The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Author: kalhors

Limiting Lucipher

I believe that the NSA was justified in limiting the strength of the Data Encryption Standard (DES) so that they would be able to decipher any message that was sent using Lucipher. Lucipher was a complicated encryption system that relied on a keyword made up of numbers. The number of possible keys and the length of time it takes to crack the cipher text are positively correlated. Therefore, when the NSA limited the number to 100,000,000,000,000,000 keys, they made it so “…no civilian organization had a computer powerful enough to check every possible key within a reasonable amount of time” (250). It only makes sense that the leading security agency of a country should be able to decipher any message sent or received along its territory. This is for the good of the country and provides protection from possible attacks or illegal operations.

I think that as long as a secure standard is in use, there should be someone overlooking this, even though I am not in favor of the “Big Brother” type of government at all. Some may argue that this limit the NSA implemented also limits the advancements that can happen in cryptography, but the present advances in cryptography are all the proof needed against this.

Simon Singh, The Code Book

Illegal Cryptography is Illegal Mathematics

The excerpt in Doctorow's Little Brother that caught my attention the most and interested me was the very beginning of Chapter 17. Mathematics is an integral part of our society and the technological advances behind its development. Also, isn't Cryptography just another application of math? So when Doctorow explained that the "government classed crypto as a munition and made it illegal for anyone to export or use it on national security grounds," it jumped out to me how ridiculous this statement was. The thought of having "illegal math" is like throwing people in jail because they were thinking creatively. The NSA has a standard maximum strength cipher and no one was allowed to create a cipher stronger than that standard. When a graduate student may have created a possible cipher in a paper, the NSA decided to ban the publishing of this paper. Reading about this in Little Brother made me realize the extent of our freedom of expression nowadays. If these crypto wars in the 19th century continued and the government prevailed, then modern advancements in technology would have never have even happened. I believe that we depend more on free cryptography than we may realize because it spawns innovative thinking and creations.

Uncovering the Unknown

The main reason for the Beale ciphers being so incredibly enduring and tough to crack is because they require a unique keytext such as a book or letter. This allows the cryptographer to be limitlessly creative in the construction of a keytext. It could be a personal letter or a well-known book. The motivation that some cryptanalysts still have to break the Beale ciphers comes from both intrinsic motivation and gain of wealth and fame. The feeling of breaking such a difficult cipher can give people a rush of self-satisfaction which can be enough to motivate anyone. Uncovering this cipher could bring joy to a true cryptoanalyst.There are also the gold, silver, and jewels involved which would advance the wealth of a code breaker.

Bazeries’ Quest Against The Great Cipher

The Great Cipher used by Louis XIV implemented a different method of cryptography and ciphering than ever before. The monoalphabetic substitution cipher was too easy to break while the polyalphabetic cipher created by Vigenère took too long to encipher and decode which was not efficient for military operations. The Great Cipher, created by the Rossingols and later cracked by Bazeries, utilized not only letters, but also numbers in the cipher. And the different numbers did not represent letters; they mostly represented syllables. This cipher also included traps. For example, some numbers initiated the deletion of the previous number. Some of the numbers did not represent syllables but single letters. The sophisticated nature of this cipher contributed to its dormancy for two centuries. Yet the ease of deciphering a message ciphered using the Great Cipher was quick enough to be used for military purposes, if the cipher was known. Another characteristic of the Great Cipher that was impressive was that it almost completely paralyzed the use of frequency analysis. Although frequency analysis actually lead to Bazeries cracking of the cipher when he noticed a repeated sequence of numbers. But he then completely guessed what those numbers could mean and he happened to be spot on.

Cryptanalysis in time

The level of knowledge required by cryptanalysts to cipher and understand codes has remained relatively the same throughout history. The difference is that this breadth of knowledge is easily developed and acquired in this day in age. Today’s society demands a higher tier of critical thinking in everyday activities due to the advancements in technology and progression of arithmetic and language. An eight year old kid nowadays has the knowledge that a seasoned cryptanalyst had at his disposal long ago. Much like the standard of life, the standard of knowledge has risen exponentially. People involuntarily and unknowingly find themselves in the midst of ciphers and codes every day, therefore peoples’ minds have become conditioned habitually to decode and decipher messages in puzzles and word games.

The knowledge and use of frequency analysis in the alphabet is a more modern practice in cryptanalysis and developed because people are exposed to puzzles, riddles, and word games at an earlier developmental stage. In the end, humans are more frequently immersed in codes and ciphers because of the advancements in thinking and technology. This allows a higher level of cryptanalysis to be performed by ordinary people only due to the fact that they have been subliminally exposed to it their entire lives. People now just have a larger pool of knowledge and experience to pull from, giving them the upper hand in cryptanalysis.

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