The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Author: Allison Molo

There’s No “I” in “Team”

Photo credit: "Share" by AJ Cann via Flickr CC

Photo credit: “Share” by AJ Cann via Flickr CC

A key factor to Bletchley Park’s success was the collaborative efforts that were used in order to crack Enigma time and time again. After reading Singh’s chapter in The Code Book that discussed Bletchley Park, one might get the idea that Alan Turing was the key to the Allied success. Alan Turing was, no doubt, a key player in the cryptanalysis that led to the Allied success. However, there were thousands of other men and women that aided in the breaking of Enigma and deciphering German messages.

One image that stands out to me that Singh wrote of were the huts in Bletchley Park. Singh illustrates these huts as hubs of collaboration between some of the brightest minds in their given field. If a cryptanalyst was working on a cipher or encrypted message and was stumped, he would pass it to another cryptanalyst. A single message could make its way around the hut numerous times, with each cryptanalyst getting one step closer to the solution until it was solved.

Within each hut there was a clear sense of teamwork, but from hut to hut there was a similar sense as well. Each hut had a specific purpose, so once one hut had done its job with a message, it would be handed over to the next hut for the next step. This ensured that each member of Bletchley Park was doing what he or she thrived at, leading to maximized efficiency as well as an overwhelming necessity and use of communication and teamwork.

Coffee shop owner attempts to protect customers’ privacies

One passage that stood out to me while reading Little Brother was on pages 90 and 91. Here, Marcus speaks with the owner of a Turkish coffee shop. As Marcus tries to pay for his coffee with a debt card, the owner explains to him that he no longer takes debt cards. He explains that this is now just another way for the government to keep track of where each citizen is. Because of this, he will now only accept cash. The owner also tells Marcus that this very thing- the government keeping such close tabs on its citizens- is why he left Turkey and came to America.
I think why this passage stood out to me so much is because of the owner’s motivation to come to America. We’re supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave, yet we have to question if as American citizens we truly are free, and in this case, free from our own government. Obviously Doctorow takes these questions to a new level in his novel Little Brother with the heightened invasions of citizens’ privacy, but he bases this future off of what is currently present in society.
Besides questioning Americans’ freedom, this passage stood out to me because it was inspiring to see the owner decide to put the sanctity of his patrons’ securities in his own hands. He made the decision to not accept debt cards anymore because he is trying to protect his customers, even if that means losing some customers due to the inconvenience. I thought this was extremely admirable and inspiring, considering he is trying to protect the very thing that drew him to America from Turkey.

Environments that promote or discourage confidence in codes

Before the development of the Vigenère cipher, those sending encrypted messages understood that if the message was found, any good codebreaker would be able to decipher it. Mary Queen of Scots experienced a very different environment. She had total faith in her cipher and never guessed that anyone would be able to decipher her messages if they were intercepted. Because of this, Mary Queen of Scots did not bother to write discretely about her plans with her aides.
Before the Vigenère cipher was developed, those that wrote and sent encrypted knew the risk of interception did not speak so plainly about the topic of the message as someone that had confidence in their encryption would. This kind of environment that fostered insecurity was complete with numerous Black Chambers. Black Chambers were centers where messages intercepted through the mail system were then analyzed and attempted to be deciphered. Through this, valuable messages that had been deciphered could be then given or sold to various European powers as crucial intelligence.
Due to these kinds of operations, there was no way for people to be totally confident in their ciphers, something that got Mary Queen of Scots executed. The development of Vigenère cipher allowed for a greater confidence in the security of people’s messages.

Facebook Will Never Forget Your Face

One thing that I’ve realized so far during my short period in college, is that students need to blow off steam and let loose after a demanding week of schoolwork. In a college environment, that could be done through a variety of activities including, but not limited to exercising, hanging out with friends, and partying. As much as I’d like to say that every college student obeys the law and doesn’t let alcohol touch their lips until their twenty first birthday, this simply isn’t the case.
Our generation not only loves to have fun, but we also find the need to ensure that others know that we are having fun. Various forms of social media allow us to accomplish this, and Facebook is an often used platform to broadcast about the great time we’re having. But what happens to that photo that you get tagged in while you’re holding that red Solo cup? What happens to the photo that shows you clearly intoxicated, while you’re under the legal drinking age? The article “The 5 biggest online privacy treats of 2013” addresses this issue.
Facebook uses the photos of you uploaded onto the site to create a detailed “faceprint” of what you look like from all angles. Facebook may use this “faceprint” to allow you to find people you may know that are also on the site, but there is nothing stopping Facebook from selling this unique “faceprint” to third parties. Remember- this “faceprint” is created with some photos of you doing illegal activities. With the possibility of Facebook selling it to a third party, there’s no stopping a potential future employer from gaining access to this “faceprint” and the photos that make it up. I doubt partying college kids is an image that most businesses want their employees to have.
Please take my advice and remember that everything you put onto the internet lasts. Don’t put things online that could implicate you in any way!

A Peek into Cryptography

It’s confession time. I did not know much, if anything, about cryptography when enrolling in this class. With this lack of a background, what we read in Singh and the content that we later discussed in class were extremely fascinating to me since I hadn’t had much previous exposure to the topic.

One topic that we discussed further in class was the resources that are needed in a society in order for cryptography to be present and flourish. As societies advance mathematically, statistically, and linguistically, skills in those areas tend to be ingrained in the population of that society. As we sat down in class on the first day, we were able to figure out the cypher alphabet and then decode a message. If you had put that same coded message in front of kids our age 600 years ago, there’s not a doubt in my mind that they would struggle with it much more than we did.

While we automatically have a leg up due to our advanced society, another resource would have allowed someone our age to decode the message 600 years ago. This resource is of course the funds that would have provided an education to make up for the lack of societal knowledge. I thought it was really interesting to note how money could give you what would be more readily available in the future, just like most other commodities.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén