The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Author: lala1

Little Brother: A Hyperbolic Representation of Security vs. Privacy

On page 91 in the novel, while the narrator, Marcus was in the Turkish Coffee shop, he was dumbfounded by the idea that based on the new Patriot act, people could track his purchases on his debit card. He posed the rhetorical question to the reader, “You think it’s no big deal maybe? What’s the problem with the government knowing when you buy coffee?” This is essence to me sums up the idea of privacy vs. security, because it shows how when taken to far, surveillance becomes utterly useless. There is no good that can come out of the fact that the government knows when you buy coffee. Under no circumstances would that ever become relevant in figuring out who terrorists and criminals are. Furthermore, even if it somehow contributed in the most minute way to a terrorist prediction algorithm, someone could just pay cash and get away with it anyway.

Anyone who is trying to plan some sort of nefarious attack is probably going to take the time to figure out what the government is tracking. For example, if the government tracks bank transactions worth more than 10,000 dollars, then a halfway smart criminal would make 20 small transactions worth 500$ each, and the only people that would get flagged would be innocent. If the government is tracking debit card purchases, then a criminal will just use cash. In the end, all this will do is lead to violations of the Bill of Rights and waste a huge amount of money creating a haystack with no needles in it. This is why this particular section in the book stood out to me.

Is “increased safety” worth the loss of privacy on college campuses?

Arnie: The issue of privacy vs security is one that we have been asking and will continue asking in the age of the internet, and this question arose in the article by Michael Morris. College campuses and schools are a unique place where this issue manifests itself. Students use university wifi, and with this, a university could theoretically track patterns. This idea is very similar to the idea of the patriot act that was a matter of contention in the past. In the patriot act, the FBI and NSA had the right to access data to try and prevent terrorist attacks. They spent millions/billions of dollars surveilling people, but according to some sources there were no major terrorist attacks that were prevented by this.

I personally have no issue with people trying to use my data or the data of others to get a better picture of who we are and tailor ads towards our preferences. I am of the opinion that if something is on the internet, you need to be prepared for everyone to have access to it and take advantage of it (as scary as that is). I think that colleges could access data, but I think at the end of the day I don’t think that there is any algorithm that could catch a huge amount of these cases, but even if a few lives are saved it is worth it. However, in most cases, I think that it will be a drain of money because it will be very hard to create a program that is capable of catching a majority of cases.

The Achilles Heel of Mary Queen of Scots: A Weak Cipher

Arnie: Why is a weak cipher worse than no cipher at all?

The cipher that Mary Queen of Scots used in this chapter was able to be broken, and in this case, having no cipher at all would have been better than the weak one that was used. He says that because they believed their communication was secure, the Queen and her accomplices became too complacent. The contents of their letters were far more incriminating because the conspirators believed that even if the letters were found, they would most likely just look like gibberish. With frequency analysis, even a somewhat strong cipher can be cracked over time if someone has the right resources, which the Queen of England most definitely did. If Mary had just used cryptic language that was vague and concealed the letters in the same manner, even if they were found, they would have been much less incriminating and she would most likely not have been sentenced with the death penalty. Because of her complacency and her blind trust in the cipher she was using, she let down her guard, and this ultimately led to her demise. This is what Singh means by the fact that sometimes a bad cipher is worse than no cipher at all.

I think that the same thing could be said about passwords on the internet today. If something has a weak password it may be worse than having no password at all. If there is a hacker trying to get your data, they are probably more likely to try and hack into password protected websites, because that is where more sensitive information is normally stored. If your password is “12345678,” it may be worse than having the same information on a non password protected website because hackers may be less likely to look there. I think even in the modern era, the idea that no cipher is better than a weak one is still applicable in some senses.

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