Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

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Secure? So you thought...

World War II was a well choreographed ballet of air raids, land advances and U-boat attacks that required coordination across nations. The element of surprise was vital for successful attacks; maintaining secrecy in communications was absolutely crucial in winning the war. Because there were so many operations all across the globe involved in one of two sides, each nation developed their own coded system of transmitting information. After traditional encryption techniques were cracked in World War I, World War II demanded a whole new system of cryptographic methods that had not yet been solved. Both the Germans and the Japanese turned to machines to meet these new standards. The Nazi used Enigma machine and the Japanese employed Purple machine were both inventions that digitalized the encryption process for the first time. While the British worked on Enigma at Bletchley Park, the American codebreakers focuses their efforts on the Pacific powers. They worked on cracking the Japanese code that came to be known as Purple. The disadvantage they faced, unlike the British who had a version of the Enigma machine, was that no one knew how the encryption machine had been constructed. The cipher text it produced, was determined by many nations to be unbreakable, but the American cryptographers prevailed and worked for months to crack the code and ultimately succeeded. In wrongfully assuming their communications were secure, the enemy provided America (and Britain) with imperative intelligence, allowing us to evade attacks and plan successful missions of our own, ultimately leading to our victory on the beaches of Normandy.

So Hard it Broke the Soul

As a student of this course, I have quickly learned that breaking codes and deciphering texts is not the easiest of tasks, and the harder the codes become, the harder it becomes to crack them (obviously).

Chapter 5 of Liza Mundy's book "Code Girls" describes the beginnings of women working as code breakers for the Allies in World War II and just how difficult it actually was. Working on a day to day basis with a group of women where only a small handful were able to work at the expectations of the military, this became increasingly frustrating as more American ships started to crumble and the Allies started to lose the war on many fronts. In fact, it become so increasingly difficult that they described it as "heart-rendering", hence the title of this chapter.

Even despite all of this, those handful of women "rose to the challenge", working collectively to break up to hundreds of thousands of codes every month. This was a major turning point, especially on the naval front. Germany's naval codes were now not as uncrackable as they once seemed,  and the cryptanalyst's eye could catch Japan's mistakes within their messages. It almost seemed as though codes became easier to break as the enemies tried to complicate their codes further. This, along with a series of breakthroughs, is what I believe to be one of the key differences makers in this war.

More Than Capable of Completing Men's Work

My copy of the book did not have any reading questions so I will do my best to interpret the first blog post question and answer it to the fullest extent. The roles that gender played in the codebreakers life and work World War II were significant. Women were subject to doubt, cut wages, and a lack of job security. After all, the main reason why women were searched for and employed by the government was because so many men from the top colleges had already enlisted in the Army. Among the population of women in the United States, very few were even qualified for the codebreaking positions. 

Many girls were often told not to attend college because of the small job market for educated women and there was a stigma that higher education did not guarantee a more fulfilling life. The girls who were recruited primarily studied science and mathematics, two subjects that women were often coerced to avoid because they were considered men’s work. Women cryptographers were also paid half the wages of their male counterparts to complete the same tasks. Despite the lower wages, these women still decided to serve their country the best way they knew how. Also, this job for the government was in no way a permanent position upon the conclusion of World War II. Once the men came back from Europe, there would be less demand for women these positions. However in other industries there was a demand for women workers which led the economy to boom.

Codebreaking Wins Wars

Hiroshi Oshima, the Japanese ambassador to Germany, played a big part in losing World War Two for the Axis. He had sent a series of messages home to Tokyo, describing seemingly every military secret that Hitler could possibly have wanted to keep a secret. Detailing the strengths and weaknesses of the German defenses along the northwestern coast of Europe must not have seemed like a big deal to him because his message was encrypted. Unfortunately for him, his messages were deciphered. Later in the war, Oshima again unknowingly revealed to the Allies ore crucial information that helped them win the war.

Oshima made several mistakes. Firstly, he trusted in the security of his code. The fact that he was so sure that his communications were secure made him reveal information that he might have otherwise kept more closely. The second was that he didn't try to make life any harder for the American code-breakers working on his messages. His messages were a "wordy, effusive, somewhat emotional, meticulous description of German fortifications along the northwestern coast of France, from Britany to Belgium and everything in between." (pg. 297) As anyone who's ever tried to decipher a chunk of ciphertext knows, the more ciphertext you have to work with, the easier your job is. By being both wordy and specific, Oshima gave code-breakers a gift: they could find out what he was saying because he said so much, and what he said was immensely helpful to the Allies in the war effort. The information gained from Oshima, and from other Axis communications in Europe gave the Allies a leg up in the war, and led to the success of their D-Day invasion of Normandy.

Mundy, L. (2017). Code Girls. New York, NY: Hachette.

Women and Codes

With American men deployed overseas for WWII, women were expected to uphold the battle on the home front. This task involved recruiting women for jobs that traditionally would have gone to men, such as code-breaking and cryptanalysis. The women involved in the operations at Arlington Hall were sworn to secrecy. Thus, many of their tremendous and important contributions to the war went unnoticed until decades after peace had been made. Even when the Code Girls were allowed to speak of their roles in the war, many people did not believe them, or simply did not care.

After the war, most of the Arlington Hall girls moved on to other professions. During the Cold War era, women were expected to take on a more domestic character, returning to traditional roles in the home and taking care of a household and children. Having a professional occupation was seen as stealing jobs from men, and large, government run childcare was considered Communist. Despite the women's intelligence, education promised by the GI Bill was given priority to men who fought on the field.

Despite these circumstances, Arlington Hall provided an opportunity for women to showcase their skills to the world. The Code Girls represented the large intellectual potential females possessed, which had frequently been ignored previously in history.

Importance of Code Breakers in WW2

Sentences in the chapter directly shows how important the codebreaking is. It is said that “it was a grim time, Midway or no Midway.” What’s more, John Redman said that “the work the women are now doing is too important to the war effort to risk a period of absence and disorganization.” (Liza Mundy, Code Girls) These two sentences show that without knowing the plain text there is no way to know the enemies’ strategies and women as code breakers are important forces in the war. If there are not many code breakers work days by days, the battle will be harder for the allies because of no advantages. At that time, Germany’s Lightning War and Japanese’s navy are strong. With the information of knowing where the enemies are going to attack or the position of the warships, the allies can attack with surprise to gain advantages. However, this needed the plaintext as a prerequisite. For America, the Naval Communications Annex works as an important part of the breaking code. In 1943, on February, there are about 4000 women breaking the code, which is a large amount of numbers. What’s more, they are able to keep secrets in their daily life. When others test them in daily life, the women do not easily tell about the secrets about their organizations. The ability of keeping secrets from enemies work as the basis of winning the war.

Mean Girls (WWII Edition)

Arlington Hall, the epicenter of the American code breaking effort, was s densely populated pseudo-tenement housing for some of the brightest and most flexible minds the country had to offer. Of course, with such a high population of men and women living together in close quarters, gender played a significant role in both the code breaking efforts and daily lives of the residents of Arlington Hall.

The most prominent aspect of the gender dynamic in Arlington Hall was complaining. Most notably was the case of William Seaman, who consistently complained of being the target of a clique-y group of female coders who bullied and harassed him. Many other men in the facility voiced a similar complaint, especially of the college-educated women, a group of people who seemed to point their nose up and look down on a good portion of the civilians and other employees that populated the hall.

Further, gender also played a significant role in the jobs that men and women carried out on campus. Women were placed into every level of codebreaking on account of their skill in reading and interpreting languages and having a general understanding of mathematics. However, in addition to this, women also filled in many of the mundane and rudimentary jobs, such as sanitation or security. On the other hand, the men staffed at Arlington Hall all were involved in many of the higher level positions, as any who were of the physical capacity to go to war were sent away as such. This left behind many men who, despite lacking in the masculinity department, could contribute more than their fair share to the code breaking efforts. However, despite these differences, it would take the harmonious cooperation of men and women to thwart the Axis' cryptographic efforts and ultimately win the Second World War.

WWII Codebreaking Badass Women

Although women born in the twenties could enjoy the results of women's suffrage, they were not treated as equals in society. During the time of WWII, many families were extremely broken down. The adults in the family had to live with PTSD from growing up in the Great Depression. The kids in the family had to deal with the threat of their fathers death. Women were left to deal with many of the tasks that men normally handled (at the time) because of the lack of men in society. 

The war, in full affect, demanded the attendance of nearly every eligible US man. Because of this, women were needed to handle some of the duties outside of the battle field pertaining to the war. Hence, the usage of women in cryptography. Although these intelligent individuals were finally given the opportunity to be involved in work that demonstrated their intellectual capabilities, they were still not regarded as highly as men. Yes, they worked in math and science along side the opposite sex, however they were forced to complete the busy work while the men got to be involved in the larger discoveries. These women were also sworn to secrecy and kept these secretes very well, as their involvement in the war was not known until after many of their deaths. 

 

The Secret Struggles of WWII's Female Codebreakers

Although female codebreakers were completing some of the most important work on the intelligence front during World War II, the necessary secrecy of their work as well as their gender led these women to not always receive the treatment that they deserved. In the 1940s women in general were seen as subordinate to men, and deemed more suited to tedious tasks—for example, in Chapter 11, upon their arrival at a training camp in Dayton, Ohio the women were set with the laborious and monotonous, yet exacting task of using a soldering iron to connect intricate wire systems, all before they even knew why they had been send to the camp. And even once female code breakers proved their worth and gained respect from their male counterparts (men that often served as their superiors even when the women were clearly more experienced and knowledgeable about the codes being worked on), they still consistently dealt with the innate sexism of other army and navy personnel. Louise Pearsall, already considered one of the “top girls” by all of her male superiors, was held up with her female coworkers for hours when they were supposed to be on official and pressing business in Washington because the sailors in charge of processing them were under the sexist impression that the women working in Dayton were shameful. This impression was due to yet another obstacle placed in the way of women with hopes of helping their country through Naval service—that of the forced choice between work and motherhood, an obstacle still prevalent for women in the work force to this day. Despite all of these obstacles, the female codebreakers of World War II persevered and excelled at their tiring and often thankless work.

Podcast Building: Substance and Style

 

In the Zodiac Killer episode from the One Time Pod, the podcast creator kept her audience engaged both through stylistic aspects and an interesting topic. I particularly enjoyed the use of ominous background music that changed as the speaker told the story to build the mood—it was also just the perfect sound level so as not to be distracting. Also, the topic of the Zodiac Killer was a great choice because it is a story that is still very prevalent in pop culture today, and I liked how the creator included hints of this, for example when she mentioned Ted Cruz at the end of her episode. The subject matter allowed for a more in dept description of the Zodiac Ciphers, because the audience was likely paying attention anyway because of the popularity of the topic. Based on what I liked about this podcast, I definitely am going to put a lot of work into picking the subject matter for my episode—as a more interesting topic will make it easier to spend time talking about technical aspects of cryptography without losing audience interest. Also, it made me realize the power of background noise in building the mood of an episode.

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