Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: defense

Freedom of the Press Still Requires Bravery - Taking on the NSA

"How to save the Net: Break up the NSA." This is a bold statement for a bold article. Bruce Schneier, renowned cryptographer and writer, bravely authored this article for Wired as a part of the "Save the Net" series, "featuring bold solutions to the biggest problems facing the Internet today." Schneier proposes that the NSA should be separated into its three main components: government surveillance, citizen surveillance, and defense of U.S. infrastructure, and these three sectors placed into different departments. Especially the more we learn about the NSA's reaching power and what they can do, they seem like such an untouchable superpower. I really admire Schneier's audacity to suggest such a radical solution, and I think his ideas make sense. Considering the Snowden leaks, the NSA's international mission should be protected at a military level in the Department of Defense, domestic surveillance goes hand in hand with the mission of the Justice Department, and, Schneier argues, the defense of American infrastructure should be by a new and open organization. I think what we find so intimidating about the NSA is that if they have the power to hack into a foreign government, what would stop them from looking into my personal phone or computer? But we don't seem to have a problem with the military cybersecurity having a similar power. It would be interesting to continue to explore the possible consequences of having a governmental agency that people trust devoted to protecting American citizens online, while the Departments of Defense and Justice combine forces with current NSA programs to secretly do what they need to do to protect us. And ironically, the NSA will most likely see and read this article that was published online, but that's what the freedom of press is all about!

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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Photo Credit: Dr John2005 via Compfight cc

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.

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