Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Author: Spencer Jones Page 1 of 2

Criteria For Jury

I plan on evaluating the arguments based on a couple criterion.

First, the relevance of the argument. Is the argument relevant to the average American or the argument directed towards a specific to a demographic? The relevance of the argument will be something I factor in heavily towards my decision. If the argument being made is not relevant to the average consumer and is pigeonholed towards certain groups or agencies then the large scope of national surveillance is not being explored.

Secondly, the validity of the argument. Are the arguments being made grounded in fact or are they purely hypothetical?  If the argument being made is purely hypothetical, then that provides no compelling evidence that is grounded in fact. If the arguments are tied into something historical that can be proven through a respectable source or by fact, then that makes for a more compelling case. 

Thirdly, originality/presentation of the argument. Is the argument based off of our tired talks on NSA metadata or do they find a new angle to attack the question from? A new perspective is refreshing; especially in a debate where it may catch your opponents off guard and unable to refute the evidence. Providing this evidence in a more cohesive presentation would also prove to be more persuasive towards the jury. Points that are well organized and interconnected will be more compelling.

Also, the group’s ability to refute the other side’s evidence will also be important.

Quantifying Emotions

An example on privacy I found interesting was that colleges use tracking pixels embedded within their emails to gauge the interest of potential students in their university. Also that the pixels score each student depending on how quickly they open the email all the while doing this without asking for permission. I see this as extremely troubling and unfair for students. This is troubling because universities are choosing to quantify an emotion. Interest comes and goes in waves. One month you may be dead set on one college then comes a long a sudden change of heart and you’re devoted to another school. What happens if you want to go to a certain college but you check the email a week too late? Is the college just going to assume you’re uninterested based on your emotions towards the school months prior? I think it’s troubling that universities are doing this. It is also unfair. Oftentimes, seniors in highschool would rather be doing something else instead of checking their emails. For highschool seniors in particular, they are swamped with college emails from the get-go of the school year. Universities should abandon this tracking pixel data and instead utilize data from online surveys where students who are actually interested in the school go in and insert their information.

Social Media as a Brand

“Rather than asking themselves if the information to be shared is significant enough to be broadly publicized, they question whether it is intimate enough to require special protection. In other words, when participating in networked publics, many participants embrace a widespread public-by-default, private-through-effort mentality.” (Danah Boyd 62) It’s Complicated


The statement “public-by-default” resonates with me because as a teenager growing up in this time of social media and digital expansion, I know that everything that I post online is available to whoever wants to access it. Meaning that if I post something on Instagram or Twitter, I know the posts are going to be available to whoever clicks on my account either on purpose or by mistake. This knowledge makes me add another layer of thought to my posts because I have to anticipate about how people may interpret this information in a variety of ways but I don’t know if other teenagers take posting as serious as I do. I see social media as a way to brand myself and publish the parts of my life I think are important or cool, but I don’t see social media as a place to vent feelings, post private information, or controversial topics because as I said, that information is available to whoever wants it and the people who interpret it negatively will be quick to judge you as a person. If I’m posting something private online, I’m doing it through either Snapchat or in direct message with someone I trust. I feel like trust and privacy go hand in hand when it comes to the internet. When it comes to sharing sensitive information with people online or with people in general, the most secure way to do it is with people you trust. Using technology, it’s easy to hide behind a screen and screenshot or capture what’s being shared while remaining anonymous. While in an actual conversation about something private, it’s a little bit more difficult to share secrets and spread rumors without having an idea of where it all stemmed from.

Strong Encryption For The People. Please and Thank You.

The two most compelling reasons I found why strong encryption should be available to the public is the large amount of interceptable information spread daily via email and that individuals have enjoyed complete privacy for most of history.

The hundreds of millions of emails sent back in forth within the masses of the online public holds records of financial transactions, the passwords to private online accounts, and the registration for a variety of social sources that could be used against the individual if decrypted. Strong encryption should be allowed for the everyday regular person to send emails because the number of incriminating or illegal activity is relatively small compared to the large number of legal and regular every day communications that take place. The reasoning that encryption should not be allowed to the masses due to the fact criminals will use it is weak because without encryption criminals will still find a way to hide their communications.

Never before has the government had the ability to access the personal information of their citizens. In a society with no encryption, the government would have full access to all digital conversations and habits of their users, thus ushering in a system of mass surveillance similar to that shown in George Orwell's 1984. I'm not saying that we are going to be like Winston and friends and be forced into submission by the Party, but by having a government that is capable of being all knowing of their citizens is scary. The freedom to speech is also awarded in our Bill of Rights as Americans and with the government being able to look into the way we talk and communicate online, that may lead people to not want to take full advantage of the internet.

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.

More Than Capable of Completing Men's Work

My copy of the book did not have any reading questions so I will do my best to interpret the first blog post question and answer it to the fullest extent. The roles that gender played in the codebreakers life and work World War II were significant. Women were subject to doubt, cut wages, and a lack of job security. After all, the main reason why women were searched for and employed by the government was because so many men from the top colleges had already enlisted in the Army. Among the population of women in the United States, very few were even qualified for the codebreaking positions. 

Many girls were often told not to attend college because of the small job market for educated women and there was a stigma that higher education did not guarantee a more fulfilling life. The girls who were recruited primarily studied science and mathematics, two subjects that women were often coerced to avoid because they were considered men’s work. Women cryptographers were also paid half the wages of their male counterparts to complete the same tasks. Despite the lower wages, these women still decided to serve their country the best way they knew how. Also, this job for the government was in no way a permanent position upon the conclusion of World War II. Once the men came back from Europe, there would be less demand for women these positions. However in other industries there was a demand for women workers which led the economy to boom.

The Transitions Were 100% Invisible

What I found most interesting about the Vox Ex Machina podcast produced by 99% Invisible was the development of vocoding from military application to music production. The podcast was well produced in my opinion, I really liked how the podcaster was able to tell the history voder machine and intertwined excerpts of noise from an actual machine itself to help with the description. By using the actual audio of a voder machine and coded military radio broadcasts made the podcast very easy to understand the device techniques used to produce or understand the message. What I gathered from this episode has a lot to do with the importance of using outside sources and applying them to the podcast to make the episode sound professional. Also, the transitions between sources and the podcaster's voice was seamless. It felt like the outside sources contributed to the story telling aspects of the podcast and they are essential to create a compelling story.

This podcast discourages me from talking about the pieces of written code or historically undecipherable messages because I feel like it would be difficult to describe the intricacies of the Voynich Manuscript without showing pictures or going over certain aspects of the piece which make it so head scratching. But then again, I could find audio files of respected people or sources speaking about the difficulty in cracking certain famous codes. As far as formatting goes, I definitely want to ingrain audio of people discussing code, the code itself, or have a reenactment of a historical moment that seems relevant to the story.

I Forgot to Tell You I Broke That Awhile Ago

Germany having no clue their ciphers were practically useless during the First World War was genius on behalf of British Intelligence. Britain, haven broken their cipher and not allowing Germany to know had turned out well for the Allies because it discouraged Germany from creating a new cipher. In my opinion, it made sense for  Winston Churchill and the British Royal Navy to release their histories of the war and specifically their knowledge of German encryption when they did. Doing so gave the British a lot of clout within the world of crypt-analysis and national intelligence as well as it gave the men who worked in Room 40 the recognition they deserved. Also, it would be pretty naive to think that if another war were to come about that Germany would use the same codes and encryption techniques they used previously. Even if the British had kept it a secret, Germany increased their military technology so much during WWII that it would not be a far stretch to believe they would incorporate something similar to the Enigma at some point. I think what mostly came out of Britain revealing they had broken Germany’s cipher in the way they did was to make Germany look like a disorganized and careless nation, practically saying, “We beat Germany because they were oblivious to their intelligence and because they were blinded by their own pride.”

We Live in a Panopticon, Here's Why

The concept of the panopticon in a practical sense seems inefficient, as the whole idea of it builds of the power on the individuality of the worker. The idea that without collaboration, there is no workplace interference that would slow workers down. In principle, leading to increased productivity. However without workers collaborating on projects and sharing information on how to maximize time and space, the quality of finished products would be inconsistent as each individual worker would create a piece that varies from one colleague to the next. Leading certain pieces of a project or product to become incompatible because of these slight individualities creating a faulty product and thus a flawed system.

Metaphorically, I do not agree with his thesis. I believe that the metaphor of the panopticon is accurate regarding our conversations about surveillance. From how I understood it, the panopticon metaphor is about an authority watching us but we cannot see them like the government or an internet company watching over us regular people and collecting data from our online habits. The metaphor makes sense to me because we don’t know who has access to our online information like our passwords or emails much like people working in a panopticon have no idea who’s in the tower watching them or if they are even being watched in the first place.

Leave the Treasure Hunting to Nicolas Cage

The Beale Ciphers are unbreakable and I believe that is the sole purpose of their existence. I think it’s a great story about a mysterious man with a buried treasure worth millions of dollars. But I also think it’s an absolute hoax. I agree with the point Singh made about the Beale Ciphers being created to exploit the greed of people. That makes sense to me. I believe that people still attempt to break the Beale Ciphers as a way to gain notoriety of their intellect and to establish a personal legacy associated with fortune and fame. 

Personally, I see treasure hunting as a naive and played out concept of success and failure with the redemption of it all coming when all the clues are aligned and the treasure is found after years of digging. What I believe motivates people trying to crack the Beale Ciphers is narcissism, the idea that nobody’s been able to break the cipher because nobody is like me and nobody thinks the way I do. Treasure hunting does make for a great story in the cases of Indiana Jones, The Mummy, and National Treasure but those are all fabricated adventures that all rely on the luck and cunning of storybook protagonists who have their fabricated lives dependent on the adventure and the rewards of finding buried treasures. All in all, treasure hunting is better left to the silver screen and swashbuckling pirates of yesteryear, not for amateurs and professionals with an ignorance to reality.

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