Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

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So Hard it Broke the Soul

As a student of this course, I have quickly learned that breaking codes and deciphering texts is not the easiest of tasks, and the harder the codes become, the harder it becomes to crack them (obviously).

Chapter 5 of Liza Mundy's book "Code Girls" describes the beginnings of women working as code breakers for the Allies in World War II and just how difficult it actually was. Working on a day to day basis with a group of women where only a small handful were able to work at the expectations of the military, this became increasingly frustrating as more American ships started to crumble and the Allies started to lose the war on many fronts. In fact, it become so increasingly difficult that they described it as "heart-rendering", hence the title of this chapter.

Even despite all of this, those handful of women "rose to the challenge", working collectively to break up to hundreds of thousands of codes every month. This was a major turning point, especially on the naval front. Germany's naval codes were now not as uncrackable as they once seemed,  and the cryptanalyst's eye could catch Japan's mistakes within their messages. It almost seemed as though codes became easier to break as the enemies tried to complicate their codes further. This, along with a series of breakthroughs, is what I believe to be one of the key differences makers in this war.

Codebreaking Wins Wars

Hiroshi Oshima, the Japanese ambassador to Germany, played a big part in losing World War Two for the Axis. He had sent a series of messages home to Tokyo, describing seemingly every military secret that Hitler could possibly have wanted to keep a secret. Detailing the strengths and weaknesses of the German defenses along the northwestern coast of Europe must not have seemed like a big deal to him because his message was encrypted. Unfortunately for him, his messages were deciphered. Later in the war, Oshima again unknowingly revealed to the Allies ore crucial information that helped them win the war.

Oshima made several mistakes. Firstly, he trusted in the security of his code. The fact that he was so sure that his communications were secure made him reveal information that he might have otherwise kept more closely. The second was that he didn't try to make life any harder for the American code-breakers working on his messages. His messages were a "wordy, effusive, somewhat emotional, meticulous description of German fortifications along the northwestern coast of France, from Britany to Belgium and everything in between." (pg. 297) As anyone who's ever tried to decipher a chunk of ciphertext knows, the more ciphertext you have to work with, the easier your job is. By being both wordy and specific, Oshima gave code-breakers a gift: they could find out what he was saying because he said so much, and what he said was immensely helpful to the Allies in the war effort. The information gained from Oshima, and from other Axis communications in Europe gave the Allies a leg up in the war, and led to the success of their D-Day invasion of Normandy.

Mundy, L. (2017). Code Girls. New York, NY: Hachette.

Gender in the War

The history of World War Two is incomplete if one does not analyze two elements: cryptography and gender. While these items have been recounted and studied heavily on their own, rarely have they been discussed together. The women who played a huge role in cryptography in the second world war have rarely been credited, that is until the book Code Girls, a book by Liza Mundy about their history, came out. This book, specifically chapter three, discusses in depth the role gender played in the cryptography of world war two. In the general. cryptography opened up new opportunities for women in world war two, but gender dynamics were still very imbalanced in the working world.

In general, World War Two presented opportunities for women to enter the workplace, as vacant positions left by men in war needed to be filled. However, the willingness of bosses to hire women varied greatly. One pivotal element of the story of cryptography is that William Friedman, head of the U.S office of code breaking, was exceptionally willing to hire women. This gave many women who never were ever permitted to get graduate degrees or teach mathmatics to now be propelled to the forefront of some of the most important mathmatics in the world. These women, like Genieveve Grotjan, would make some of the most important accomplishments in World War Two cryptography, including the initial breaks into the Purple cipher. In this way, cryptography gave women new opportunities, and women seized this opportunities fully and propelled cryptography to new heights.

However, it must be acknowledged that not all was equal in the world of cryptography. The was the author visualizes Grotjan's cracking of the purple machine explains this. She describes Grotjan standing in the corner of the room, hesitant to share. This helps the reader understand that it was still not easy for women in the workplace. They weren't taken as seriously as they should have been, and we still had, and have, a long way to go.

The Rise of WAVES

Gender was extremely indicative of what role Americans played in the war. The men were given officer positions, extra privileges, and were able to be shipped overseas to fight in the trenches and on the islands. The women, meanwhile, were resigned to domestic jobs, and a select few were sent overseas to serve as nurses or in other support positions. By 1942 however, a domestic push had introduced women into the war effort as more than passive observers. The women initially were seamen who had fewer privileges than their male counterparts despite serving in the same positions. But eventually, as more men were shipped overseas, the female codebreakers(who had set up shop in Washington D.C.) outnumbered the male codebreakers, served in officer positions, and became more integral to the war effort as they deciphered a greater number of crucial Japanese messages.

Perhaps the most famous example of this rise of the WAVES unit(the female naval codebreakers), was the decryption of the itinerary. A greater number of Japanese messages began to be intercepted, and a group of women managed to decrypt parts of the itinerary of Admiral Yamamoto: the top Japanese commander who had orchestrated the attack on Pearl Harbor. As the days passed, the codebreakers were able to piece together the exact itinerary of the commander's flight to certain Japanese islands, and Nimitz and other navy officials proposed a daring American plan, dubbed Operation vengeance, to intercept Yamamoto's flight and kill him. On April 18, American jets managed to catch the Japanese by surprise, and in a turning point of the war, show down the Japanese bomber carrying Yamamoto.

The WAVES unit managed to keep quiet about their section of the war effort, and told outsiders that they merely worked in naval communication. Their persistence and effort eroded traditional gender stereotypes by proving that women could be capable in the military, and allowed women greater control and more freedom to participate in the war effort. Codebreaking was integral to the war, and female codebreakers especially played a crucial role in the Allied victory.

WWII Codebreaking Badass Women

Although women born in the twenties could enjoy the results of women's suffrage, they were not treated as equals in society. During the time of WWII, many families were extremely broken down. The adults in the family had to live with PTSD from growing up in the Great Depression. The kids in the family had to deal with the threat of their fathers death. Women were left to deal with many of the tasks that men normally handled (at the time) because of the lack of men in society. 

The war, in full affect, demanded the attendance of nearly every eligible US man. Because of this, women were needed to handle some of the duties outside of the battle field pertaining to the war. Hence, the usage of women in cryptography. Although these intelligent individuals were finally given the opportunity to be involved in work that demonstrated their intellectual capabilities, they were still not regarded as highly as men. Yes, they worked in math and science along side the opposite sex, however they were forced to complete the busy work while the men got to be involved in the larger discoveries. These women were also sworn to secrecy and kept these secretes very well, as their involvement in the war was not known until after many of their deaths. 

 

The Secret Struggles of WWII's Female Codebreakers

Although female codebreakers were completing some of the most important work on the intelligence front during World War II, the necessary secrecy of their work as well as their gender led these women to not always receive the treatment that they deserved. In the 1940s women in general were seen as subordinate to men, and deemed more suited to tedious tasks—for example, in Chapter 11, upon their arrival at a training camp in Dayton, Ohio the women were set with the laborious and monotonous, yet exacting task of using a soldering iron to connect intricate wire systems, all before they even knew why they had been send to the camp. And even once female code breakers proved their worth and gained respect from their male counterparts (men that often served as their superiors even when the women were clearly more experienced and knowledgeable about the codes being worked on), they still consistently dealt with the innate sexism of other army and navy personnel. Louise Pearsall, already considered one of the “top girls” by all of her male superiors, was held up with her female coworkers for hours when they were supposed to be on official and pressing business in Washington because the sailors in charge of processing them were under the sexist impression that the women working in Dayton were shameful. This impression was due to yet another obstacle placed in the way of women with hopes of helping their country through Naval service—that of the forced choice between work and motherhood, an obstacle still prevalent for women in the work force to this day. Despite all of these obstacles, the female codebreakers of World War II persevered and excelled at their tiring and often thankless work.

For Lack of a Better Title

Listening to these podcasts, I was intrigued by the 99% Invisible episode, Vox Ex Machina. 

I think Roman Mars does an excellent job of holding his listener's attention. This is not to say that the subject matter is boring or would be uninteresting but for its presentation, but his ability to establish an idea, get the listener invested in it, and follow through on it helps him stay at the forefront of the listener's attention. At the very beginning of the episode, he introduces this story about the Voder, a machine introduced in 1939 that could synthesize the human voice. After introducing it and talking about it for a bit, Mars moves on to something that at first seemed completely unrelated, and then made the connection. Rather than introducing the main idea and then discussing related information, he starts with the related information and then explains how it's connected to the main idea. The podcast was also well-broken-up. As lovely as his voice is, it would be harder to pay attention if the podcast was just Roman Mars talking at me for 25 minutes. The fact that he gets sound bytes from his interviews, and introduces different voices helps him break up the show and also creates the feeling that there are multiple perspectives being brought to the show instead of one guy just talking about what he thinks. This is clearly something Anna Butrico thought about when she used so many clips from other podcasts and had a friend voice Aristotle. 99% Invisible has been going for a while, so it's no surprise that it's a well-produced show.

From Voxcoder to SIGSALY

The Voxcoder was one of the most interesting things I have ever heard of. The origin of the machine, being just a voice changer/imitator, really made me wonder what the creator had in mind when he made the machine. Being able to replicate a human or animal voice opens up so many pathways such as deception, manipulation, and somewhat discretion. I was extremely surprised when the machine was able to replicate the cow noise almost perfectly. It is also kind of scary considering that a machine can produce convincing human and animal noises. All I could imagine was hearing a a series of growls while walking through the house. After the Voxcoder was evolved into the Sigsaly the organization and complexity of the system used for conferences was baffling. There were so many steps to a single conference that it was sometimes hard to keep up with what part of the process the podcast was explaining. I think its cool but also limited that the conferences functioned by mixing and masking human voices with random noise. Its an incredible feat but if the Germans were able to figure out what was happening and develop a method of decoding it, the Allies would be screwed. It would be a more incredible feat if the Allies were able to completely scramble and distort the messages without having to mask it behind random noise.

The Full Circle of a Voder

I do not listen to podcast at all. They are just not something that I bother to make time for. However, if I had to trust one media outlet with persuading to me to do otherwise, it would be Vox. They always know how to make a story interesting, and if it is already interesting, then they make it even more interesting. This podcast of theirs — Vox Ex Machina, 99% Invisible Episode 208 — is no exception.

With an interesting topic already in their hands, Vox tells us the history of the voder, a machine that can produce synthetic voices. What I found interesting in this story is what they describe as its “full circle.” It first started out as a silly machine used for laughs; then it “enlisted” to aid the Allied efforts in World War II by encrypting voices over radio communication; and then it returned back to civilian life, helping make some of our generation’s most iconic noises and sounds. There may other pieces of technology in our culture that have a similar story, but we might not learn about them, so it is at least cool know about the voder’s story.

Now the producer did many things to turn what was already an interesting story into an even more interesting story, but what really caught my attention was the soundtrack he used and how he used it. Every different track he used throughout the podcasts engaged me in the story, but that is not all. He also made sure to apply each different track to a spot in the story where it was appropriate. Thus, he produced a story that knew how to take itself seriously and humorously at the right moments.

On a related note, I also like how the producer incorporated videos and pictures throughout the podcast. They add another layer to the podcast that makes it even more enriching for the audience.

All of this has left me with some good ideas for the podcast episode that I will produce. While maintaining good journalism, I will always make sure that the audience is engaged. This means incorporating good color schemes, music tracks that complement the tone of the story, and pictures to add that extra layer of media.

Review of Vox Ex Machina

The episode of this Podcast was very interesting and managed to keep my attention for the duration of it. It utilized multiple voices along with different people to help explain different ideas in order to prevent one voice from becoming too monotoned. In addition, the podcast used upbeat music at times to illustrate examples which also helped bring the listeners back to focus. My favorite part was how they kept the listeners captivated which involved explaining their examples thoroughly to ensure that all listeners of any caliber could process the information being told. This was used by allowing the listeners to listen to the sounds the vocoder made as well as listen to the sounds that occurred when sending messages during private conferences. I also enjoyed that the  podcast had a similar script below it to allow listeners to follow along with the speakers to prevent them from getting lost. Within this script, there were pictures so the listeners could visualize what the speakers were talking about and better understand the vocoder and its capabilities. Furthermore, I liked that the script provided was not exact to the speakers dialogue because as it allowed me to keep track of their stories and explanations, but I did not feel like I was reading either or that it was too repetitive. Based off of this, I want to incorporate multiple voices into my podcast as well as an outlined script below possibly with pictures to help the listeners follow along and better understand the topic of the podcast episode.

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