The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Author: Oliver Zhu Page 1 of 2

Essential aspects about the debate

First of all, a debate is about providing arguments. So arguments are the first aspect of the debate that might be essential to the debate. Having strong arguments about the topic is the first step of having a good debate. As a note taker, it’s important to find out the main arguments of both sides and record those arguments, since those arguments are the main themes of the debate.

Second, when debaters have their arguments, they’ll have to illustrate them using examples. There’re often times when debaters do have their strong arguments but also have a hard time putting forward their ideas. The debate’s purpose is to let the judge or audience to understand the debater’s concepts. Examples serve to help the audience directly get debaters’ ideas and believe them. Therefore, examples are the second aspect that is essential to the debate.

Third, it’s also important how the debaters respond to the arguments from the other side. The debate is different from a speech. A speech can focus on only one side of a topic and talk only about the side that the speech giver stands on. A debate is different. Responding to the opponents’ arguments and prepare counter-arguments toward them is essential to the debate. It’s what makes a debate a good debate.

Overall, as a note taker, it’s important to record debaters’ arguments or counter-arguments and examples used to sell their arguments. These aspects can also be used to determine the quality of the debate.

Don’t hack me

The first part of the RadioLab episode “Darkode” is probably the most interesting episode I’ve ever heard. Though it’s probably not very ethical of me, the story, the tone, and the voice just kept me laughing all the time. On the other hand, it does tell us something about internet privacy protecting. First of all, we should avoid visiting suspicious websites or downloading files from insecure resources. Maybe not in this case in the podcast, but many victims got infected by a virus created by hackers because they went into the websites that shouldn’t be opened. Therefore, surfing the internet in legal ways is an important step to protect yourself from hackers.

What’s more, in the episode, the woman was about to erase the computer files completely so that the virus will go away. However, there was important data in her computer that her husband needed. So my suggestion is to keep a backup file in a hard disk regularly, or back the files up on those online storing websites. Doing so can help to reduce your total dependence on your computer. Even if being infected by a virus is inevitable, you can still protect your data and have your files back. It’s also going to reduce the loss if you lost your laptops or phones.

In the end, for college students, there are many places to turn for help or learn about privacy protecting in the university. Try to find professional help when you’re under a potential hacking attack. There are many new things or websites in college life. Stop filling out too much personal information on the websites can help reduce the risk of private information being leaked out.

Acts out of love but still surveillance

Have your parents ever told you that everything they did was for your own good? It is true when they said that they are protecting you out of love, but it’s not always comfortable for children to know that they’re being watched by someone; even this someone so close to them as a parent. This is actually a very common scene between children and their parents nowadays. Parents, caring about their children, don’t want to be kept out of their children’s private life, while children try hard to stay out of the sight of their parents. Trying to control their children not help their children feel their love or caring; but just on the opposite, the children will probably consider their parents as invaders to their privacy. So for the relationship between parents and children, the parents should let their children keep their own secrets. There’s no need for parents to know every single corner in their children’ lives.

Moreover, the children can’t become independent and finally grown up if they always stay under their parents’ protection. In Danah Boyd’s book It’s complicated, he said that “When parents choose to hover, lurk, and track, they implicitly try to regulate teens’ practices. Parents often engage in these acts out of love but fail to realize how surveillance is a form of oppression that limits teens’ ability to make independent choices.” Children need to practice their ability to make decisions on their own. They’ll grow up eventually and probably leave their parents for a new family one day or another. It’s important for them not to rely on their parents. Parents are limiting their children’s ability when they try to control everything about their children. So overall, parents should leave their children some private spaces. Too much controlling will lead to a decrease in family relationships and not sufficient opportunities for the children to improve their living abilities.

Not making the world a better place

Admittedly, restricting strong encryptions by the law enforcement and national security agencies do have some advantages toward crime fighting. However, the law enforcement and national security agencies can’t deny people’s right to protect their own privacy.

Singh noted: ”Civil libertarians argue that the widespread use of encryption is essential for guaranteeing the right to privacy.” Without strong encryption, people’s data will be exposed to everyone. People’s personal information online or the messages they sent all rely heavily on encryption to be kept as their own privacy. Would the world be better if the database of the giant companies is put online without encryption? Will that be beneficial for fighting crimes? Definitely not. Criminals will have more targets to attack. Also, with knowledge of encrypting, the public can even help the police or national security agencies to fight the crime. Restricting encryption on the public can’t stop the criminals from using them due to the high level of technology they have nowadays as Singh claimed in the book. In general, restricting encryption methods from the public is definitely not making the world better or safer.

On the other hand, the government can’t just forbid others to use or learn encryption and monitor the public at the same time. Singh wrote about the unjustified wiretaps utilized by Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Edward Snowden also showed the wiretapping ways used by the government to control the public. Under these circumstances, people should have their rights to learn about these encrypting methods used by the government instead of being restricted to getting in touch with it.

An invention to win the war

When you think about the World War, there must be a scene or a voice in your mind that broadcasts the radio talks. The classic voice with electronic noises in the movies probably has made an impression. I didn’t know about the source of the noise before. I used to thought that the voices were not clear because of the lack of technology to communicate efficiently; but after the podcast, I learned that those noises were created for data encryption.

The podcast explained clearly how the machine works. The machine can break down a human voice into basic components; then transmit those basic components so that the receiver can recreate the voice on the other side. This invention was marvelous enough to create a new generation. For the first time, sounds can be digitized and transmitted over a long distance. What’s more, it also mixed noises with those components to make the encryption unbreakable. These two innovative ideas were combined together, led to the success of the war.

The producer used different soundtracks so that we can hear different people telling the whole story. This new approach creates a sense of warm and inspiring. We all have the terrible experience of losing focus after hearing a stable and unchanging sound for a long time. This podcast can easily catch the audience’s attention. It feels like having a conversation in front of a bonfire with several knowledgeable scholars. Besides, the producers also presented the original radio sound back to the time of war. When those clips were related to the sound people often hear in the movies, the audience can better understand the ways Voder are used. The lecture will not be complex and boring principle telling in this way, but be a vivid presentation.

After hearing this episode, I’m probably going to consider more about the audience for the podcast episode. Audiences’ interest is always the first thing to think about while making an episode.

Reasons contributed to the fallen of Enigma

In the blog post (, the student proposed an interesting idea that the Allies’ teamwork and creativity outcome the German’s general traits of procedural and rigid. I voted for creativity in the class research on TopHat which asked what trait is more important for figuring out an encrypted message. Cryptography or figuring out encrypted messages should not be like repeating the dull routine of changing letters into encrypted ones. German’s procedure of obeying the rules is probably one of the factors besides their overconfidence that caused their failure in the war against the Allies.

Germans made mistakes when they used too much of repetitive words in their enciphered text. For example, they started every message with the same words to praise their leader. They also used the Enigma machine under some unsuitable circumstances. They even used the encrypting methods for the weather report. Doing this is completely unnecessary at all and is probably just a show-off of their skills. Too many resources are provided to the Allies to decipher the messages. Their compliance made them precise and loyal soldiers, but that’s their disadvantage in the war of ciphers.

In contrast to Germans’ rigidity, the Allies’ teamwork between countries improved their chance to succeed. They also have a born advantage of language. The usage of Navajo language in military encryption was ingenious and made the codes unbreakable. The Allies’ cryptographers can focus more on deciphering German messages rather than worrying about their own message security. Combing German’s disadvantage and the Allies’ advantage, even a machine strong as Enigma will fall.

Ethical? Necessary.

In the movie “The Imitation Game,” there is a scene that Alan Turing and his team deciphered a message indicating that there is going to be an attack on the British Navy. After celebrating for finally able to beat the Enigma Machine made by Germany, they calmed down quickly and decided not to present the message to the British Navy. It’s confusing for me at first of why they chose to keep the attack as a secret, but I then understood the importance of keeping some of the messages private for the good of the big picture. It took unimaginable great effort for Turing’s team to figure out how to defeat the Enigma Machine. They can’t risk the chance to let the German Intelligence find out that they cracked the code. If they changed the Enigma Machine into other types of encrypting methods, more damage than a team of warships would be made and the war might have gone in another direction. In special times, some small sacrifices need to be made to win the war.

      It’s just like what Admiral Hall did to President Wilson. If they can’t find a source of retrieving the information that they can explain, the Germans will change the encrypting methods, and the British cryptanalysts will lose the advantage. Is it ethical? It’s probably not. However, it’s the war situation; so it needs to be treated differently. Admiral Hall did this so that the American, the most powerful country in the world, can join the Allies and fight German. It’s the war strategy and leads to an acceptable result. When the messages were spread out later, the damage made can be accepted for the privilege of the great world war.

On the other hand, after the Americans joined the Allies, it’s also helping the Americans if they have access to decipher the German messages. Therefore, it’s necessary for Admiral Hall to keep some messages secret. It’s too much to risk as they will lose all of their achievements the fact that they broke the German Code was known.

Insightful ideas provided by General Hayden

The former NSA and CIA director, General Michael V. Hayden, was interviewed by Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos and Professor Jon Meacham. Before going to the lecture, I thought that the interview’s going to be a debate of “Security versus Privacy.” However, it is more about political views and the current direction of the United States.

During the interview, questions regarding President Donald Trump’s presidency were asked. It’s the first time I heard political figures being categorized into different groups using the name of the representative presidents. For example, he classified President Trump as a “Jacksonian” and President Obama as a “Jeffersonian.” It’s interesting to see the present figures fit into past groups to help understand the current presidential positions.

What I also paid attention to was the general’s view of the trade war with China. He said in the lecture that Beijing is not the enemy. It’s quite interesting to see a director of CIA from the time of George Bush to have a friendly view of the Chinese government. He claimed that trades and connections with China are beneficial for both sides, especially for the United States. Media these days often exaggerate the crisis and conflicts between the United States and China. They want to make the tension seem more intense so that they’ll have more stories to write about. But it’s not the real situation. There’s a statement in economic that “Trades make everyone better off.” The positive connection between two super countries in the world will definitely increase the economic growth of each country or even the whole world. That’s the point of global cooperation.

The lecture provided several insightful ideas about the current global situation and developing directions that I never heard before. It’s not so much on the topic “The Assault on Intelligence,” but it’s still interesting anyway.

Would you give up your privacy to feel safer?

     On the whiteboard, I found an interesting quote from Ben Franklin’s: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” It’s quite forward-looking to make a statement about this question at that time. From the time or age of Ben Franklin, the communicating ways between people or terrorists are not that sufficient. Traditional methods are used rather than using mobile phones or other modern technology. People at that time do not lose their privacy as quickly as we do nowadays. But they have the sense to protect their privacy. Maintaining security should not be the excuse for the government to spy on our privacy. Just as it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to disregard privacy so that we can have safety

       When being asked what will people sacrifice for safety, many words appeared on the whiteboard. Some people said they could sacrifice text or email messages and phone calls records. Some people said they would sacrifice everything since they believe they have nothing to hide. Those data seems meaningless to them, but think about what will happen if the data was left in the wrong hands. What will happen if someone that got into a quarrel with you last week had the location of you or what you are texting about with your friends? These things seem easy to lose, but it’s actually your privacy that should not be collected by someone else. Just ask yourself, do you feel safer after you give up your personal data?

         The FBI law’s law enforcement should be aimed to help people and focus on criminals. They are not helping anyone by spying on the privacy of the public.

Winning the right way

In the lecture of Academic integrity 101: Winning the right way. The lecturer showed examples that help us understand the importance and wide extension of breaking academic integrity. The lecture first started with the presentation of the vice president of the honor council, Nitya Venkat, a student from medical school wanting to become a doctor after she graduates. She told us that the way of getting a right job is not about getting the highest GPA, but earning the job the right way. When she graduated and became a doctor eventually, she would want her patients to form complete trust toward her. But how are the patients supposed to trust her if she cheats in the homework or assignments and is not even worthy to become a doctor?

     Then the lecture showed a wide variety of actions that will be considered as plagiarism. In the past, my understanding of breaking the honor code or academic integrity is probably like plagiarism or cheating on the exams. However, the knowledge I learned from the lecture improved my understanding of plagiarism.

     By definition, plagiarism is using thoughts, materials or ideas from another without properly indicating the source; together with copying, changing wording, using a catchy word or phrase, or paraphrasing from another without indicating that source. That’s the first thing I learned in the lecture. That’s quite new to me since, in the past, I sometimes paraphrase something I learned from a source before into my work without indicating it. Reconstructing someone else’s words and put it your way is also plagiarism. It’s hard sometimes to find the source of a sentence you once read or a catchy word that came into your mind, but it’s the right thing to do to respect the producer of the knowledge by citing the ideas.

      As Dean Madison Sarratt once said: “There is nothing complex about our Honor Code. It is as simple as giving your word and keeping it.” A good person is the kind that will do good things when there’s no one watching.

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