The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: National Security Agency

What Are the Differences Between Giving Privacy to the Government and to Our Campus?

After the 9/11 attacks, counterterrorism became the FBI’s primary mission. But in order to catch terrorists and thus increase national security, the FBI expanded its intrusion into our personal lives. Therefore it again comes the argument over privacy versus security, which seems quite similar to the campus data-mining case we discussed before. Interestingly, while I refused to give up any privacy last time, I believe the government’s access to some of our privacy is justified as long as it will not compromise our rights of freedom and the pursuit of happiness.

Ensuring nation’s security is extremely hard, because the government has to beware all aspects on its lands that may have security loopholes. Only with the data-mining and digital surveillance, the technologies that can span the country to watch on people’s moves, the government is able to prevent bad things from happening, and take immediate action in case of terror attacks. The campus security, however, is relatively easier to be maintained. Since the campus is merely a small community, rather than infringing students’ privacy, the university can instead increase the number of its security guards, thereby achieving nearly the same safety purpose.

Additionally, giving our privacy to the government’s security departments is much safer than to non-governmental institutions. In other words, the FBI is more reliable than others because it is one of the US leading security agencies in which almost all its officers are selectively recruited and rigorously trained so that they are well capable of keeping our personal data safe after examining it. However, when it comes to non-governmental institutions, it is reasonable to be paranoid that our data may be leaked; criminals may easily hack into the database of a university, but few of them can invade the FBI’s security systems. The FBI can actually protect us from terror attacks with the control over some of our private data against criminals, and thus we should make a concession to exchange some privacy for the nation’s security.

Snow(den)ball Effect: NSA More Helpful or Harmful?

Here’s an interesting approach to solving privacy issues: break up the agency charged with the responsibility of maintaining surveillance and security for the entire country. While the premise of the argument may seem counterproductive, Bruce Schneier’s essay “How to Save the Net: Break up the NSA” has some interesting and valid points as to why the NSA may be a hindrance to public security in certain aspects.

I plan to respond to this essay in my paper because it raises some of the big questions underlying the controversies in cryptography. In a way, the battle between developing technologies and still maintaining privacy and secrets has become a bit of an arms race. With newer technologies that open up paths of global communications come newer struggles of maintaining bigger secrets from an ever-growing audience. This also brings about more controversy and ethical dilemmas regarding regulation and security of these communication platforms. I hope to explore these controversies so that I can have a better idea of their everyday implications.

Privacy is the fundamental right of human

I think the privacy of individual is one of the most important and the most basic right of human. Government can not and also does not have the right to invade the privacy of individual. Every one has his or her own secret, other people should respect him or her. This, of cause, does not mean that the national security is not important. The National security is definitely very important. It protect individual from terrible things. However, this mind could not be controlled easily, which means the government could grabs the right from civilians by the same reason. Because such behavior is difficult to limit, common people might always lose their privacy without perception, like the PRISM.  In this event, if Snowden had not told the truth to the public, American people would have never known this kind of thing happening to them. What is more, surveillance is only a small part of national security, the government could try other methods to improve its ability to protect the national security, so the surveillance is not necessary. By the way, this kind of project could easily become a control to people rather than a protect of people. Thus, compared with national security, individual’s privacy is much more important.

Photo Credit: 'We are legion'by Enrique Dans via flickr

Photo Credit: ‘We are legion’by Enrique Dans via flickr

Standardizing Security

Cryptology, by definition, refers to the science and study of secure communications. Similarly, the intended purpose of cryptography is to hide information by way of code. So why is it that, to this day, a limit on the level of security for encrypted files exists in commercial use? Moreover, why are civilians denied the highest levels of security, considering that means for optimal encryption are readily available? The controversy at hand is in fact a matter of national security, and the Data Encryption Standard, or DES, is appropriately headed by the National Security Agency (NSA).

After facing much opposition from the NSA, German emigrant Horst Feistel created Lucifer, an unprecedented cipher algorithm, in the 1970’s. In light of its almost guaranteed security, this cipher system was adopted by a number of commercial organizations. Naturally, however, the NSA limited the number of possible keys produced by Lucifer to roughly 100,000,000,000,000,000. In justifying this constraint, the NSA argued that Lucifer, even under these limiting conditions, would provide sufficient security, given the assumption that “no civilian organization had a computer powerful enough to check every possible key within a reasonable amount of time” (Singh, 250). Although a restraint on security for the sake of security at first seems counter-intuitive, and although I am usually a huge proponent of privacy, I have to side with the NSA on this one.

The demand for greater security (if there exists any) seems somewhat excessive. As argued by the NSA, Lucifer provides sufficient security for its intended context. Commercial organizations under the protection of Lucifer are secure from any rival eavesdropper, and therefore need not worry (Sing, 250). Furthermore, businesses protect only information regarding business – their transactions, projected costs and profits, matters of the technical sort. An individual’s personal liberties are not at stake, their right to privacy is perfectly satisfied, and nobody (save businesses in a far-fetched hypothetical hacking scenario) is any more susceptible as a result of the DES. Perhaps the strongest argument yet is in the sake of national security. In my opinion, national security takes precedence over the security of commercial organizations. The NSA was careful to set the encryption standard so that only the NSA, the organization with the most technological resources in the world, could break it if necessary. Therefore, my question is: If the DES satisfies the commercial world’s criteria for security, as well as the NSA’s criteria for national security, why argue for the sake for greater encryption?

Photo: James, I think your cover’s blown! by Ludovic Bertron

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