The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: email

Quantifying Emotions

An example on privacy I found interesting was that colleges use tracking pixels embedded within their emails to gauge the interest of potential students in their university. Also that the pixels score each student depending on how quickly they open the email all the while doing this without asking for permission. I see this as extremely troubling and unfair for students. This is troubling because universities are choosing to quantify an emotion. Interest comes and goes in waves. One month you may be dead set on one college then comes a long a sudden change of heart and you’re devoted to another school. What happens if you want to go to a certain college but you check the email a week too late? Is the college just going to assume you’re uninterested based on your emotions towards the school months prior? I think it’s troubling that universities are doing this. It is also unfair. Oftentimes, seniors in highschool would rather be doing something else instead of checking their emails. For highschool seniors in particular, they are swamped with college emails from the get-go of the school year. Universities should abandon this tracking pixel data and instead utilize data from online surveys where students who are actually interested in the school go in and insert their information.

Strong Encryption For The People. Please and Thank You.

The two most compelling reasons I found why strong encryption should be available to the public is the large amount of interceptable information spread daily via email and that individuals have enjoyed complete privacy for most of history.

The hundreds of millions of emails sent back in forth within the masses of the online public holds records of financial transactions, the passwords to private online accounts, and the registration for a variety of social sources that could be used against the individual if decrypted. Strong encryption should be allowed for the everyday regular person to send emails because the number of incriminating or illegal activity is relatively small compared to the large number of legal and regular every day communications that take place. The reasoning that encryption should not be allowed to the masses due to the fact criminals will use it is weak because without encryption criminals will still find a way to hide their communications.

Never before has the government had the ability to access the personal information of their citizens. In a society with no encryption, the government would have full access to all digital conversations and habits of their users, thus ushering in a system of mass surveillance similar to that shown in George Orwell’s 1984. I’m not saying that we are going to be like Winston and friends and be forced into submission by the Party, but by having a government that is capable of being all knowing of their citizens is scary. The freedom to speech is also awarded in our Bill of Rights as Americans and with the government being able to look into the way we talk and communicate online, that may lead people to not want to take full advantage of the internet.

What Singh Couldn’t Have Predicted

Simon Singh makes many predictions about evident trends in the increasingly digital world. 20 years later, he got a lot of things right, although from our digitally oversaturated viewpoint, they seem obvious now.  Singh was definitely correct in his prediction that soon email would overtake normal mail, and this rang true for the early 2000s era when email was absolute king of the communications world. What Singh could not have predicted, however, was that email’s reign would be relatively short lived and soon give way to the era in which everyone walks around with a computer in their pocket, and instant messages and texting rule daily life (not to mention the communication capacities of every social media platform). Similarly, Singh’s prediction that ecommerce would become more prevalent in individuals’ lives also rings true. Widespread love of online shopping among most consumers, as well as ease-of-use companies like Amazon have created a world in which most people probably transfer credit card information on the internet at least once every day.

One topic that Singh does not touch on is the increased use of GPS technology. He could not have imagined that one day in the near future everyone would walk around with what can essentially be used as a tracking device in their pocket. Encryption for this kind of information is so necessary, to ensure that no foreign entity has the ability to track where you work, live, shop, or travel.

Many of Singh’s predictions came true, but in a grand way that he could never have imagined. The digital revolution ushered in a new era of almost impossible privacy—encryption is now more necessary than ever, not just to protect our communications, but also to protect our finances, information, and even our whereabouts.

Secure Encryption : Citizens : : Clothes : Human Body

I agree in believing that private citizens should have the right to secure encryption technologies. Throughout history, citizens have been granted the right of choice to encrypt their messages.  The idea of sending encrypted messages via the postal service was for citizens to prevent private information from getting in the hands of someone who was not meant to see it. More often than not, the unintended audience for these messages was the government, so encryption was necessary to speak freely without fearing consequences. There’s nothing stopping people from sending private information through the postal service, but in today’s era of instantaneous communication the use of snail mail is undesirable due to the speed of delivery. Email is necessary for communication between friends and colleagues that share private information. Secure encryption is necessary to protect the freedom of speech of individuals living in the United States.

 Prior to the conception of email, never before has the government had the ability to access and decrypt all communications sent by their citizens; or had the ability to dig up the history of mail sent and received in the past. Insecure encryption technologies unfairly gives the government the edge of surveilling their citizens without any ability by the citizens to hide their message. Secure encryption technologies would allow citizens to protect their information from being accessed by cryptanalysts, data miners, and the government. Therefore protecting their speech from being prosecuted by the authorities.

How Much Should We Hide?

In the least controversial way possible, I believe this can be related to arguments for and against the second amendment. In a sense, cryptography, similar to guns, can be easily weaponized. If a person encrypts a message it is because it contains something extreme that they do not want to get out to the public. The key is the word ‘extreme’. For instance, I wouldn’t want the world to know if I had cheated on my S.O., however I would not encrypt an email to my friend discussing the incident considering my everyday acquaintances would not take the time to decipher it, and the people that could decipher it would find no use in the information. On the contrary, if I was planning an event that impedes on national security I would most likely encrypt it considering the U.S. government would probably take special interest in its content. In this case, I understand why the everyday person should not be able to encrypt their messages.

Encryption could also, however, be used to save us in the future. For instance, if for some reason the government turned against the people, we should be able to use cryptography to fight back. If the NSA has full knowledge of our lives they could easily control us or keep us contained in the extreme case of a large uprising. 


Encryption Strengthens as Human Technology Improves

By the mid 19th century, the skills and techniques used to break simple monoalphabetic substitution ciphers or keyword ciphers were well known between coder breakers. Tools such as frequency analysis were vital to decoding messages, encrypted messages intercepted through Morse code had no chance of staying secure. Messages needed to be encrypted with a stronger mechanism such as a polyalphabetic substitution cipher that could render a normal frequency analysis obsolete.

My first thought of modern communication that required a major change to keep our communication secure was email. Primitive computer messaging had little to no security, and once there was a realization that digital messaging would become popular, the communication programs had to be equipped with the tools that could keep each user’s data safe. These encryption processes had to be security enough to withstand the code breaking technologies now. For this reason stronger encryption systems such AES 3DES have been developed to maintain the user’s data safe. The algorithms we have developed turn any piece of user inputted data such as a password, message, or personal information into a string of characters and send that string through numerous systems until the data reaches whatever the intended recipient is. In way we have created two types of communication, one in which humans communicate with technology and second where one piece of technology communications with another. It is interesting to think about all our modern communication like this because we cannot see the latter form. We cannot also know what happens to our data in route to the receiver, that is why sometimes we take precautions that hopefully secure our data and maintain our privacy.  Other times we take risks and our private data can be accessed through some third party technology.

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