The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: Crypotgraphy

From Voxcoder to SIGSALY

The Voxcoder was one of the most interesting things I have ever heard of. The origin of the machine, being just a voice changer/imitator, really made me wonder what the creator had in mind when he made the machine. Being able to replicate a human or animal voice opens up so many pathways such as deception, manipulation, and somewhat discretion. I was extremely surprised when the machine was able to replicate the cow noise almost perfectly. It is also kind of scary considering that a machine can produce convincing human and animal noises. All I could imagine was hearing a a series of growls while walking through the house. After the Voxcoder was evolved into the Sigsaly the organization and complexity of the system used for conferences was baffling. There were so many steps to a single conference that it was sometimes hard to keep up with what part of the process the podcast was explaining. I think its cool but also limited that the conferences functioned by mixing and masking human voices with random noise. Its an incredible feat but if the Germans were able to figure out what was happening and develop a method of decoding it, the Allies would be screwed. It would be a more incredible feat if the Allies were able to completely scramble and distort the messages without having to mask it behind random noise.

Navajo Code Talkers — Beyond Encryption

Though German Overconfidence in Enigma was a key factor to their loss, another major impact was the Navajo Code Talkers. The Navajo Code Talkers success can be considered just as important and the code breaking of the Enigma. Without secure communications it is hard for the Allies to fight back in an organised manor. With the Navajo Code Talkers, the Allies were able to have some of the most secure communications in the war. What made the Navajo Code Talkers so important is the language they spoke and the amount of people who spoke it. The Navajo language is extremely rare as well as the people who speak it. With a rare unrecognizable language being introduced in the war the Allies had a huge advantage. This, in my opinion, can be considered a type of double encryption. The first layer being the Navajo language and the second being the encryption of it. The language had two flaws, the military jargon translations and its weakness to frequency analysis. These weaknesses were serious yet the code was still not broken. Considering how successful the Navajo Code Talkers were, the method as well as the encryption of the code must have been very secure. Thanks to the Navajo Code Talkers, the Allies were able to establish a secure line of communication.

Technologies Effect on Cryptography

The advent of the telegraph was a major factor in the use of the Vigenère Cipher. Due to the Vigenère Cipher having 60 cipher alphabets, the methods of encrypted methods not only increased but became ideal for technology such as the telegraph.  What makes the telegraph go well with the Vigenère cipher is that it brought more security to the encoded message. It did this by eliminating the people who are knowledgeable about the message. An example of this is two people wanting to send a message to eachother via morse code. To do this they would have to have two middle men who were trained to use the telegraph send the message. Without the Vigenère cipher, those two middle men would be aware of the message thus exposing the information. Cellphones have changed the way we communicate greatly, especially in terms of making a transaction or giving away credit cart information. Personally, though I know it might be safer but is still at risk, when I exchange credit card information with my family, I do it over the phone rather than text. Cellphones have a major effect on secrecy in society today. Many people have codes on their phones and every ones’ phone is encoded in some type of way. Implications arise when or if someone is able to break the basic encryption for a chain device such as the iPhone. If this happened then everyone with an iPhone will be at risk of a security breach.

Strategical rather than unethical

After the Zimmermann telegram was deciphered, Admiral Hall chose to withhold the important information regarding the unrestricted submarine warfare and put many Americans’ lives on the line.

The decision itself at that moment seemed unethical because it resulted in the death of many innocent Americans. However, thinking in a larger scale, Hall’s action was justifiable. Firstly, given this war context, the ethical considerations probably weren’t be the top priority for people who dedicated themselves for the future of their country. Instead of thinking about whether their decisions might be ethical, they would probably spending more time weighing up the consequences of their actions, which, in Hall’s case, was the potential long-term consequences of disclosing their advanced cryptographic progression to the world. Hall realized that it might eventually make the British lose the advantage of using their advanced cryptographic techniques to gather the information that would be extremely valuable to them in the war.

Another text written by Sun-Tze in the Art of War says that “if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles.” Sun-Tze’s words implies that in order to win the battle, not only should us try to gather as much information as we can about the enemies, but also try to avoid exposing any of our own progression to the enemies. That was exactly what Hall did. His action enabled the British to see through German’s plot while keeping the Germany in the dark, hence gaining significant advantages in the long run. In this sense, I believe that Hall’s decision shouldn’t be considered unethical, but simply strategical.


Blog Post #1

What surprised me most in the first chapter of this text was just how old cryptography is. I guess I had never really thought about it’s origins before the reading. I thought it was really interesting to learn of the origins and to begin learning some history. It made me draw come comparisons to cryptography today. Cryptography really has come a long way since Queen Mary used it from her jail cell. Although it’s incredibly unlikely that a ruling leader would ever be held in jail by another, if the situation would arise, and they needed to use cryptography, it would happen quite differently. First of all, I think they would have a better understanding of the likelihood of the messages being intercepted and broken, and would not use such plain terms to describe their plan. Mary and Babington’s foolishness reminded me of in middle school, a group of girls would speak in pig latin, thinking nobody else could understand them. Unfortunately for them, many people also knew of this “secret” language, and those who didn’t quickly caught on. Another advancement is simply the difficulty of the cipher that would be used today. In this day and age, a simple substitution cipher, like the one used by Mary and Babington, would be deciphered in minutes. To really keep something private, a much more advanced and complicated cipher would be needed.

The Advancement of Civilization’s Effect on Cryptography

The reason that relatively untrained cryptanalysts are able to use frequency “on their own” is because the civilization has advanced enough for them to think in a way that allows for them to  think in complex ways. Though they are relatively untrained in the discipline of cryptography, they are well versed in the realm of linguistics, both reading and writing, and as well as at least a basic understanding of math and statistics.  This is very different from the civilizations that Singh refers to when discussing civilizations that weren’t advanced enough to to preform crypt analysis, in those civilizations writing, reading, math and statistics were reserved to such a select few that new and original ideas were hard introduce. Because there were no new ideas that came into the intellectual aspect of the civilizations and the intellectual community is so small, it is hard for people to notice the patterns that is the basis of frequency analysis. In today’s society, even those that are classified as “amateur” cryptanalysts still have a solid base in linguistics and at least a basis in math and statistics which allows them to be able to come up with frequency analysis “on their own.”   The intellectual community is larger and because of that , there are more examples of cryptography and as Singh shows in his book, the more material there is, the easier it is to see the pattern of the encryption that hides the plain text of a message. The intellectual basis combines with the fact that the intellectual community is larger in order to create the opportunity for frequency analysis to appear naturally in today’s society, as opposed to the civilization, such as Europe, who Singh classifies as not having “sufficiently sophisticated level of scholarship “.

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