leaving class during the day to go home or go out to lunch. I went to a standard public school of about 1,000 students in a town where the crime rate is lower than that of surrounding towns, not really a breeding ground for criminals. It was an extreme annoyance to not be allowed to leave school during the day. Marcus and Darryl’s struggle with leaving school is one that I can relate to, I have experienced a similar circumstance.

There needs to be a line drawn and a distinction made between measures taken to protect the citizenry (students in this situation), as opposed to measures taken to prosecute it. Certain trade offs have to be made, freedoms may be infringed upon slightly for the ultimate good, I am not complaining or arguing with that. However, omniscient observation is different than active investigation. When the daily activities of a person are substantially changed by a “protective” measure, then the PATRIOT Act has gone too far. An Orwellian future is unlikely, but the extreme picture of life painted in Little Brother is one that needs to be recognized in order to avoid it.

Phonetic Way of Mind

The Great Cipher used by Louis XIV remained unbroken for 200 years.  What were the factors that led to such a secure cipher?

The cipher was pioneered by a father and son duo, most of the specifics to how it exactly worked were known best by these two people. With the death of both father and son, the specifics of the cipher were quickly lost. When there are no people around that know how to use and reproduce the cipher, the motive to crack it is lost. There was some important information enciphered with The Great Cipher, however nobody was actively using it, so resources used to crack ciphers would be diverted to cracking ciphers used at that time. The lack of motive is the smallest reason as to why it took so long to crack; the cipher itself is very elegant and complex. This cipher was not one that took a written word then simply changed letters, it was a completely new way to write down the language. Languages operate with distinct sounds that can be represented by letters, putting two letters together will change the sound. Writing a cipher with syllables in mind will make it more difficult to crack, especially to a cryptanalyst who writes with an alphabetic language (like English). On top of that, The Great Cipher had certain traps put into place that would make certain parts look like gibberish causing cryptanalyst to reevaluate the type of cipher.

In my opinion, a syllabary cipher would be most effective today. This is because most of society is literate and thinks in a similar manner to the way we write, letter for letter, not letter for sound. Using syllables, but re-vamping it with more traps, would confuse people because they are not used to naturally thinking in that manner when writing.


(I double checked some facts here and here

HTTPS and Common Sense

I am responding to the article “Facebook Finally Adds HTTPS Support” by Stan Schroeder. Almost every college student across the country has a Facebook; many of the prosepective students even used it to find their college roommate. The addition of HTTPS will allow college students to be safer, especially because many of them use the same WiFi network. Previously, Firesheep allowed a hacker to steal information from Facebook if the two users were on the same WiFi. Being on the same WiFi is a common occurrence in large lecture hall classes where most students have a laptop for notes and they have Facebook on in the background of their computer or are blatantly using Facebook during the lecture. Checking for HTTPS on other websites online should be a precaution before releasing any sensitive information such as credit cards or social security numbers. Large WiFi networks on campuses are extremely vulnerable to hacking like this.

HTTPS should be the first step for protecting your Facebook information, the next one would be to limit the amount of information you share with people who are not your friends. Many students try to change his or her Facebook name when applying for jobs or colleges. What a lot of people don’t know is that you can still be located on your old Facebook name. What students should do is make sure that they limit the access to pictures and statuses for people who they are not friends with, and double check the “visible to mutual friends” option too. That way, people who you are not friends with, or people who you may randomly have one friend with, will not be able to see your information. The best way to keep your Facebook clean is obviously not to post or tag yourself in questionable posts, but if you must, make sure its only available to you and your friends. Also, you can make photos available to only some of your friends (AKA not your parents), because we all know that your parents will not want to see you out on a Tuesday night in college.

Blog Assignment 1

I had a general idea about what cryptography and code breaking was. Learning the history of the subject in the first chapter was interesting. When I was in grade school, my friends and I used to wrap pieces of paper around pencils to write small messages; similar to how the Spartans used the scytale. The idea of using the frequency to determine the letters in cipher seems logical, however tedious to do, and it appears that it would only work with the most basic of ciphers. It is fascinating that cryptanalysis can be used when the 26 symbols are not even letters of the english alphabet. The most interesting piece of the chapter was the quote on page 41, “The cipher of Mary Queen of Scots clearly demonstrates that a weak encryption can be worse than no encryption at all.” It shed some light on the actual content of the cipher rather then the means of encrypting and decrypting it. Combining the cipher with discretion would be the safest means of communication. It amazed me that some complicated ciphers have been cracked throughout history without the technology we have today. As with most branches of science, more data is better. The more a certain cipher is used, the more likely it is to be cracked because certain patterns begin to emerge. That is why cryptography is a constantly evolving field: adaptation is necessary for survival.

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