Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

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The Cryptographic Needs of the Common Man

It is said that history is written by the winners, but many forget the second part of of that statement, that history is also written about only the powerful and important. The examples of cryptography that survived throughout the ages were those that caused great uproar, such as the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots.

Besides, the common man did not have much need for cryptography before the invention of modern technology. Unless communicating about a potential insurgency plot, most people did not need any form of secret keeping. It was often unnecessary to require a secret address to the nearby woods where their secret stash of gold was buried.

The primary difference between the times then and now, is the amount of information on a person that could be used with malicious intent. Compared to the 16th century, where a person's identity was comprised of a family name, some heirlooms and the land upon which they lived, today every person is a collection of numbers and electronic impulses. Whether it is Social Security, bank account numbers, credit card numbers or even account passwords, today there is every possibility for the threat of theft.

As society continued to advance away from the tyrannical rule of the monarchies that was so well documented in chapter 1, people began to look towards their right to privacy. In the 16th century the only reason to conceal common correspondence was usually an indication that there was something to be concealed in the message. Today however, people use encrypted communication for every day conversations, to ensure their privacy, no matter the message. Electronic communication means that almost any message could be at least intercept, an impossible task with physical messages. The importance of encryption for the common man has grown tenfold.

Can Technology Truly Give a Feeling of Privacy?

In Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, the passage that caught my attention was in Chapter 5 when Marcus talked about how technology made him feel. He said that technology made him feel like he had control, and that technology works for, serves and protects him when it is used the right way. He says the when technology is used right, it could give “power and a sense of privacy”.

I believe that technology has so many good attributes, but with the good there is bad. Even if technology was used in a good way, that does not mean that everyone else would not misuse it. Technology can give a feeling of privacy and protection, but that can be easily violated by hackers or people that mean to do harm. Many people think that they are protected by their technology, and by thinking this they let their guard down. Technology does not work for a single person, it works for anyone who has access to it. While people may think that they are safe and whatever they put online is protected, that is not always the case.

In the beginning of the novel, Marcus abuses his power over technology. He used technology to discover everything there was to know about his vice principal including his social security number, birthday, hometown, and even his mother’s maiden name. Marcus did not use technology in the right way. Even though he wants to use technology for the better, he succumbed to the things he could discover and do with the power of technology. In my opinion, Marcus is very hypocritical. Marcus violated the privacy of his vice principal even though he says that he loves technology because of the feeling of privacy that it gives.

 

The Need to Establish a Common Ground

When the 9/11 attacks occurred on American soil, the government had to respond in a certain manner to ensure the safety of its people. Based off of an argument brought up by Cory Doctorow in his novel Little Brother, I agree that the government first has to protect the safety of all citizens above anything else. Therefore, the government's action to look into previous phone calls and other similar information I believe is justified. While I also advocate for privacy rights, technology has such an affect on globalization that the government would not be able to ensure these terrorists were brought to justice if they did not search through these messages.

However, my concern is: when does this investigation stop? The government can be justified for looking to catch the terrorists and their accomplices, but how do we know that once they are found the government will stop peering on our personal data. The answer is that we don't. It is this sole reason that causes me to deter the allowance of the government to have access to this technological data. At times our rights have to be compromised to ensure our safety, but when will we be certain that we will ever be fully safe again. It is arguments like this that continually give the government justification to continue their investigations through people's private matters.

Therefore, I would grant access to the government for these investigations if I could be assured there would be a set termination to the investigations. For example, if the information could not be found after a few months, then it would be halted. I believe this serves to establish the perfect medium between ensuring privacy rights while also ensuring the safety of the citizens of the United States.

I've Heard it Both Ways

It’s easy to think of privacy and publicity as opposing concepts, and a lot of technology is built on the assumption that you have to choose to be private or public. Yet in practice, both privacy and publicity are blurred.     (danah 76)

As with many of the issues surrounding cryptography, privacy versus publicity is often viewed as a false dichotomy. Both privacy and publicity are relative terms, though. Without a public realm of information with which to compare it, privacy would not exist. The problem with sharing information publicly, though, arises when we must decide what information we wish to keep private. As discussed in this chapter, the fact that teens wish to keep information private does not indicate that they have something to hide; rather, it is an example of them choosing which parts of their lives to keep to themselves.

In a way, making aspects of our lives public can actually increase our privacy relatively. It is possible for teens to hide behind a screen and only post what they want other people to see, not the whole truth. By choosing which aspects of our lives to keep private, we are realizing that just about everything else can be accessed by the general public. It is a trade-off that many choose to make, but in reality is just a consequence of trying to find a balance between privacy and publicity. In an era where private information is becoming increasingly public, we must work to find a happy medium where we can easily communicate with others while still respecting individual decisions on which parts of life they wish to keep private.

Ethical, Unethical, or Both?

I am of the opinion that there are two ways that the question can be looked at. Personal ethics, I think, are different than the ethics of a nation. This is something that must be taken into account when questioning the ethics of decisions surrounding national security; it most certainly must be taken into account when considering the Zimmerman telegram.

From a personal standpoint, this decision is unquestionably unethical. Letting America know the contents of the Zimmerman telegram would have saved American lives, and potentially shortened the length of the war. Although it could be argued that more lives might have been lost if Germany knew that the code had been broken, I vastly disagree. Creating a new and equally strong code for their messages would have taken Germany a long period of time, because creating codes that function and are very strong is not an entirely simple process. Even if Germany became aware that their code had been broken, with the advantage given to both America and Britain, the war may have been won before the new code was invented. It is completely unethical for someone to break a code with the intention of shortening the war, and then not use the broken code to save as many lives as possible.

At the other end of this issue is the standpoint of national ethicality.  It is my opinion that a nations ethics are typically focused first and foremost selfishly, on the survival of that specific nation. It is quite possible that Admiral Hall believed that telling the Americans about the contents of the Zimmerman telegram would jeopardize the very survival of his nation, in which case he simply obeyed his national ethics, which told him that survival came first. In following this duty to his country he also follows another part of national ethicality, that the homeland must come first.

With these two sides to keep in mind, it is impossible for me to conclude that one is more correct than the other. Personally, it is unethical. Nationally, it seems it may have been quite ethical. In the end, this is a murky issue. However, in the tumultuous and interconnected times we live in today, this will be an issue I think we will revisit very soon.

How Much Privacy Will Students Concede?

Data mining is a new, innovative technique that major companies have incorporated into their marketing strategies. This technology uses specific algorithms to identify trends and convert them to usable information, so that the only advertisements that pop up are relevant to your wants and needs. This powerful technology has many more capabilities that could make an impact on the lives of many as Michael Morris explains in his article "Mining Student Data Could Save Lives."

Although mining data could predict future suicidal or homicidal actions of students, people are still hesitant to allow this invasion of privacy because they believe it is not anyone's right to access that information. This debate of security vs. privacy has been going on for a few years now since the technology has become available to us. I plan to write about this article for my paper because I believe that this new technology should be used to prevent tragedies from occurring. Even if it does invade your privacy a little, that should not matter if you have nothing to hide. I feel strongly about this because I believe it can save lives, and we should do everything in our power to save just one life.

The New Normal

In Hello Future Pastebin Readers, Quinn Norton talks about how everyone who has access to technology is essentially the same in that none of their personal information and data, no matter how securely uploaded or downloaded, is actually private. This particularly interests me because today’s society is so heavily centered around the distribution of information globally, and this feeling of interconnectedness provides a false sense of security to many people, because in reality, they can have no idea what other people are possibly doing with their data.

The article also exposes readers to the idea that as we progress towards the more modern and technologically-oriented society, more people will learn how to hack, and the status quo will shift to a society where people must become comfortable knowing that privately posting anything online is the same as posting it to the public. On this topic, Norton furthermore brings up the interesting prospect that we should embrace the idea of performing as if “on stage” whenever we do anything online, which ultimately may help the world move towards a more open society, technologically speaking.

Changing perspectives on cryptography

It is not surprising that using frequency analysis to solve substitution required a sophisticated level of scholarship in the 9th century. It might take decades of textual study, statistics knowledge and mathematical insights for the Arabian cryptanalysts to successfully find this method. In The Code Book, Singh also suggests that the Muslim civilization provided an ideal cradle because “every Muslim is obliged to pursue knowledge in all its forms” and the scholars “had the time, money and materials required to fulfill their duty.” (Singh 16)

Today’s amateur cryptanalysts seem to still fulfill these “requirements”. Nowadays people with only a few years of education would already have certain level of knowledge in such fields. The resources are so accessible now that they no longer need to be“scholars” but indeed anyone with any intention or interest about cryptography. Undoubtedly only a small amount of people will be trained as professional cryptanalysts, but it’s incredibly easy for anyone to search about cryptography, share thoughts with others about the ciphers they write, or take an online cryptography course.

Today’s generation is a group of people that are taught to solve puzzles when little and raised with films or literature talking about cryptography often in one form or another. With the emerging technologies in hand and a broad access to the subject, people nowadays have entirely new perspective on cryptography. On the other hand, people back in time were strictly limited by the resources they had and the little exposure to the knowledge. Politics might also come into play since a large proportion of citizens interested in inventing or breaking codes might not be the best interest of a monarchical government at that time.

Evolution of Technology's Affect on Cryptanalysis

Information is at a premium in the 21st century. Any person of any age can discover the necessary information in seconds with the click of a button. Throughout history, as technology evolved, cryptanalysis became progressively simpler. The sophisticated level of mathematics, statistics, and linguistics required to be a good frequency analyst became more accessible with the evolution of the internet. It is so simple now for an amateur cryptanalyst to use an application such as Microsoft Word to count the frequency of each character in a ciphertext and to use Google Translate to help decrypt a message in a different language. Amateur cryptanalysts have so many useful tools to help them find shortcuts in almost any decryption methods. Codebreakers no longer have to work long, tedious hours just to verify that their theories are correct. Decryption methods that took the mathematicians days to work on now take hours, which gives amateur cryptanalysts much more time to test different theories. Now, as the new age of codebreakers begins to perfect frequency analysis which has been around for centuries, they can go forward and discover completely new ways to analyze encrypted messages. As technology evolves, so will cryptanalysis because the accessibility of information will get more efficient.

Cryptanalysis: From Complexity to Common Knowledge

Each an art form of its own, cryptanalysis and cryptography demonstrate opposing counterparts focused on accomplishing the same common goal—the understanding of a hidden message. These two techniques highlight the competitive battle between codemakers and codebreakers. Although cryptography requires a distinct level of skill and secrecy, the practice of cryptanalysis encounters even greater obstacles as the codebreaker must determine the meaning of the hidden message as well as the technique necessary to break it. Arguably, the mastery of one skill can lead to an expertise in the other as the making of a complex cipher derives the further logic and creativity necessary to uncover these intricate codes.

Singh cites the frequency analysis technique as an “innocuous observation” by Muslim cryptanalysts that became “the first great breakthrough in cryptanalysis” (17). Nowadays, this code-breaking method is quickly and easily used by first-time cryptanalysts with no previous instruction, almost as if by second nature. While the frequency analysis technique was undoubtedly a major breakthrough in the seventh century, the vast amount of education and technology provided to our society today allows this method to become an obvious first step towards discovering the unknown.

As time has gone on and technology has expanded, the human mind has reached a common intelligence almost unimaginable even one hundred short years ago. Education has taught us to not only focus on how to put things together, but also on how to take them apart. Practices such as cryptanalysis have become more applicable to the average man as common knowledge typically requires an understanding of both how and why things work. The fifteenth century Western world is a prime example of the human tendency to discover how something functions as immediately after cryptography was introduced “already there were individuals attempting to destroy this security” (27).

While in the past cryptanalysis was labeled as an expertise only accessible to those in higher society with the finest education, its ability to be understood by even the most amateur cryptanalyst emphasizes the incredible expansion of knowledge in our society today.

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