The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: Practical Cryptography

The Sign of Zodiac

I found Elonka Dunin’s website to be greatly interesting. Her small bits of information about the Zodiac Killer on her List of Famous Unsolved Codes and Ciphers specifically caught my eye. Before now, I had of course heard of this serial killer and his or her bold ciphers. However, I had not thought about it in a long time–definitely not since before the start of this course. Her little comments on it, both in her list and her book, The Mammoth Book of Secret Code Puzzles, are just enough to reignite interest in this decades-old mystery. To me, this reveals another area in which cryptanalysis can be put to use–solving not only messages in times of war, as we have discussed in class, but also messages involved in criminal activities. We’ve discussed the uses of cryptography in wartime extensively, but have not taken it quite from the realm of counterintelligence to that of criminal justice.

The uses of cryptography in criminal justice are quite similar to those in counterintelligence. Both involve determining the enemy’s intentions, and possibly his or her motives. In cases of criminal justice, investigators can use cryptanalysis to either analyze intercepted messages or to understand evidence left behind at a crime scene. To me, the case of the Zodiac Killer also sparks my psychological curiosity. This serial killer had to have a reason for sending the encrypted messages to law enforcement. These motives could be power, confidence, pride, or many other things. Successful cryptanalysis of the unsolved messages could reveal these motives, and possibly provide more evidence as to his or her identity.

The Writing Process

The first part of my process for writing the practical cryptography paper was selecting a topic. This was quite time consuming since nothing that I found particularly stood out at me. The main problem with selecting a topic was finding something interesting, applicable, and with enough information available. I eventually settled upon Bitcoin. The reason I choose this topic was that it was not well known among college students and represents the future of money. The next step in working on the paper was research. I knew very little about the topic before starting this paper. The most challenging part for me understood how Bitcoin works. This portion was the most time consuming by far. Once I understood the process of Bitcoin, I was about to start outlining my paper. I spend a large portion of my paper explaining Bitcoin and its functions. The remainder of the paper is about its application and implications in our lives. I have finished the rough draft of the essay. I will make further revisions and edits once I get feedback. The most enjoyable part of the paper was learning about something new that I would never have thought to read about. The paper overall was a good experience for me.

Encryption Use for Journalists

Because my paper is directed at students who wish to pursue a career in journalism, many of my sources are articles found in the Columbia Journalism Review, a magazine aimed at journalists. There have been several articles written about encryption use for journalists in the past few years, especially in the wake of the Snowden leaks. The movie Citizenfour provided some additional background on the events surrounding these leaks. Additionally, I may use Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras as specific examples of journalists using cryptography. While their situation was a bit more extreme and sensitive than what the average future journalist is likely to encounter, it is still useful for students to know something of what they did to communicate with Snowden. I have discovered in the course of my research that encrypted communications, in addition to protecting anonymous sources, also serves an important purpose for journalists in that it makes those sources more comfortable communicating sensitive information. (Additionally, some experts believe that journalists should continually operate under the assumption that if someone truly wants to find out information about their anonymous sources, that they will be able to do so.) Apparently, there is not much of a focus currently in journalism programs or within the news agencies themselves on teaching encryption techniques, so until things change this is something important for students to study on their own.

The Process of Writing

Writing my practical cryptography paper requires a lot of time and effort. Firstly and most importantly, I have found all of the sources I need in writing this paper. This took a great amount of time to find the perfect articles on the internet to address my topic, phishing. After finding and printing out all of my sources, I then needed to figure out how to organize this paper from beginning to end. In addition, it is imperative that I organize this paper without the classic “slow wind-up” and make it interesting for the audience.

I have made good progress so far in this paper with about one-third of the word count left to go. I need to continue improving my introduction and conclusion and expand my body paragraphs to increase the word count. By far the most challenging part of completing this paper is getting to the word count. It is difficult to write a large amount about this topic without feeling like I am just rambling or repeating. Perhaps I need to add another source or two to my paper. It has been enjoyable to learn all about phishing and its impact on our society. I have enjoyed becoming familiar with the topic as a whole and even learned new steps and measures I should take to avoid being “phished”.

Figuring Out Location Services

Currently, I am still very early in the process for writing my practical cryptography paper. I am starting to realize the amount of effort the paper will  take, which gives me a sense of urgency to really get underway. So far, I have really enjoyed thinking about the ways that I will be able to relate the ideas in my paper to other college students’ lives. Location services is an interesting topic because it is very prevalent right now. People in the United States are becoming wary of the control that government can have in their lives. Therefore, it is possible that people will want to take steps in order to protect their location. The difficult question that I will have to deal with is why people will want to take these steps.


If a mother and father wish to take a family trip to New York and take pictures of their kids in front of the Statue of Liberty, they will want to post a geotag to show off their family vacation to an awesome city. However, they are much less likely to want a geotag if they are taking pictures of their kids inside of their home. This is just one side to location services. I am still early in the writing process and there is much to learn about why location services should be concerning to the average college student.

NFC Chips

I have struggled to find a lot of information about my topic. There is not a problem in finding sources of information: I have 10 sources that are very good. Sifting through and combining them into relevant and on topic information is not a problem either. Most of the information can be condensed from how the sources presented it. I have researched all aspects of it from the stages to developing the chips, how they actually work, how security elements work within them, the present applications and the future applications. I have even extended to as far as to comparing the uses of NFC chips with QR codes and as to why one would be better than the other. I have also examined the possible security risks and benefits to the present uses of near field communication chips as well as to the future uses of the near field communication chips. The most challenging part is making sure I meet the word count requirements. I do understand that there has to be some substance there but I also believe that saying something simply is better than being too wordy. The most enjoyable part of my project is researching current and future uses of the NFC chips. This is because I realize how technology is going to advance and converge in the future, it is rather exciting.

Writing Process

For this project, I chose to write about the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart devices. My system was to first create an outline of how I wanted to structure my paper. Here I got into detail about what specific questions needed to be researched. It should start with a general explanation of what the Internet of Things actually is and how it affects our lives now and how it will do so in the future. Since I will also be talking about smart devices, I will discuss how our smart devices already communicate with each other and what types of new devices are being developed that will further increase and improve this machine to machine communication. I also wrote out a clear thesis so I can focus on what I am actually arguing and avoid getting side tracked. Now that I have the structure I just need to write out the paper. What I still need to do is finalize my research so I can organize the rest of my argument. The most challenging part was finding scholarly papers on my topic, it was much easier to find informative articles on blogs instead. The best part was doing all the research and learning a lot more about the Internet of Things.

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