The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Author: stubblj

The Process of Writing

Writing my practical cryptography paper requires a lot of time and effort. Firstly and most importantly, I have found all of the sources I need in writing this paper. This took a great amount of time to find the perfect articles on the internet to address my topic, phishing. After finding and printing out all of my sources, I then needed to figure out how to organize this paper from beginning to end. In addition, it is imperative that I organize this paper without the classic “slow wind-up” and make it interesting for the audience.

I have made good progress so far in this paper with about one-third of the word count left to go. I need to continue improving my introduction and conclusion and expand my body paragraphs to increase the word count. By far the most challenging part of completing this paper is getting to the word count. It is difficult to write a large amount about this topic without feeling like I am just rambling or repeating. Perhaps I need to add another source or two to my paper. It has been enjoyable to learn all about phishing and its impact on our society. I have enjoyed becoming familiar with the topic as a whole and even learned new steps and measures I should take to avoid being “phished”.

Privacy Rules

The government should not be given free reign to use electronic surveillance for “national security” when compromising the privacy of citizens. I understand that the government would compromise privacy in the best interests of the state; however, the efficiency of the system for trying to find criminals using electronic surveillance is lacking. Little Brother gives us an example at the inefficiencies of searching for criminals by brute force. If they want to find criminals who are attempting to use security systems like Zimmermann’s “Pretty Good Privacy” (PGP), they need to know who and where to survey because only by making smart and educated decisions on who to check based on previous records will the government have a good chance at finding these criminals/terrorists.

Instead of prosecuting Zimmermann, the government should have used the benefits of PGP. By informing all normal, law-abiding citizens of PGP, they could have shown everyone how to use this security for their own electronic safety. If everybody had PGP to prevent others from reading their information, not only would the government have trouble seeing it, but also would internet criminals trying to steal their credit card/personal information. Some might think giving everyone the ability the secure their information would give criminals an easy way to avoid being caught by the government. However, even if the government didn’t allow this type of security and heavily surveyed electronic usage, criminals and terrorists would still find new ways to stay under the radar and will still be able to commit crimes. The heavy electronic surveillance and a strict ban on types of security such as PGP would only give the criminals the ability to stay private. This is similar to the debate on the Second Amendment on the right to bear arms. Making guns and other arms illegal only take them away from law-abiding citizens while the criminals still get them illegally.

Allowing privacy for the individuals helps the average citizen because their basic rights are maintained while helping them keep private from hackers and criminals. Compromising this basic right only gives the criminals the ability to work without being under the governmental surveillance. To prevent criminal acts or terrorist attacks, other measures should be made instead of taking away the people’s privacy.


Diego Torres Silvestre, 2005

Diego Torres Silvestre, 2005. Wikimedia, Creative commons.



Fatal Flaws

Photo Credit: david.nikonvscanon via Compfight cc


Although the Enigma machine at first seemed nearly impossible to decode, eventually the Allies successfully were able to get breakthroughs in the machine and finally solve the Enigma machine.

A major reason for the eventual success was although the Germans used different key words each day to further stifle the Allies, the Germans sent a huge amount of these messages which gave thousands of words the ability to be analyzed. Because of the vast amount of messages sent, it gave the Allies a great number of chances to solve the Enigma machine. Perhaps if the Germans had taken a step further and alternated using the Enigma machine with a different type of encoding device, it would have given the Allies almost no chance at deciphering their messages. However, the change of key words was a brilliant idea to make the Enigma machine more difficult to solve.

Another reason for the Allies solving the Enigma machine was as a result of the Germans sending messages concerning positions of their U-boats and where others needed to be. The Allies knew where the U-boats were when attacking their boats because the Allies boats were able to be tracked. As a result, when the Germans were communicating where to go, the Allies knew what the code represented which helped them figure out the key to the Enigma machine. Had the Germans used a wider variety of codes, not sent the great number of messages encoded by the Enigma machine, and not committed this fatal flaw, the Allies possibly could have never been able to solve the machine during World War II which could have greatly affected the final outcome of the war.

Privacy: From Times Square to the Percent Accuracy

The overwhelming theme of the novel Little Brother concerns the privacy of an individual and a society in all aspects of life. From the moment in which Marcus is first questioned by the National Homeland Security (NHS) until the end of the novel, Marcus highlights to the reader of the many horrifying consequences of a government overstepping its boundaries. Two examples described by Marcus hit me hard about why privacy is vital in having a normal and functioning society.

The first example is after the NHS confiscates Marcus’s electronic devices and receiving the passwords of those devices through brute force and intimidation. The NHS tells Marcus that if he truly has nothing to hide, then it should be no problem for them to take a look through his devices. This bothers Marcus extremely; however, he eventually gives in due to the fact that he knows that giving the NHS what they want is the only way for him to be released. Marcus compares this thinking of the NHS to forcing somebody to go to the bathroom in a clear glass room in the middle of Times Square. Although they have nothing to hide or protect, any normal person would want privacy when going to the bathroom and to not be in the public eye. This comparison was powerful in the imagery it invokes. Picturing somebody having to use the bathroom in public shows that Marcus having to give away all of his privacy and dignity is wasteful.

Secondly, as somebody who loves statistics and numbers in general, I also found the example of “false positives” and “percent accuracy” powerful. It demonstrates how problematic and inefficient the search and interrogation of almost everybody throughout San Francisco is in finding the terrorists who blew up the bridge. By displaying that even a 99% accuracy causes the government agencies and police to searching thousands and thousands of people further highlights the inefficiency of investigating people for possible terrorist suspects because in reality, their percent accuracy is closer to 50%. This example shows the reader not only how difficult it is to catch a terrorist in this manner, but also how it complicates and hurts the lives of the everyday citizens.


The Vigenère Cipher

For some time before the development of the Vigenère cipher, “anybody sending an encrypted message had to accept that an expert enemy codebreaker might intercept and decipher their most precious secrets.” (Singh, p. 45) How is this environment different from the one that Mary Queen of Scots experienced, where one didn’t know how likely it was that one’s encrypted message was secure?

Before the tragic execution of Mary Queen of Scots, the majority of people believed that the monoalphabetic substitution cipher would be sufficient in enciphering secrets. This is the exact reason why Mary Queen of Scots and her conspirators were extremely blunt and honest. Once the cipher was deciphered, she was immediately incriminated. However, at the same time of her death, a new polyalphabetic substitution cipher was used, the Vigenère cipher began to be involved greatly. The Vigenère cipher changed the landscape of all ciphers because it used twenty-six different alphabets for enciphering instead of only one. This made the deciphering process much more arduous or even close to impossible for the interceptor.
Back in Mary Queen of Scots time, it was not known that a number of people had figured out how to easily solve a monoalphabetic substitution cipher. Therefore, people kept using it. Once the news broke about the Mary Queen of Scots and the interceptor, mathematicians knew that it was necessary to create a much more difficult cipher in order to make sure secrets could be safe. The interceptors had made the adjustment, and it was time for the mathematicians to make their move. The Vigenère cipher was groundbreaking in that it stumped decipherers for years and years. Perhaps, had the fiasco involving Mary Queen of Scots not occurred, the advancement of cryptography as a whole could have been delayed hundreds of years. After this incident, anybody who used the simple monoalphabetic substitution cipher knew that they were under great risk of having their secret deciphered; this led to the rapid increase of technology and intelligence in the realm of cryptography.

Securing Social Media

Although I am not too informed on most measures you can take in ensuring better security online, the major step I always take is limiting the number of electronic devices you log into that requires passwords. This is an easy way all college students can increase their security, especially in terms of social media. The lower the number of computers you log into on Facebook, the better. I have heard and read a number of articles about people hacking into public computers and retrieving data from social media websites. These hackers have had great success thus far and will continue hacking. The major safety step we should all take is to not log in to social media accounts on public computers. For example, the computers at the Commons should be used for printing only, not for typing in credit card information or checking your Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Reading Christian’s article about the HTTPS now being available for Facebook interested me greatly because it has always seemed as places like Facebook had either little or no security at all. Hopefully this new added level of security will cure some of the major problems that have happened concerning hacking over the last few years. Although this might ameliorate the problem most of the time, it is still of everyone’s best interest to keep logging in to accounts on your own personal computer or “smart” phone. The chances of someone stealing your computer and accessing your information are less than a random hacker checking a public computer and gaining access to your information that way. Like always, safety is most important. I feel confident that if college students play it smart by just using their own computer for their social media accounts/bank accounts, they will significantly lower the chance of a much bigger security problem down the road.

The Code Book Analysis

Mary Queen of Scots made the fatal mistake by not only sending messages through code  that could be broken, but also incriminating herself in the messages by saying exactly her plan. It never occurred to me that perhaps the most important part of making a code is not making a code thats hard to decipher; instead, it is if someone deciphers the code that they still should not be quite sure what the message is talking about. The sender and the receiver of the message should already have decided on certain words set for other words and make the message more ambiguous. Otherwise, if someone can decipher your message, then all of the plans discussed will not be a secret anymore. Had Mary Queen of Scots gave a more ambiguous coded message, once it had been deciphered she still might have been able to complete her plan. Instead she was executed. By reading this chapter in The Code Book by Simon Singh, I have learned that if I am ever in a difficult situation in which I need to pass a code along, it is paramount for me to discuss a separate code with key words to make the message impossible to understand for the reader because almost all types of codes can be deciphered eventually. Coding, ciphering, and deciphering is quite the risk reward business.

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