Cyber Defense Review

The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography

By 2LT Alyssa Strobehn, Chris Arney | August 10, 2016

The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography
Simon Singh
New York: Random House, 1999, 432 pp.
ISBN 978-0-307-78784-2

 

The Code Book is about the mathematics and science of codes and ciphers throughout history. Singh specifically lists two purposes for this book. The first is to show the evolution of codes and ciphers, and the second is to demonstrate their relevance in today’s society. Throughout the eight chapters, he discusses the elements of complex ciphers and simplifies the mathematical details for a general audience. He enthusiastically presents stories surrounding ciphers such as who created them, who sought to break them, and if and how the codebreakers were successful. We, as student and instructor in a course entitled Networks for Cyber Operations, used this book as one of our texts in the Spring semester of 2016.

To illustrate his first point, Singh shares stories about well-known ciphers such as those involving Mary Queen of Scots, the Beale Papers, and the Enigma. He uses Mary Queen of Scots to show the evolution of secret writing and the development of cryptography. He discusses how secret writing evolved into steganography and cryptography, how cryptography developed into transposition and substitution, and lastly, how substitution evolved into codes and ciphers. Additionally, he discusses the story behind the Beale Papers to introduce how codemakers use keys to encrypt their messages. Sharing the story of the Enigma Machine in World War II, he shows the evolution from encryption by hand to encryption by machine. Singh also reveals how codebreakers accomplished their work to demonstrate that as long as codemakers develop new codes and ciphers, codebreakers will continue to break them.

This leads into Singh’s second purpose: to demonstrate the relevance of codes and ciphers into today’s society. Singh discusses the increasing value of encryption in the information age and the potential of quantum cryptography. His chapter on today’s information age where information is a “valuable commodity” (p. 372) – is our favorite.  He speculates that one significant problem is that individuals do not encrypt their information enough, especially as it is transmitted over the Internet. Although encryption in internet systems has drastically improved since his book’s release in 1999, today’s citizens are still subject to devastating cyberattacks because of a lack of adequate encryption. 

The Code Book contains several important lessons for today’s cyberspace citizens. Enciphering techniques are constantly developing and need to be incorporate into modern information systems. Over time, there is no guarantee that a cipher or code, which is safe one day is not vulnerable the next. Likewise, sometimes a code that may seem broken one day, can’t be broken the next because humans constantly improve and change enciphering machines. This means that codemakers and codebreakers must be ready to adapt. They must think in new ways and learn new ciphering and deciphering techniques as needs emerge. Another lesson is that every machine that humans have claimed to be “unbreakable” has been broken. This raises the question, can an unbreakable cipher actually exist? It is true that some ciphers are extremely difficult to break, and the quest for cryptanalysts to create codes and ciphers that are appropriately secure is based on the value of the information contained in the messages that will be encrypted.

The Codebook is valuable because readers can learn about the history of codes and ciphers. Some of the futuristic ideas that Singh discusses have progressed since his book; however, many of the encryption issues that he mentions still exist in today’s cyber-connected society. The Codebook is also valuable because it depicts the evolution of codes and ciphers as well as firmly establishing the relevance of encryption in today’s world.



US Army Comments Policy
If you wish to comment, use the text box below. Army reserves the right to modify this policy at any time.

This is a moderated forum. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect. We will not post comments that contain abusive or vulgar language, spam, hate speech, personal attacks, violate EEO policy, are offensive to other or similar content. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly "off topic", promote services or products, infringe copyright protected material, or contain any links that don't contribute to the discussion. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted. The Army and the Army alone will make a determination as to which comments will be posted. Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other non-governmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using this page. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of the Army, DoD, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying Army endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

Any comments that report criminal activity including: suicidal behaviour or sexual assault will be reported to appropriate authorities including OSI. This forum is not:

  • This forum is not to be used to report criminal activity. If you have information for law enforcement, please contact OSI or your local police agency.
  • Do not submit unsolicited proposals, or other business ideas or inquiries to this forum. This site is not to be used for contracting or commercial business.
  • This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

Army does not guarantee or warrant that any information posted by individuals on this forum is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Army may not be able to verify, does not warrant or guarantee, and assumes no liability for anything posted on this website by any other person. Army does not endorse, support or otherwise promote any private or commercial entity or the information, products or services contained on those websites that may be reached through links on our website.

Members of the media are asked to send questions to the public affairs through their normal channels and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions will not be posted. We recognize that the Web is a 24/7 medium, and your comments are welcome at any time. However, given the need to manage federal resources, moderating and posting of comments will occur during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Comments submitted after hours or on weekends will be read and posted as early as possible; in most cases, this means the next business day.

For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain "on-topic." This means that comments will be posted only as it relates to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post. The views expressed on the site by non-federal commentators do not necessarily reflect the official views of the Army or the Federal Government.

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as name, Social Security number, DoD ID number, OSI Case number, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. If you do voluntarily include personally identifiable information in your comment, such as your name, that comment may or may not be posted on the page. If your comment is posted, your name will not be redacted or removed. In no circumstances will comments be posted that contain Social Security numbers, DoD ID numbers, OSI case numbers, addresses, email address or phone numbers. The default for the posting of comments is "anonymous", but if you opt not to, any information, including your login name, may be displayed on our site.

Thank you for taking the time to read this comment policy. We encourage your participation in our discussion and look forward to an active exchange of ideas.