The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

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Reasons why Surveillance is Necessary for National Security

I think that one thing I will argue in the debate is the nature of the question. Privacy and surveillance are not mutually exclusive and saying that giving the government the tools necessary to keep our country safe necessarily means that people’s privacy is violated. The question itself leads the reader of it to an immediate answer which is unfair to the debate. It could just as easily be written as”Is it worth it to give up one’s personal privacy for the greater good of National Security?” This asks the same question but with the bias leaning the other way. The Patriot Act also will help the government track more lone wolf type attacks where without metadata it would be very hard to track them. In a New York Times article, it gives a specific example of a terrorist who was caught solely because of the way the patriot act is designed to catch these people. Based on the Patriot Act it is also illegal for the government to eavesdrop unless a judge warrants it. This is different than data collection, and I will try and argue this distinction in the class debate. I also think that there is the pretty obvious argument that if one life is saved because of this data collection that it is still worth it to do so given the risks/lack of privacy.

How to Combat the Perils of an Online Identity

As we all know, in modern society we are being watched and surveilled by companies, individuals, and governments that want our data. Through the course of these podcasts, I think there are some key takeaways that we as students can implement to make our selves more secure and immune to major breaches to our online identity. It is very hard to stop everyone from seeing anything you post on the internet, but it is easy enough to put in a few safeguards so that major harm is mitigated. One thing that you can do is use secure passwords that vary from site to site. Password security is a big thing that students should be aware of, and using tools like apple keychain or another password creator/sorter is an effective way to combat against people trying to steal your identity. We saw earlier in the year that when a website’s database is breached, it is only the 90% of the least secure passwords that are compromised because it is not worth trying to hack extremely secure passwords since they take to much time and computing power to crack.   Also, I know that certain products like iPhones are better about security than androids because of some of the safeguards that they put in place to make their phones and devices more secure. These are a few ways to keep yourself more immune to attacks on the internet, although, in matters like these, nothing is certain, so you also have to be careful what you put online as a student.

Another smart thing to do as a student is to have external backups to important files on your computer in the event that you are hacked. As shown in the first podcast, if a device is compromised it can be very hard (and expensive) to recover your data. Having an external backup will make you have a failsafe in place.


The Benefits and Drawbacks of Online Transparency

“In his book Discipline and Punish, philosopher Michel Foucault describes how surveillance operates as a mechanism of control. When inmates believe they are being watched, they conform to what they believe to be the norms of the prison and the expectations of their jailors. Surveillance is a mechanism by which powerful entities assert their power over less powerful individuals.”

In this blog post, I will be responding to the post made by Xinyi about this same quotation that I have provided above. Her claim in her blog post is that people behave differently knowing that they are being watched and could be caught doing something at any moment. She also discusses the idea of the panopticon, and how it violates the fundamental right to privacy. I think that her argument makes a lot of sense, but I disagree with certain parts of it. People know that when they post things on social media, they are more permanent. There is, however, a kind of paradox with this. On one hand, people are more uncivil online because they feel removed from the people they are talking to. On the other hand, there are more repercussions to comments made online, and without this balancing factor created by the lack of privacy, social media may be more toxic than it already is.

Although I believe that social media creates an accountability that doesn’t exist when people talk in person, I do agree with the point that Xinyi made that social media makes people not be their true selves. She makes the point that people online only post the best parts of their lives, and they leave out the struggles many times. People viewing these post misinterpret the context of these posts, and may not get the full picture of who someone is. They may form preconceived notions about people they barely know, and this is an issue with the lack of privacy that social media creates.

Why Encryption is for All

At this point, the cat is out of the box with regards to encryption. Available to all internet users are extremely secure encryption systems, and this is why trying to limit their use is a mistake. Strong encryption should be available to all internet users. Pretty much as it stands, terrorists or people engaging in nefarious activities will be able to encrypt their data, and there is no way to take these keys back off the internet. We bank on their complacency at this point, and there is no practical way for us to stop them from communicating securely. However, we as a society can lose a lot if we don’t allow encryption to be available to everyone. There are advantages for big business to have access to extremely strong encryption because they are vulnerable to attacks and hacks. Strong encryption is also beneficial for individuals because it protects their privacy. There is a lot of extremely sensitive information online, and every month we see that certain websites have been hacked and that user data has been stolen. With stronger encryption, people’ bank accounts, photos, personal history, and social security numbers can be kept more secure. Also, their communication can be more secure, which is good, because people always feel at the back of their mind that they are being spied on by people, and this would ensure their privacy. This is why I believe that strong encryption should be available to everyone.

Zodiac Killer on the Loose

I thought that the podcast about the Zodiac Killer was extremely interesting and very well done. I think that one of the most important aspects of this podcast was the use of music. The creator of the podcast clearly knew how dark the subject matter was and chose music accordingly. I liked how the music was not overpowering either so that the voice of the narrator was crisp and clear. I think that finding this balance is difficult, and I think they did a very good job with it.

I also really liked their use of storytelling. Nowadays, we are so used to the movies where everything is shown to us, so explaining in words the gruesomeness and eerieness surrounding the Zodiac killer’s murders is a difficult task on a podcast especially. They did a very good job with the storytelling, and overall their podcast was pretty stellar.

If I had to make one small critique though, it would be that at a couple of places there were a few short pauses/ stumbles that drew away from the rather fluid nature of the podcast, if these were cleared up, I think it would be very hard for me to tell their podcast apart from the professional ones.

A comment on another student’s analysis of how the enigma was broken.

( (link to original blog post)

In his blog post titled “An Interdisciplinary Approach,” Browkm10 shows how the creativity of the minds in Bletchley park heavily contributed to the success of the team. We talked about in class how breaking a cipher involved a certain degree of logic, creativity, and skill. Browkm10 discusses how all the major players like Turing brought diverse expertise to the table. He talks about how there were chess champions, bridge builders, and machine experts all congregated together working on the same problem. He ultimately argues that it was the combination of creativity and logic that made the defeat of the German enigma possible.

I do think, however, that he/she left out an important aspect that had to take place for the enigma to be broken, which was luck. The cipher was only able to be solved because of a few key mistakes that were made by the Germans. They didn’t allow switchboards to have connections to adjacent letters, which lowers the total number of combinations by a huge amount. They also had rules about scambler placement that had the same effect. It was the logic and creativity that made breaking the enigma possible, but there were a good amount of mistakes made by the Germans as well that contributed to the Enigma’s demise. I think overall the blogger made some very good points, but I think that this nuance’s his/her argument.


The Morals of the Zimmerman Telegram Decipherment

  1. When the Zimmerman telegram was deciphered by the cryptanalysts of Britain’s Room 40, Admiral William Hall decided not to tell American President Woodrow Wilson about its contents because doing so might let the Germans know that Britain was capable of breaking their codes.  Given the danger posed to America by the unrestricted U-boat warfare indicated in the telegram, was this ethical of Admiral Hall?

I think that in a time of war, it is very hard to judge the hard decisions of people in power. In all wars, there will be casualties, and the hard fact of life is that in war the generals and people in charge need to minimize overall losses, not save every life. I think that overall the decision was ethical because strategically it had to be done. They chose not to tell President Wilson because they knew that the Germans were starting unrestricted submarine warfare and that the US would most likely join the war because of this. This was a calculated decision that paid off for the British in the end. Having the codes to someone else’s messages is extremely valuable, much more valuable to the British than having the US in the war a few weeks sooner. This was most definitely the strategic decision for the British. With these codes, they could be able to save countless more lives in the future by intercepting key attacks. Even with the case in World War II, the Allies had to let certain attacks happen that they knew were planned so that the Germans were not tipped off about the cracking of the Enigma. Although it is a very tough decision, I think that the British made the right decision in not telling the US about the Zimmerman Telegram.

A Dissection of the Round Table with the General and the Chancellor

I thought that this lecture was very interesting, although it didn’t really focus on what I thought it was going to focus on. Instead of talking about the debate between surveillance and privacy, they mainly focused on political issues as well as the art of on the ground surveillance. The general was the former director of the CIA, and he talked a lot about how the new presidency has shaped intelligence gathering. I thought he made an interesting point when he categorized the presidents by “archetypes,” and showed that most presidents fit into one of a few categories. He characterized President Trump as a “Jacksonian” and President Obama as “Jeffersonian.” By this, he meant that Trump was a populist that was holding America back from the inevitable. He compared Trump to William Jennings Bryan who ran in an election where he pushed that the US currency should be based on silver and not gold and how the US should be more agrarian and less industrialized. Now, he said he believes that industry as we know it is changing and that the US needs to adapt to these changes.  He said that industry that Trump is only delaying this process. It was also interesting how the General thought that Trump was going to change intelligence gathering. He said that as of right now, the US relies on a lot of liaisons for intel gathering and that in the future, due to the America first policy, it may be necessary to have more autonomy when it comes to on the ground surveillance. Although this debate didn’t focus on the idea of privacy vs. surveillance, the General did talk about the work that the CIA does on the ground and how the President and the government, in general, can influence the way that this has to be carried out. Although this lecture was not what I was expecting and didn’t really relate to our class that much, it was still very interesting.

Newseum Privacy vs Security Debate

I thought that this photo was very interesting since it captured a lot of the same thoughts that was as a class had after reading Big Brother. It also reminded me a lot of those word maps/clouds that show the frequency of words in a given text. I saw the word privacy pop up a lot, but I didn’t see so much about Security. Another very interesting thing on the board that was kind of hard to read was the Benjamin Franklin quote. He said that “those who give up essential liberty for a little bit of security deserve neither security nor Liberty.” I thought that this was a very powerful quote that relates to the topic, and I also think that Cory Doctorow would very much agree with it. I think that the governmental agencies that collect data get a bad reputation to a certain extent. I think that it is very unlikely that I have an FBI agent devoted to monitoring my life. What is more likely is that my data is being used to create a large sample of data which may be helpful to them. I forget the name of the trick, and I can’t find it online, but I know that in accounting if the number of 1’s that start the numbers in the books is off by a few standard deviations, then it is likely that someone has cooked the books. Terrorism may be much more difficult, but there may be situations like these where it is useful to have metadata.

Unbroken ciphers and their appeal


I think part of the allure is the chase. Rarely is there ever an unsolved mystery with such a big bounty. I think that people are drawn to both the mystery and the award. the same is true for unsolvable math problems. If you solve them you get fame and glory, but you also get the satisfaction of solving something that nobody on earth has solved before. I think another part of the Beale cipher is that you don’t necessarily have to be an expert cryptoanalyst to solve it if it is a book cipher. If anyone guesses what the book or text the cipher is based on, they will be able to solve the cipher with ease. This means that there is not a huge advantage to having an extensive background in cryptoanalysis. I think that there is also an advantage when something is unsolvable to have an outside perspective. It is entirely possible that all the cryptoanalysts approach the problem in a very similar manner, and they negate other ways to solve the problem. Someone with an outside view on the field may have an advantage because they might come up with a completely original way to solve a problem. This is why there is still a large allure to trying to solve an unsolvable problem like the Beale cipher.

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