The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Author: Daniel Kim Page 1 of 2

Is there a middle ground?

The topic for this debate is crucial because it is so real within our lives. Since the rise of the truth in the summer of 2013, more and more people have become concerned with their own privacy, while many others ponder at what the balance should be. As part of the jury, the main thing I want to focus on is this: how would the average citizen react or respond to this argument made by either opposition?

Arguments are generally settled by those directly affected by changes as a result of the debate, hence the role of the jury. For either side, I want to see something  compelling that goes beyond what I would know as a typical individual in America. Why do we need surveillance? Why do we need privacy? To what extent are the two allowed to intertwine and mesh together? Are they even allowed to be in the same conversation, working with each other? If so, how would that possibility play out in our society today? Are there any real and viable alternatives to the mass surveillance we have today? Rather than looking for an answer as concrete as one is better than the other, we want to look at how we can take benefits from both sides and possibly put them together.

Your Face is Valuable

In Episode 062 of Leading Lines, the point I found most intriguing was when Dr. Bruff brought up the recent hype about FaceApp. And I can relate to this particularly because I remember exactly when that trend popped up and how I, just like everyone else, hopped on that train and tried it out. And at the time, it was borderline amazing  and absolutely hilarious. In hindsight, and with the power of some good ole education, I can now see how potentially dangerous something like FaceApp is.

The usage of facial recognition, especially within an app where they use your own pictures, can potentially be very dangerous because of the implications it has of staying on the web. Whether it’s through FaceBook or Instagram, many people are easily able to find photos of themselves on the Internet, and Chris Gilliard makes a point to say that none of those he himself put online. That just comes to show that despite what one might say or might think, people are always out somewhere in the world ready to jump on anything they can get their hands on and use it against you or to their advantage. Whether FaceApp was used deliberately to track people down is up for speculation, but regardless of whether this is the case or not, we should be more aware of what we put up, whether it be writing or photos, simply because everyone and anyone can see.

The Unfair Tug of War

Danah Boyd begins Chapter 2 of her book, It’s Complicated, by presenting the ongoing war of privacy between parents and teens. More precisely, Boyd makes a bold statement when she says, “Many teens feel as though they’re in a no-win situation when it comes to sharing information online: damned if they publish their personal thoughts to public spaces, and damned if they create private space that parents can’t see.” This statement,  and especially the last part, caught my attention because of its relevance to society today and how easily I can relate.

As a teenager, I personally felt like I had to hide a lot of things from my parents. Sometimes, despite living thousands of miles away from them, I still feel this way. So when Boyd describes how so many teens feel like they cannot have a private for themself, it definitely hits home. At the same time, at this point in my life, I can definitely see why this “war” between parent and teen can be put into comparison with the “war” between the government and the people who are so adamant about their own privacy. And the reason why this comparison is so apt is because it draws from the stubbornness of both sides. The ones trying to hide everything they have and know are unbelievably stubborn about it, while the higher powers seem to ignore what they have to say and push forward. It’s kind of like a tug of war, and until something happens in society that is significant enough to change people’s minds, then I highly doubt that this war of attrition will end anytime soon.


The Internet Broke Us

I believe that given the time he has written this in, Simon Singh has done an excellent job of predicting how the upturn of technology would shift our society and our world towards one of automatic work and technical organization.

It turns out that Singh largely underestimated the rate at which all of this would develop. Technology raced through a lot of the aspects Singh talked about and has moved on to greater things. While we haven’t reached certain aspects that Singh explicitly talks about, such as online voting, the Internet has been used to expand our knowledge as well as our capabilities of running and existing in society. Today, we largely consider technology and the Internet to have taken over the world we know today. Although whether it was better or for worse is up in the air for discussion, we can all agree that it has made a sizable impact on who we are as human beings and what we prioritize. That being said, with so much accessible to us in recent days, strong encryption becomes even more critical in regards to our own security as well as the security for everyone else at large. Keeping what we want private as secure as we can make it keeps our mindset and morale high and positive, while being as secure as possible.

You do You

Whitfield Diffie, having the mind and brain to look beyond the present time, predicted that everyone would have their own computers and would have the ability to send messages to anyone they wanted. With this in mind, he essentially states that all people should have the ability to hide their messages from the government  via encryption. And given the democratic beliefs that our country supposedly abides by, I agree with Diffie’s views to a very large extent.

Singh makes it explicitly clear that Diffie believes that people should “have the right” to make that choice for themselves. And that is the main thing that makes his argument agreeable. There are many people currently in America that could not care less about who is able to see their messages. On the other hand, there are many Americans who are very passionate about making sure no one can get their hands on whatever they deem private and making sure to define what they wish to keep as private or not. It’s similar to Marcus’s argument in “Little Brother” with the bathroom analogy, how there are just things in a person’s life that they wish or desire to keep private and that is completely okay. Similarly, people should have the ability to choose to encrypt the messages they send. Whether they decide to encrypt their messages or not may come down to personal preference. One individual may  prefer to take the extra step to hide something they believe is private and should only be known by them as well as the recipient. There may be another individual that will pick and choose what they want encrypted or not, due to security and/or personal reasons. There might be a third person that, for whatever reason, may not want or care to get anything encrypted on the way. And while it can definitely be agreed upon by many that taking the safe route is preferred, the choice should be up to the individual, case by case.

So Hard it Broke the Soul

As a student of this course, I have quickly learned that breaking codes and deciphering texts is not the easiest of tasks, and the harder the codes become, the harder it becomes to crack them (obviously).

Chapter 5 of Liza Mundy’s book “Code Girls” describes the beginnings of women working as code breakers for the Allies in World War II and just how difficult it actually was. Working on a day to day basis with a group of women where only a small handful were able to work at the expectations of the military, this became increasingly frustrating as more American ships started to crumble and the Allies started to lose the war on many fronts. In fact, it become so increasingly difficult that they described it as “heart-rendering”, hence the title of this chapter.

Even despite all of this, those handful of women “rose to the challenge”, working collectively to break up to hundreds of thousands of codes every month. This was a major turning point, especially on the naval front. Germany’s naval codes were now not as uncrackable as they once seemed,  and the cryptanalyst’s eye could catch Japan’s mistakes within their messages. It almost seemed as though codes became easier to break as the enemies tried to complicate their codes further. This, along with a series of breakthroughs, is what I believe to be one of the key differences makers in this war.

Bait the Listener In

A podcast’s main goal, more than anything, is to keep the listener engaged. Without a compelling way to keep the listener listening, the podcast as failed in essence. And this is the very reason why I think the Panizzardi Telegram podcast is a strong example of an effective podcast: engaging and interesting.

Even despite the fact that only one voice is used throughout the episode, by using various sound effects and music of certain tones and moods, the podcast does an excellent job of engaging with the audience and presenting a more interesting version of the story. The producer does an excellent job of making the podcast like a a parent telling their young child a bedtime story: filled with imagery and details that allow the listener to imagine and see for themselves. I like how the producer opens the podcast with the same scene, just in a first person setting. From my own standpoint, that helped me understand how Alfred Dreyfus may have felt being in the situation he was placed in: confusion and chaos. The fact that I was able to feel those feelings while listening tells me that the podcast has an ability to stir up my emotions. Doing this is most certainly a challenge, yet if I am able to engage the listener, I have been successful with my work.

The Struggle of being a Cryptography Student

In a student’s first week in MATH 1111, they are asked a question about whether the ability to decrypt a code depends on intuition, creativity, or luck. At least in this year’s class, the majority of students picked either intuition or creativity for various reasons. None of us anticipated that luck would be the key to any of this.

I have quickly learned that luck is the key to breaking any cipher, and that is the very reason why in practice, breaking cipher texts are so much harder than they seem. The common tests we use such as frequency analysis and the Kasiski test are effective in giving us hints and clues, but they fail to give the cryptanalyst any concrete or definitive pieces to move forward with. The hints and clues we receive lead us in the right path, but we still are forced to test and guess our way towards the answer. There is only so much that intuition that take us in terms of completely cracking the code. This is why there are codes and ciphers in the world today that are deemed “unbreakable”, no matter how much time the world’s best mathematicians spend on them, let alone a group of first-year college students.

Because the fundamental purpose of a cipher is to hide the message from any in the way of the message’s delivery, its natural intention is to make sure it is as close to uncrackable as humanly possible. This inherently means that there will be intended twists to make deciphering even more difficult.

We in Fact Know

The argument that Benjamen Walker presents is one that claims that the analogy of the Panopticon does not correlate with the surveillance of our conversations and our actions. For the most part, I believe that Benjamin Walker has every right to say this simply because of the fundamental basis for both of these concepts.

The Panopticon, in essence, is a building that serves as a “surveillance machine”. It was a structure that Jeremy Bentham advocated for and mainly thought of its use as a prison, where the prisoners sat in their respective cells in the open circular building, while the guards stood in the illuminated tower, having the ability to watch the prisoners at any given moment. Due to the illumination of the center tower, the prisoners could not see outside their cell, which means that they do not know if they are being watched at any point in time. And while this analogy can be generally acceptable, understanding what surveillance is in our context can help us understand the flaws of this comparison.

One noticeable hole is that in terms of surveillance, we do in fact know that we are being watched. In fact, we have come to accept the fact that we are being watched practically all the time. Yet many a time, we don’t let that thought affect what we decide to see or what we decide to say in our daily conversations. The comparison to the prison would be accurate if the government was hindering our every word, our every Google search, etc. But because this is not the case, the Panopticon cannot be an effective way to describe the surveillance that happens today.

Figuring out the Unknown takes Forever

It took cryptanalysts nearly 2 centuries to crack the Great Cipher. It was a mystery that took the cryptology world by storm, as hundreds of cryptanalysts of all levels would be befuddled by the difficulty of the puzzle of years and years. It was not until  the cipher was passed on to Bazeries that the secrets of the encrypted papers would finally be revealed to the curious world.

Perhaps the main reason why the Great Cipher was so secure was because the original creator of the cipher decided to expand on what was known in the world of cryptography and combine factors that would provide the current cryptanalysts with a much more difficult challenge. Keeping in mind that Bazeries took three years to crack the code, he tested many ideas that had never been seen before in the world of cryptography, let alone had been used as a cipher before. Because what was being revealed was something completely new, obviously the Great Cipher can be considered as one of the most secure if not the most secure in the entire world. Bazeries operated on a trial and error basis for months and months, where 99% of the time he would end up with no result. After countless permutations and variations, all it took was him to discover one word to become “the first person for two hundred years to witness the secrets of a Louis XIV” (Singh, 1999, pg. 57). In addition, because society was so unwilling to accept new ways to hide messages due to either complexity and/or ignorance of its effectiveness, when some brand new methodology comes along, it can be largely neglected and thought lowly of even if  it is extremely effective. In the same manner, it would have had to taken someone who didn’t care about social norms to try something knew and take a chance in figuring it out, hence why it took so long.

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén