The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Author: Julia

Hero or Traitor? Or neither? #catlords

Here’s a tweet:

This tweet reveals Snowden’s focus on the information itself as opposed to his role in releasing the information. He doesn’t want to influence how people interpret the revealed documents. He neither views himself as a hero nor traitor; he just felt that it was his duty as a human being to expose the extreme powers of the NSA.

-Sara and Julia

Snooping- Socially Acceptable?

“When I opened up the issue of teachers looking at students’ Facebook profiles with fifteen-year-old Chantelle, she responded dismissively: “Why are they on my page? I wouldn’t go to my teacher’s page and look at their stuff, so why should they go on mine to look at my stuff?” She continued on to make it clear that she had nothing to hide while also reiterating the feeling that snooping teachers violated her sense of privacy. The issue for Chantelle—and many other teens—is more a matter of social norms and etiquette than technical access” (boyd, 58). This passage, taken from the book It’s Complicated, by danah boyd, describes an opinion common of many people of all ages- even if one has nothing to hide, privacy is still valued.

The idea that knowing that you’re being snooped on can make you feel like your privacy is being violated, even if you have absolutely nothing to hide, is a fundamental argument in the discussion of privacy matters, especially in modern society. This concept can be related to data mining, as it can be uncomfortable knowing that your data is being mined, even if you have done nothing wrong. Just because someone has nothing to hide does not mean that they will or should relinquish their privacy. Data mining focuses a lot on the ethics of the practice; this passage focused more on the social norms aspect of snooping.

I found it interesting how this passage introduced this idea of privacy invasion as a matter of social norms and etiquette. Even though information on the Internet may be easily accessible to the masses, it does not make it socially acceptable for others to search for and view this information. But do people actually take etiquette into consideration when they are inclined to snoop? In some respects, these social standards should reduce the amount of snooping that occurs. However, even though it may not be socially encouraged to conduct this type of intrusive behavior, it is still very prevalent. I think that social norms do not stop people from snooping, although they may promote the practice of private snooping: keeping the information that one finds to him or herself, in order to keep the fact that he or she was snooping private. The Internet is saturated with personal blogs, profiles, photos, etc.- does that make it acceptable for strangers to view this information and use it how they please?

When Government Surveillance Goes Too Far…

Many segments of Little Brother brought up interesting points about the frightening consequences of complete government surveillance and its relation to security. One passage that caught my eye was in the beginning of Chapter 6 when the Turkish coffee shop owner told Marcus about the newly implemented Patriot Act II. In this fictional world, Congress passed Patriot Act II, which let the government monitor just about everything, including every time someone used his or her debit card, as a means to increase security following the terrorist attack.

I do not think that the government should be allowed to monitor its citizens so closely. I reacted to this passage because of its applicability to real life. After massive acts of terrorism, security is usually heightened. For example, after the horrific 9/11 attacks, Congress passed the Patriot Act, which vastly expanded the government’s authority to spy on American citizens. In Little Brother, the fabricated Patriot Act II represents a whole new level of increased governmental surveillance that goes too far. Will the US government ever try to implement such a law? This passage made me reflect on the future of our nation and what would happen if our society eventually mirrored the one portrayed in the novel.

The topic of my first paper was data mining. Data mining is a way of increasing surveillance and reducing one’s privacy, and can be related to Patriot Act II because of this. Will data mining progress into an uncontrollable amount of surveillance? Should data mining be allowed? Is it ethical? Every time you relinquish some amount of your privacy to the government, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, the government’s power increases. This novel shows the destructive nature of extreme governmental authority, which is something we all need to be aware of and watch out for in our current society.

The Value of Mathematicians as Cryptanalysts

A variety of factors contributed to the Allied cryptanalysts’ success over German cryptographers, including espionage, determination, and cooperation. One main element that contributed to the Allied success was the employment of mathematicians and scientists in their cryptanalyst units. The Polish breakthroughs in cracking Enigma demonstrated the value of mathematicians as codebreakers. Marian Rejewski, the main Polish cryptographer working on cracking Enigma, was a mathematician. Enigma was a highly complex machine requiring much logical and mathematical thinking in order to break it. In Britain, linguists and classicists had always dominated Room 40. The addition of mathematicians and scientists to the team greatly strengthened the unit and brought in a new perspective on how to break the ciphers. Analyzing the ciphers from a mathematical lens provided valuable new insight that was necessary to break the Enigma code.

Alan Turing is known for identifying Enigma’s greatest weakness, which made it possible to crack the Enigma cipher in tough circumstances. He was a master of math, science, and logic. His advanced skills in these areas helped him think through the different layers of Enigma and figure out how to approach and tackle the haunting task of cracking the code. Turing’s unique background in mathematical machines allowed him to create his bombes. These bombes tested Enigma settings much faster than they could be tested by hand. Without mathematicians like Turing, who could conceptualize and build such machines, it’s possible that Allied cryptanalyst units would never have broken the Enigma machine ciphers.

Nowadays, when I think of a modern cryptographer, the first thing that pops into my mind is a mathematician. However, a cryptographer has to be fluent in a variety of subjects, including mathematics, science, logic, and linguistics. The ability to integrate knowledge from diverse fields when attacking a cipher is what makes an exceptional cryptographer. Although the Germans’ overconfidence in the strength of Enigma played a significant role in the success of the Allied cryptanalyst efforts, many other factors were instrumental in the cryptanalysis as well. The realization that mathematicians could be important additions to cryptanalytic staffs was vital to the Allied cryptanalysts’ successes over German cryptographers.

Odd Drawings and a Secret Script: The Voynich Manuscript

While perusing Elonka’s website, I was fascinated by her page of “Famous Unsolved Codes and Ciphers”. Like Sara stated in her blog post, it is so astonishing to think about how even with modern technology and current knowledge, there are still numerous ancient ciphers that have yet to be broken, including the Beale Ciphers and the Voynich Manuscript.

I was not surprised that the Beale Ciphers was seated at the top of the list, which was ordered in terms of “fame.” In class, we discussed how its popularity most likely stemmed from the monetary prize associated with cracking it. Both professional cryptanalysts and amateurs have taken a crack at the Beale Ciphers, motivated largely by the potential of finding $20 million worth of treasure.

Although we have discussed the Beale Ciphers at length in class, the majority of the ciphers on the list were foreign to me. I found the Voynich Manuscript to be particularly intriguing. The Voynich Manuscript, which was constructed in the early 1400s, is a staggering 232 pages long. Its uniqueness stems from the fact that it not only contains text, but that it consists of drawings as well. Eccentric drawings of plants, herbal recipes, astrological diagrams, and humans in plumbing-like contraptions dominate its pages. This makes me wonder: what role do the drawings serve? Do the drawings contain the key to decrypting the text?

In class, we talked about the advantage of having a substantial amount of encrypted text when attempting to break a cipher. The Voynich Manuscript poses no problem in this respect. However, it is written in an unknown script of which there is no known other example of in the world. The script is alphabetic in nature, but shares no letters with any English or European alphabets. While this greatly elevates the difficulty of decrypting the script, it makes the manuscript equally more intriguing as well.

The Voynich Manuscript is considered ‘The Most Mysterious Manuscript in the World.’ Although it is possible that it is just a great hoax with no true meaning, crpytanalysts continue to devote extreme amounts of time and effort towards decoding it. Not only would decryption explain the strange drawings, but it would also reveal a new language never seen before. The Voynich Manuscript is simply fascinating; how and when it will be solved still remain a complete mystery, but I eagerly await its decryption.

Ethical yet Reasonable?

After Reverend Montgomery and Nigel de Grey deciphered the Zimmermann telegram, Admiral Sir William Hall refused to turn it over to the Americans. His decision not to tell President Wilson about its contents was not ethical, but it is somewhat understandable.

With the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare, German U-boats were prepared to attack any and all ships in the war-zone waters, including civilian passenger carriers. Given the high number of lives at risk, it was definitely unethical for Admiral Hall to withhold this information. Hall knew that the U-boat onslaught was going to begin in a mere two weeks, and the fact that he did not notify the United States reveals his apparent insensitivity for the lives of others.

However, war is often about taking risks. It could be argued that keeping the Zimmermann message private was a beneficial risk to take. Preventing the Germans from finding out that their encryption method had been compromised may have actually saved a greater number of lives than disclosing the message would have. If the Germans had found out about the decipherment and had created a new and stronger encryption method, the British would no longer have been able to easily decrypt their messages. This could have led to a longer war with a higher death toll.

It is unknown whether Admiral Hall was simply being selfish in keeping the message from the Americans or if he truly thought that it was in everyone’s best interest to keep the message private until it could be disclosed without the Germans finding out that their cipher had been cracked. Either way, it was undoubtedly unethical, yet reasonable, of Admiral Hall to withhold the information from the Americans.

What Matters More- Privacy or Protection?

Finding the appropriate balance between privacy and surveillance is a pressing issue that afflicts 21st century society. The arguments for and against data mining are both very valid. In Michael Morris’s article, “Mining Student Data Could Save Lives,” student shootings evidence the demand for widespread student data mining to protect the campus community. Morris says that if universities were to mine and analyze student data, they could screen the analyses to identify suspicious behavior and potential problems. I intend to respond to this essay because as a current college student, the topic of the article is extremely applicable to my life.

I believe that personal experiences shape one’s opinions, and if I had been a victim of the Virginia Tech shooting, then I would be in favor of student data mining. However, I do support personal privacy in this age of continually increased surveillance, so the best solution would be to find a balance that does not compromise total privacy, yet still enhances security.

An interesting aspect of the article is that it does not elaborate on other methods besides data mining in order to identity suspicious behavior and prevent problems. There are ways to recognize early warning signs without sacrificing one’s privacy. Behavioral cues, such as isolating oneself from his or her friends or always being in an angry mood, should hint that something is wrong. If friends, resident advisors, or professors could recognize these clues and get the individual the help that he or she needs, then this could also prevent problems from occurring.

There are many reasons for and against data mining, and I plan to explore these ideas in my essay while determining my opinions on what should be done to solve this controversial problem.

The Infinite Struggle Between Makers and Breakers

The continuous tug-of-war between cryptographers and cryptanalysts has triggered the expansion and prominence of cryptography in the world today. Just as quickly as new encryption methods are developed, new decryption strategies are implemented, creating a state of equilibrium in cryptography.

The art of secret writing dates back to Herodotus (Singh 3) and has had various uses in history, including military communication and murder plots. In more recent years, the explosion of technology has propelled the expansion and necessity of cryptography to the point where it has an effect, either direct or indirect, on every individual. Cryptography has a range of important functions, such as keeping bank account information private and ensuring that government information is kept secret.

Cryptanalysis was not invented until the Islamic golden age under the Abbasid caliphate (Singh 14). According to Singh, cryptanalysis could not be invented until a civilization had reached a sufficiently sophisticated level of scholarship in several disciplines, including mathematics, statistics, and linguistics (15). The Muslim civilization provided an ideal cradle for cryptanalysis because the Muslims were educated in a variety of fields and pursued knowledge in all of its forms (Singh 15).

This breadth of knowledge associated with the Muslim civilization is valued in most modern society today. Most individuals are at least somewhat proficient in an assortment of disciplines. Primary education sets the field by educating children about a variety of different subjects in order to equip them with a large intellectual toolset. Many secondary education institutions stress a liberal education in which students obtain an educational background in the humanities as well as the math and science fields.

Because of this, it is no longer necessary to undergo formal education in cryptanalysis in order to use elementary strategies such as frequency analysis. With the broad education that modern citizens receive, combined with the availability of abundant resources, especially those on the Internet, many of the older, simpler codes can be decrypted by the layperson. However, modern encryptions are much more complex than those of the past and may require serious study.

During the past few centuries, cryptography has exploded due to the expansion of technology. Cryptography affects numerous fields ranging from government information to banking, and brings in knowledge from a variety of areas including mathematics, logic, linguistics, and statistics. Modern education allows us to engage in the world of cryptography even as the complexity and number of cryptographic techniques increase exponentially.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén