The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Author: Christian

Tor and the Dark Web: Exploring and Explaining

In writing my paper, a guide on Tor and the Dark Web and a their role in the future of privacy, I have had to research the technology behind Tor and how the encryption and routing scheme works to enable anonymity of origination of user data. Along with the mechanics of Tor, most of my time was devoted to reading articles and stories about Tor to gain a better understanding of the view the media has of Tor and the effect the view has had on the public’s understanding and usage of the tool. I have already finished a draft of the paper, and so the only thing left to do is to further ponder over the question of Tor’s relation to the future of privacy.

The most challenging part of the process was explaining the mechanics behind Tor in a way that was easy to understand for any reader, especially those without a technical background. Overall, the entire paper has been fun to write because the topic itself interests me greatly and has given me the opportunity to give others a better understanding of a useful tool, Tor, and a potentially different perspective on its role in the future of privacy.

Losing our Voice


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The United State government should not be allowed to surveil its citizens and invade privacy in the interest of national security. The right to privacy was declared a basic human right. Taking that right away will weaken the voice of the citizens and allow the government more opportunity and more reason to increase surveillance in the future at the expense of other rights. This increased surveillance also increases the chance of an abuse of power.

If citizens allow their government to take away one right, then what is stopping them from taking away others on the basis that it will increase security? If a government knows it can get away with infringing upon the rights of its citizens, aware that the majority will not stand up and question them, it will be more inclined to abuse its power with the knowledge it is likely to suffer little repercussion if caught. There is evidence that the government has abused its power, especially when it comes to infringing upon the right to privacy. The government unjustly wiretapped telephone conversations of Martin Luther King Jr. and fed the information to Senator James Eastland, which he used in debates regarding a civil rights bill. Presidents such as Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon have been accused and proven guilty of unjust wiretapping (Singh, Ch. 7).

The U.S. government has shown its willingness to break the law and infringe upon the privacy of its citizens, allowing them to surveil the citizens for increased security. Allowing them to continue conveys that it is ok for them to do so. In the end, we will lose much more than just privacy. We lose our voice, our freedom and our rights.

Keeping Breakthroughs Secret

One of the main factors that contributed to the success of the Allied cryptanalysts over the German cryptographers was the secrecy that surrounded the Allied code breaking efforts.


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The Allies were able to keep their code breaking efforts shrouded under a curtain of secrecy and so even when a breakthrough occurred in Bletchley Park, the Germans remained unaware that their codes were broken and continued to send message through their “secure” system. For example, the Allies had exploited the fact that the Germans embedded their key twice at the beginning of their messages to avoid error, and used this information to help identify the settings of the Enigma machine. Had the Germans known earlier that their key transportation scheme actually hurt the security of their communication system, they likely would have changed the way they provided the key and made it harder for the cryptanalysts to make breakthroughs in deciphering their messages.

The Allies swore all who worked in Bletchley Park to secrecy for good reason. The secrecy gave the Germans a false sense of security in the strength of their system, buying the Allies more time to decrypt messages as well as experiment with new deciphering techniques in case the Germans changed their system upon learning that it was not as impenetrable as they had believed.

More than Privacy

Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother is a great read that makes the reader question whether privacy is worth giving up for security. In the third chapter, Marcus is detained and told to unlock his phone and decrypt the files for the government agents. He refuses to comply, citing his right to privacy, but the agents ignore him and tell him he has no other choice and “Honest people don’t have anything to hide”.

This phrase stood out to me and made me think about our discussion in class where the question of security versus privacy was proposed. The argument that we should not be worried about our privacy being invaded if we have nothing to hide is used as a basic argument in favor of security over privacy; however, this passage makes me question that argument. Most people have nothing to hide, but I do not think that this makes it acceptable to take away the right to privacy for everyone. I also think that if one right can be taken away from us, then there is nothing stopping the government from stripping the other rights we have as well. What is the point of basic human rights if they can be declared no longer basic at any time?

This passage discusses our right to privacy, but it also has made me think about the effects of the decisions we make regarding it. If we allow the government to take away one of our rights, then we pretty much give up our rights in general. How we react to the current privacy situations, such as the NSA scandal, will affect more than just privacy, it will determine the level of liberty of future generations.

The Value of Privacy

Why do you think that the advent of the telegraph motivated the use of a more secure cipher like the Vigenère cipher?

Prior to the telegraph, much of the communication was done so through hand written or typed correspondence. There was a sense of privacy when communicating through letters because they are sealed and it was assumed that only the intended recipient would read them. For people communicating more sensitive information, there was a chance that someone would intercept the letter and so enciphering it was standard in this case. The telegraph had the advantage of speed over the letter and so communication through telegraph was more favorable. However, a telegraph operator always reads the message when communicating via telegraph and so there is a decrease in privacy when using this system. This decrease in privacy could have been a motivation to use more secure ciphers like the Vigenère cipher. The only thing hindering people from using the Vigenère cipher over the Caesar cipher was the complexity and the amount of effort needed to implement the cipher. When there became a further decrease in privacy while using telegraphs, people may have realized that the extra effort needed to use the Vigenère cipher was worth it if it meant more privacy.

I think this can be seen presently with the advent of the Internet. The amount of privacy we have decreases when communicating through the Internet. To regain this privacy we do things like encrypt our data through the use of VPNs or by browsing websites that utilize SSL. A decrease in privacy because of the Internet has prompted us to go an extra step to regain it, and so it makes sense that the people that lived during the advent of the telegraph had done so as well.

Using a VPN to Protect Privacy

One thing college students can do to protect their online privacy would be to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). In short, a VPN encrypts a users’ data so third parties are unable to view it. They are particularly useful while using public networks such as a Starbucks Wi-Fi because any individual with enough knowledge and malicious intent can view your data while you both are connected to the network. There was even a time when any person with a Firefox add-on called “firesheep” could log into your Facebook account as long as you were on the same network. Even Starbucks and AT&T recommended using a VPN: “If you have a VPN, AT&T recommends that you connect through it for optimum security” (found in their Terms and Conditions).

If you are unable to afford the monthly cost of a VPN, there are many free Internet based proxies available for casual Internet browsing. You can even use programs such as TOR, which passes your Internet traffic through at least three different servers (normal internet proxies only pass through one) and allows anonymous browsing of the Internet. If anonymity is the objective, some VPN providers allow you to pay with gift cards or Bitcoins so no identifying information is given. VPNs have many uses, but most importantly they protect your data while using public networks. If you are worried about protecting your privacy while browsing the Internet, a VPN is one of the best tools you can use to do so.

Technology and Cryptography

After the class discussion, I began thinking about the concept that cryptography and cryptanalysis is dependent on exceptional resources. Upon first reading the chapter, I had considered the cryptanalysis that was done at the time as super basic due to the lack of technology such as computers. However, after further reflection upon the concept of resources during the discussion, I now believe that the people of means did have computing power at their disposal. The people that worked under them were their computers. It is true that a computer can easily brute force a simple dictionary password, but that does not mean humans cannot brute force as well. The time differences may be very different but in the end both processes will yield the password.

Every day our computers get more powerful and capable. It is hard to believe, but probably true, that future generations will be discussing the same topic and thinking about our technology in the same way we view that of previous generations. The discussion made me realize that maybe in a few years our level of cryptanalysis will be considered primitive. Cryptanalysis has evolved so rapidly over the past few years, due in part to the advent of the Internet, and it is hard to imagine what advances are bound to occur.

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