The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: storytelling

The Theatricality of Cryptography

The first chapter of Singh’s The Code Book is packed with historical examples of cryptography. The Greeks, Persians, Arabs, French, and English, to name a few, were just some of the infinite number of societies and civilizations of which cryptography was crucial to their development. However, most of the examples described did involve people in positions of power. Kings, queens, nobles, and military leaders of all types have had to use cryptography to defend or expand their nations; clearly, cryptography has been crucial to changing history.

Despite the importance of these examples, I do believe that there has been a need for cryptography since the dawn of written language. I can’t imagine that cryptography was only used by well-resourced people; there has always been a need for encryption and secrecy, even if it’s on the most rudimentary level. Perhaps these are the only examples that survived, or perhaps Singh chose to include them because of their dramatic nature – after all, he does need to entice the reader somehow. It would be foolish to say that cryptography requires exceptional resources.

Yes, the most theatrical and interesting stories usually include a plot, some characters, and a dramatic, dire consequence that will result if the code is decrypted. But we can’t discount the more simple, day-to-day interactions that may have required people to encrypt their messages, like a potter who may have needed to protect his or her recipe for glaze, or a citizen who wanted to hide the contents of a letter from their government. I can’t imagine that examples such as these, though less exciting, didn’t exist before the stories of kings, queens, armies, and wars.

Effective Podcasting

In the Darkode episode, the podcast producer structures the podcast as two narratives scattered with technical information to make the material more interesting. The first story told in the Darkode episode is about Alina Simone, who was extorted by a cybercriminal. The producer invited all the people involved in her story, including herself, her daughter and the Coin Cafe employee to join the podcast so, there were many different voices telling their side of the story. Additionally, the producer only introduced a new guest at the point in which they had entered Alina’s story. For example, when Alina was telling the listener she had called her daughter, Inna Simone, that was the point when Inna was introduced in the podcast. This technique contributed to creating a feeling as though the listener was in the moment with Alina, watching her disaster unfold. As the two narratives in the podcast unfold, there are technical explanations and terms thrown around such as botnet, script kitty and installs. The producer ensures there is an explanation of all the technical terms which might be unknown to the average listener. Furthermore, the podcast host makes metaphors to simplify more complex concepts. For example, to explain the function of the website Darkode, the narrator compares the Darkcode to a fair where people purchase goods. He simplifies the transaction between Darkcode users as, “I have a burglar’s tool. Do you have a door you want burgle?  I’ll give you my tool.”

Similarly, The Ceremony episode also uses sound to maintain the audience’s interest. For example, at one point when describing the creation of cryptocurrency, the narrator says “BOOM!” which is followed by the sound of waves crashing. These sounds are meant to illustrate how instantaneously cryptocurrency can be created.

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