The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

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Arguments for Pro-Security

In the debate of privacy vs. surveillance in the United States, there are a few arguments that can be made in favor of having more surveillance as a security measure. The biggest and most obvious argument is that it aids in ensuring national security. Without electronic surveillance, it would be almost impossible to catch criminals and terrorists in our technology-filled modern society. At this point, video surveillance would not be enough even the government was somehow allowed to put cameras in our houses. Now that so many of our day-to-day interactions occur on the internet, criminals can communicate with each other with the push of a button. Electronic surveillance of digital devices allows for these communications to be monitored, which makes it much easier to crack down on these crimes.

Another argument for security stems off of the previous argument. When the government says they are collecting our data through electronic surveillance, they may mean just that. Having electronic surveillance helps a lot, but just because the government may be collecting data doesn’t mean that they’re constantly looking through it. There most likely isn’t an NSA agent looking through each one of our texts and our social media accounts. But, one they have reasonable suspicion that a seemingly ordinary citizen is doing something shady, they have the data there, and they can finally use it.

What Makes a Good Podcast?

In the two Radiolab podcasts “Darkode” and “The Ceremony”, the producers make exceptional use of conversation and sound effects to make an effective podcast. Part of what made the podcasts more interesting is that the people speaking are not really talking directly to the speaker, which is what I’m pretty sure most of us did in the podcasts we made. Instead, they had an actual conversation. I liked the Darkode episode especially because of this. The conversation also wasn’t scripted, so the speech sounded normal and human, and not like it was written first. You could tell because the people speaking actually had to think about what they were going to say next, and because there were times in which they would hesitate or laugh in the middle of a sentence, which made it all sound very natural and appealing.

Another way in which these podcast were made more accessible was the way in which the producer told one long story throughout, and then branched off to explain certain parts of it. Each of these episodes really only revolved around a few topics, but they made sure to explain every detail of the things they talked about, which is what allowed them to create a 40-50 minute long podcast episode without running out of content.

Why Are Adults so Bad at Social Media?

“Controlling a social situation in an effort to achieve privacy is neither easy nor obvious. Doing so requires power, knowledge, and skills… Second, people must have a reasonable understanding of the social situation and context in which they are operating.”

In this part of the chapter, boyd discusses how privacy can be achieved by taking control of a situation. She says that the three things that are needed are power, knowledge, and skills, and then she describes how teens aren’t great at this because it isn’t easy. Even though her reasoning makes sense, I still think that saying teens “struggle with this” is incorrect. Not only that, but I also think this applies not only to privacy, but social media usage in general. The specific part of this that caught my attention was that she said that people need an understanding of the social situation and context. If anything, I”m pretty sure that teens are extremely knowledgable when it comes to the context of social media. Teens are usually the first people to try all the new types of social media, so they are usually the ones who set up the context. And this makes sense; since we have grown up in a technological society, we are the best audience for all this new stuff. Social media is literally made for teens, so we are generally good at navigating through all the intricacies, including achieving privacy. I think it’s hard to completely agree with boyd on a lot of things that she says, because she is still one of the adults. She’s trying to see privacy from the point of view of a teen, but just the fact that the has to do research and conduct interviews shows the disconnect. I understand that she was doing it for the book, but I’m pretty sure that a lot of the things the teens talked about were unfamiliar to her, but common knowledge for the average social media usage. I think this is why adults are so bad at using social media, and why parents are always invading privacy. They don’t understand normal social media cues, similar to regular social cues like boyd described (not staring, not eavesdropping). Honestly, I don’t think this will change anytime soon either, because teens are just so much different than adults. The best that can happen is for adults to just try and learn how to be normal.

Pretty Good Predictions

Before even seeing this question, I already had something to say about the predictions that Singh made in this paragraph. The one that stood out to me was that democracies will be using online voting. I found this funny because 20 years from the writing of this book, online voting still doesn’t exist, and the idea appears to still be the cause of a lot of problems. Online voting is something that would most definitely be more convenient for many people. For me, the whole voting process took so much longer than I feel it needed to. First, I had to register to vote, by printing a form and filling it out. I had to send the form to my county’s voting office, then they had to send me back a letter that said I was registered. Then, since I’m from Ohio, I had to request an absentee ballot. I had to first request a request for the ballot. They sent me a form that I had to fill out, then send back to my voting office again. Then, they sent me the absentee ballot, which I filled out, then sent back again. Overall, this process took a very long time, and online voting would have shortened this to minutes. I’m pretty sure it’s a concept that wouldn’t be very hard to implement, but there would most likely still be problems. Considering that in the 2016 election there were allegations of tampered ballots and they were done in person, I wouldn’t be surprised if the problem was even worse if done online. This is where good encryption comes in. If there was extremely secure encryption during online elections, then hypothetically, there shouldn’t be a problem with possible tampering. Considering that we can trust encryption enough to type in our social security numbers and credit card numbers and all our private information, I think it’s reasonable to trust online voting.




What makes a Good Podcast?

My first thoughts after listening to both the professional podcasts and the student made podcasts was that podcasting is very difficult, and to be good at it, one needs to put in a lot of time and practice. The professional podcasters in 99% Invisible sounded so fluid and smooth, as if they were having a completely normal conversation. Music and sound effects fit in extremely well, and they complemented the podcast without distracting from what was being said. I imagine that it would be very easy to accidentally mess up how the music fits into a podcast properly, so I was very impressed.

In both of the 99% Invisible podcast, and especially Vox Ex Machina, I liked how the producers used stories to describe all of the examples they were making. They started with a relatively broad topic, and slowly narrowed it down to the specifics of how it was used in the war, using stories and narratives. I found it very interesting how the vocoder turned out to be something used commonly today in a lot of music. I’ve heard so many songs with that “robot voice”, but I never knew the vocoder was responsible. It seems like a lot of things that were created for wars have ended up being remade into common modern day items. I find this very interesting, but it also makes sense. Wars are a time where we are trying to make new technologies to one-up our enemies, and a lot of this stuff can eventually be adapted.

After listening to these, I think it would be cool to do a podcast on Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, though I’m not sure how unique of a topic that is.

How the Poles Helped the Allies Win the War


In this post, the writer describes what he calls “factors of victory” which were the outside components that helped the Allies crack the Enigma cipher and ultimately win the war. In the post, he says that the original Polish work on Enigma that was eventually given to the British played a role in helping with the cryptanalysis. Although he does mention the Poles in the post, he doesn’t go into that much detail on them. In my opinion, I believe that the work from Biuro Szyfrow and Marian Sejewski played a big role in the war, and deserves much more credit than it seems to be given.

First off, it’s possible that without the work from produced at the Biuro Szyfrow, British intelligence would have never even created Bletchley Park, or at least it would have been delayed by a few year, which is long enough to turn the tides of the war. It’s very likely that the only reason British intelligence created Bletchley Park was because they had a head start. Had they not received any information from the Poles, they would be just as stuck as they had been for the thirteen years prior. They had practically given up, and the only reason the Poles even did anything was because they were threatened by the Germans. If it would have taken a major threat to push the British to crack the Enigma, they would have been years behind, and by then it would have been too late.

Is cryptanalysis really as easy as Singh makes it seem?

As Singh deciphered the example of the Vigènere cipher on page 116, and also other ciphers previously, I contemplated just how simple he was making them. He makes a lot of assumptions, and he also never points out some flaws that I have seen in his messages. In the example on page 16, Singh uses a message that makes his technique work very well. In this example, he uses a keyphrase that is as long as the message. Normally, this should be almost impossible to crack, because none of the cipher alphabets would be repeated in a pattern. He proposes a solution, by placing common words (he uses “the”) in random locations in the plaintext. In his example, he gets it right on the first try. This is not that unlikely with such a short message, but a full paragraph of a long letter would take many more tries. He also makes the assumption that the cryptographer encrypting the message would use the word “the”, or “and”, or whatever word. If a cryptographer knew their code could be broken that way, they could simply refrain from using common words often. Once there are fewer common words present,  it becomes much more difficult to crack. In addition, using the method he proposed can cause false positives. It’s possible that the letters “the” in the plaintext produce a discernible string of three letters in the ciphertext. If the cryptographer was smart, they could place a few traps, so that random keywords would show up in the cipher text. This would completely confuse the person deciphering the code, and may just make it extremely difficult to crack. Singh fails to address these flaws in his examples, and it makes it cryptanalysis seem easier than it really is.

General Michael V. Hayden: The Assault on Intelligence

Being completely honest, most of this talk went over my head. I tried to take notes as I was trying to take notes as I was listening, but they were speaking very quickly, and I couldn’t really comprehend what they were saying. This is my attempt at notes:

  • First off, this talk has started out very political, which is not what I was expecting. They are barely talking about security of surveillance or anything like that, which is what I was expecting. I’m not a very political person and I’ve never been interested in political issues in America, so a lot of this stuff just kind of flew over my head. As of now, it’s been 25 minutes, and they’ve mostly been talking about politics. It seems like they don’t like Trump.
  • Hamiltonian, Jeffersonian, Wilsonian, Jacksonian. Says Trump is Jeffersonian.
  • Why did x happen in America? x= Al-qaeda, rise of Isis, etc. A mixture of instability between people in America, and a drifting of political culture. Grievance to post-truth drift. Social Media is like a Dorito. A Dorito looks like a tortilla chip, but instead it just delivers salt and fat. Social media seems good, but the more you use it, the more you get pulled into your own self-identity.
  • 3 principles in internationalist view: immigration is good for America’s economy, trade is good for America’s economy, and alliances are good. Isn’t that kind of obvious?
  • If the president decides that the national security of the US needs a nuclear attack, how does that happen?
    • It has to bounce between a few groups/people.
    • Hayden is concerned about miscalculation.
    • This man definitely doesn’t like Trump.
  • They talked a bit about what is going on today on Capitol Hill with Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford and all that business.
  • Drew a relationship between the William Jennings Bryant and the presidential race today. Bryant didn’t want to adapt to the times and go along with industrialization. It was a bit unclear what he said about how it relates today.
  • The audience is probably 85% adults, 12% law students who were either interested or had to come to this, and then there are a few undergrads here. I was definitely not prepared for this. I think most of the people here know this stuff well enough to know what is being talked about, so I definitely don’t fit in here very well.






What do people find important in the debate over security vs privacy?

The question that was asked on this display at the Newseum was similar to the one we were asked on the first day of class. We were asked if we agreed or disagreed with giving up our privacy for more security. This question takes it a step further, and asks specifically what people would give up for that extra security. There were some expected responses that I saw, like “Text messages + phone records”, “Freedom”, and also a few other random answers that didn’t really contribute to the purpose or message of the display. There were two that I saw that stood out though. One was “as much as necessary to feel safe”. The other was the Benjamin Franklin quote, that said “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty or safety”.

These two responses stood out to me because they seem to fall on the two sides of the privacy vs security debate. The first one reminds me of a few of the characters from Little Brother who were on the pro-security side. Characters like Marcus’s dad and Charles has the same mindset as this viewpoint. Marcus’s dad felt okay with complying with anything the DHS said as long as it made him feel like he was safer. If it cost him an extra 2 hours going to and from work, then so be it. Even the hassle of being stopped by police for no reason was not enough to faze him. As long as the DHS was trying to catch terrorists, any violation of privacy was okay.

The other response reminds me of the argument that Marcus, Charles, and Mrs. Andersen had during their class period. Mrs. Andersen said something along the lines of “our founding fathers intended for the constitution to change over time as viewpoints changed”. The Benjamin Franklin quote makes me feel as if this might not be entirely true, or at least not to the extent of what Mrs. Andersen said. I think they expected times to change, but some things were essential to a well-working government, and one of these was respect of the citizens privacy. On the other side, citizens shouldn’t even have to consider giving up their liberties, but if they were given that choice, the founding fathers still believed that their liberty is more important.


Academic Integrity 101: Winning the Right Way

In this seminar, members of the undergraduate honor council gave a presentation on different aspects of the honor council and academic integrity. This consisted of personal stories about what integrity means to the students, and also a few hypothetical examples to show the different situations where one may have to make a choice about what the right thing to do is.

The presentation started with the vice president of the honor council discussing how academic integrity affects her. She said that the reason that she joined the honor council and why she holds integrity so highly comes from her goals for medical school and eventually becoming a doctor. She says that when she becomes a doctor, she wants her patients to have full, complete trust in her. She believes that she can only provide that if she makes it through undergrad and medical school on her own merit, and not by cheating off of someone else.

The next segment was about how plagiarism isn’t always just direct copying and pasting. They showed this my providing many different examples of plagiarism where the work wasn’t cited. This included paraphrasing, changing a couple of words, and using a catchy phrase used by someone else. The next part of the presentation was similar to what we did in class on tophat. There were different scenarios presented, and people in the audience had to determine if the scenario was or was not an honor code violation, and also what they would do instead. These were a bit more obvious that the ones we did in class, and honestly, they weren’t very helpful. It was clear what the right answer was, and they weren’t the kinds of questions that would help me in the future if I was trying to determine what choice to make.

The last section was a presentation by the president about what integrity means to him. He told a story from his childhood about a time when he lied to his mother about his school work and she caught him. After that incident, his mom put a quote in his room that said “a good person is one who does the right thing when nobody is looking”. I also believed that this was a great quote, because integrity is something that defines a good person, and a truly good person will always be honest and will always do what’s right.

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