Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: Singh Page 1 of 5

Choosing Between Right and Wrong

If a person was to make a piece of software available on the Internet that was used for malicious reasons by criminals or foreign governments, I do not think that they would be responsible. The person who created it just came up with the technology. They did not force people to use that technology in the wrong way. When something new is invented, the inventor thinks about all the good things that their invention can do not the bad. Take the computer for example. The first computer was made to help humans do what they could not do. It helped them remain efficient. Should the inventor of the first computer be blamed for all of the crimes that are committed on computers? No, it is not fair to the inventor.

I believe that everyone has free will, and they get to decide between choosing the right path and the wrong path. The software is just a fork in the road, and the users of the software choose what path they get to go on. People that violate the inventions of others for harm are choosing the wrong path. I do not think that the inventor should be punished since the person committing the crime made that choice on their own.

 

Intent - What's the Big Deal?

I do not believe that anyone should be held accountable for the actions of others if they choose to make their software public. Before I explain why, I want to open with this opinion being contingent on one caveat: intent. Unfortunately, intent can be hard to quantify, but I will preface this condition with an example to at least attempt to unpack what I mean by intent.

I believe that if one lives in the United States, whether he or she agrees with the current circumstances or not, the actions taken by that individual should not intentionally inflict harm. They can protest, organize groups, and lobby for change, but the actions taken should and cannotIntent bring harm to others intentionally. Everything can be abused, but the original intent is what is so important to keep in mind. So, for instance, if someone develops a software that could breach the encryption of the NSA and then they distribute the software to terrorist organizations or other countries, they are committing treason. The intent was to breach the NSA and to do harm to the national security of the United States; that was the goal from the beginning.

This is what distinguishes the difference between the actions of someone with ulterior motives and those of PGP. My ultimate impression of the circumstance was adequate summed up when Singh stated that the software of PGP was “so secure that it frightened the Feds” (Singh 314). I feel that the charges brought upon Zimmermann had nothing to do with his intended actions and more to do with the threat he and his software posed. Furthermore, I do not agree with anyone being held accountable because “if you don’t do it, someone else will.” Again, simply look to the case of PGP. The second Zimmerman was unable to continue the development, “engineers in Europe began to rebuild PGP” (Singh 314). In most circumstances, the ball will continue to roll forward. Governments can attempt to ban as much as they want, but someone, somewhere else, will do it.

Why Strong Encryption to General Public

In the age of digital technology, access to encryption is of similar importance as the access to free speech. While the arguments against public encryption technology are certainly valid considering public security, it's unreasonable to deny the public access to such a critical element of online communication, especially since most communications using encryption don't concern criminal activity.

First of all, if the public has no access to encryption, many online activities would be vulnerable: medical records, online transactions and addresses. While the lack of encryption makes wire tapping easier, it also makes criminal activity easier. Most people get online without knowing which system of encryption they are adopting. The existence of internet is making people more likely to share their personal information without the knowledge of cyber security. If public lack the basic methods to encrypt their information online, criminals can more easily obtain user information.

Secondly, the right to encrypt a message online is no different from encrypting a written message that's sent physically. If the government had no right to interfere with that type of encryption, they shouldn't be granted the authority solely due to the change in communication methods. While policies should adapt to the changing world, underlying concepts and guidelines should remain the same.

While it's important to consider public security, we have to take in mind the basic needs of encryption. If people are in domestic violence situations or other situations that demand secure and anonymous conversations, having no encryption would put people (without any criminal intention) at risk.

Ethics Versus Strategy

I believe that the decision taken by Admiral William Hall was the right one, even though it was unethical. While it was morally wrong for him to let civilians die for a strategic gain, it was the right course of action to take for a man in his position. He was responsible for winning the war for his country. As an Admiral, he was first a patriot and then maybe a philanthropist. In an epoch of war, his loyalty and compassion was largely towards the citizens of his own country. He believed that the involvement of America in the World War was imminent which meant that giving them this telegram would bear no strategic advantage. Sacrificing a few civilian lives to potentially save several others over the course of the War by intercepting and decrypting German messages seemed like a good bargain to him.

The reason why the unethical choice in this case seemed to be the right choice was that he was in a situation where everyone else seemed to be lacking moral fiber. The Germans, his enemies in the War, were willing to attack civilians and break the rules set up by consensus in international court. To try to follow your conscience in a time of war will most likely cause you to the lose the war since a sense of self preservation always prevails over ethics.

The Problem with Weak Encryption

In Chapter 1 of The Code Book, author Simon Singh states, "The cipher of Mary Queen of Scots clearly demonstrates that a weak encryption can be worse than no encryption at all."  What this essentially means is that overconfidence with a cipher, especially a relatively weak one, can be dangerous in that it creates an illusion of privacy that may lead to careless communication.  This was problematic for Mary and continues to be problematic today.

The encryption method used by Mary and Babington was called nomenclator, in which both letters and common words are replaced with corresponding symbols in the ciphertext.  In their minds, that system was more than effective, but they were unaware of the advancements in cryptanalysis that were being made at the time which allowed Walsingham and Phelippes to decipher it.  As a result, Mary and Babington had the false impression that they could say anything to each other without their messages being understood if intercepted.  This ended up proving worse for them than if they had no encryption method at all.  Had that been the case, they would have consciously made efforts to be vague and discreet when discussing sensitive information because there would be an obvious threat of self-incrimination.  However, their blind confidence in the encryption masked that threat and led them to speak directly and openly about their plans to assassinate Queen Elizabeth.  When it turned out that Walsingham was able to decipher their messages, they were caught completely off guard.

The issue of reliance on weak encryption methods is arguably even more prevalent today in the digital age.  The internet allows more information than ever before to be accessible to more people than ever before, so weak encryption can pose extreme privacy and security risks.  That is why it is important to be careful what information you put online, even if it is protected by a password.  There is always a possibility that hackers can gain access to your personal info.  For that reason, it is important to utilize the best encryption methods, and even then, to avoid putting out sensitive information when possible.

 

The Dangers of Weak Cryptography

For one who is not well-versed in “cryptography,” hearing the word might simply bring to mind the language game Pig Latin. However, Singh is trying to convey, in layman’s terms, that cryptography is not a child’s game for all; in Mary Queen of Scots’ case, it was literally an instance of life or death. The issue at hand is that while encryption is meant to show that one's guard is up, it actually creates a false sense of security when utilized poorly.

For instance, there has been a time in every person’s life when he or she whispered something to a neighbor in the hopes of keeping the message a secret. Unbeknownst to them, spectators who speak the same language were either able to eavesdrop and hear the secret or possibly even lipread bits and pieces. Yet, to the two that were whispering in their own world, it was as if they had been speaking a foreign language. Babington and Mary were in this same little world, where they had a false sense of reality and security. As Singh stated, this was honestly an unfortunate time for Mary to be communicating through cryptography because the first true cryptanalysts were emerging. The two did little to alter their patterns and believed that only they could read what was intended for one another. The problem is, in an ever-changing world, it is naive to think that one should not have to adapt to remain undiscovered. Like two people whispering, Babington and Mary let their guard down at a critical point of their mission

By trusting her basic encoding system at an essential turning point in the history of cryptanalysis, Mary left herself vulnerable to decryption and was caught openly aligning with the rebels attempting to free her. Had she been writing without encryption, she would not have directly given her blessing for the assassination. Singh wants other cryptographers to be aware that they cannot expect to simply lay encryption over their messages like some form of a safety blanket. If a message is truly meant to be a secret, cryptographers should work to ensure that their ciphers are unbreakable.

Cryptography 1

        As the author of the code book, Simon Singh, writes, "Cryptanalysis could not be invented until a civilization had reached a sufficiently sophisticated level of scholarship in several disciplines, including mathematics, statistics, and linguistics.” People’s interest and skills toward all kinds of puzzles including cryptogram are getting developed fast in this day or age . Back into my primary school time ,I saw a sukodu puzzle on the newspaper for the first time. The shape and numbers on it suddenly caught my mind. A great sense of proud came to me when I first learnt and finished the puzzle. Puzzles and cryptography, using its own beauty and sense of mystery ,attracted hundreds of thousands of fans all around the world.

       Learning how to solve these kinds of problems is not a specialization nowadays due to the advancement of the Internet and the high level of education. Higher level of education leads to more ways of creative thinking to solve the problems. For amateurs, they don’t necessarily need to learn the special methods in order to solve the basic problems. Their level of education provides them with enough knowledge to use. Such as the most used letter in the english alphabet is e or some of the most frequent conjunctions like at, or, in and so on. Even amateurs can have fun by themselves solving cryptograms, which is significantly different from the old times when people generally don’t know a lot about languages and mathematics. Getting more amateurs working on their own is a great sign, for more and more people are getting involved into cryptography and are willing to dig further.

         Despite the fact that amateurs can have great fun working on their own, Singh was never wrong about the complexity of cryptanalysis that people need to be trained to be sufficient in breaking codes. The methods of transition and substitution or even more complicated methods still needs several disciplines, including mathematics, statistics, and linguistics for perfection.

        In general, it is a great phenomenon to have so many people interested in cryptanalysis and willing to work on their own to solve it. But they still need more practice and more training to go deeper into this area.

Not a Single Factor is Responsible for the Allied Success

Although Singh argues that the primary reason that the Allies had success over the Germans in the cryptographic war, I believe that this simplifies the argument way too much. While undoubtedly the Germans were overconfident in the security of the Enigma machine, this was only a problem when they became lazy and began to repeat messages, giving the Allied cryptanalysts a chance to  break their codes.

Perhaps one of the most overlooked parts of the Allied codebreaking success was the determination and resilience of the code-breakers, and on top of that how diverse they were. As a group consisting of people from so many different backgrounds, their different ways of approaching the deciphering were no doubt crucial in the Allies breaking the German codes. Furthermore, it can not be overstated how impressive the resilience of the codebreakers was. Most days they worked fruitlessly for hours upon hours in an attempt to crack the codes and got absolutely nowhere. And then as soon as the clock struck midnight all of their work from the day before was rendered useless and they had to start all over again. While this would drive most people mad, the Allied cryptanalysts continued to decipher day after day.

Finally, the Allied codes were so strong because of the rarity of the Navajo language. Trying to understand a language without any indication of what any words mean is nearly impossible and the Germans were certainly among those who discovered this. Furthermore, when they combined the language with code words it became impossible for the Germans to break it without capturing an actual Navajo who would be able to decipher the messages for them. This brilliant way to securely transmit messages for the Allies proved to be a crucial part in them winning the war.

The Carelessness of Repetition

While Enigma appeared unbreakable to the world, it was only a matter of time before a weakness would be discovered. This weakness occurred due to the laziness and tiny errors of the German workers. As a result, the Allied powers exploited this weakness and were able to win the war. The laziness that allowed for this victory was the German's repetition. One example is that the Germans each day would send their message key twice in the same message to ensure that the receivers enciphered the key word correctly. It was the Germans' laziness to send the same code twice in the same message because with enough messages from the day, the cryptanalysts had the ability to find patterns within the messages that would grant them access to break the code and decipher messages from that day. With the constant little mistakes, the Allies were able to decipher enough messages in order to gain an advantage against the Germans. Also, although not strongly mentioned in the Singh chapter, the Allied powers' secrecy also aided in their war effort. Once deciphering certain messages, they were enable to ensure the Germans did not become aware of their advantage and decipherment allowing them to continue to gain knowledge from certain messages without them changing the key from that day. With a combination of the repetition of the messages, the ability to find a pattern, and the secrecy, the Allies were guaranteed the advantage and were able to win the war.

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.

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