For thousands of years, people have gone to great lengths to keep
secrets...and others have gone to even greater lengths to discover
those secrets. This course will survey 2500 years of cryptographic
technology from relatively simple classic ciphers to the pivotal
breaking of Enigma in World War II to sophisticated modern
techniques, set against a backdrop of historical drama and intrigue.
Issues of security and privacy in our increasingly online world will
also be considered. Interest in puzzle-solving is a must - studying
code making and code breaking means trying it yourself!
Lansing 312, x3614
|Course Web Page
You are expected to regularly consult the course web page for announcements, assignments, and most handouts.
The Code Book by Simon Singh
Random House, 1999
Cryptology by Albrecht Beutelspacher
Mathematical Association of
Additional material will be handed out or posted on the course webpage.
|Rationale, Aims, and Objectives
All first-year seminars are designed to introduce first year students
to college-level academic life and to develop skills that you will
need throughout your career at HWS (and beyond). As a result, all
first-year seminars emphasize the key skills of critical thinking and
This course aims to develop skills in five main areas:
- Using the library and evaluating print and online resources.
- Logical thinking: problem solving by
creating hypotheses, devising tests for those hypotheses,
observing the results of the tests, and reasoning about and drawing
conclusions from the evidence gathered.
- Technical reading and writing: carefully following instructions and
creating good instructions for others to follow.
- Informative writing: writing about technical topics for a
- Persuasive writing: formulating and defending a position on an
issue, supported by evidence.
In addition, this course has several content-related goals:
- To develop an awareness of how cryptographic technology affects
you, and what one's responsibilities are with regards to this
- To develop an appreciation for some of the applications of mathematics.
You might notice that I haven't said anything about gaining
factual knowledge about cryptography, cryptanalysis, and the related
history - while you will learn that material as part of the course
(and you'll need it to successfully complete the assignments!), those
details probably won't be important to you next semester or next year,
let alone four years from now when you graduate and move on to the
next phase of your life. The skills and goals listed, however, are
things that you will continue to use in your
classes, job, and life.
|Course Content Overview
Since the topic of the course is code making and
code breaking, we'll naturally be studying codes. (To be
technically precise, we'll actually be studing ciphers rather than
codes.) The course
material can be divided into four main units:
Classical Cryptology: For much of history, the encoding,
decoding, and cracking of encrypted messages was done by hand. We
begin our study of code making and code breaking with important
classical ciphers and will examine their place in history, what made
them successful, and how they were broken.
The Turning Point of Machines: The German Enigma machines and
the efforts to crack them are the best symbols of what Simon Singh
calls "the mechanization of secrecy" - where the increasing complexity
of ciphers requires mechanical assistance for encoding, decoding, and
cracking. We will study how the Enigma machines worked, how the
cipher was broken, and the importance of Enigma in history.
Modern Cryptography: Computers have led to a new age of
cryptography, both in the sophistication of the ciphers possible and
in the applications of cryptography. We will study modern techniques
for data encryption, authentication, guaranteeing message integrity,
and secure communications as well as why you'd want to do these
We will also discuss issues of privacy,
security, and the role of cryptography in everyday life.
Related Topics: Cryptanalytic techniques are not limited to
deciphering messages meant to be secret. We will look at some other
areas (such as deciphering ancient languages) where these techniques
are useful. We will also look at some other topics related to the
keeping of secrets. One such topic is steganography, where the goal
is to hide the existence of the message in the first place.
Learning is not a spectator sport: it requires
actively engaging in the material, thinking about it, and working
with it. This is particularly important when the goal is to acquire
new skills - very few people can become good at something simply by
watching someone else do it. As a result, much of our class time
will be devoted to activities and discussions rather than simply
conveying information through lecturing.
Of course, the goal of this course is build critical thinking and
effective communication skills in the context of a study of
cryptography - and so you need to learn something about cryptography
as a foundation. Because class time is limited, it will be your
responsibility to acquire some of this foundational information
outside of class via the assigned readings.
We are lucky to have Emily Anatole as the Writing
Colleague (WC) for this course. WCs are upper class students who
have been trained to help you improve your writing, whatever your
current skill level. A few things about WCs and this course:
The role of the WC is to help you develop and
refine your ideas and to help you with the clarity, organization,
and tone of your writing. She is
not a proofreader or editor, nor will she
come up with ideas for you or tell you what to write. The WC is
also not a tutor - if you are having trouble with the material,
come to me.
Meetings with the WC are mandatory.
Missing meetings will result
in a reduction of your grade on the assignment.
Be prepared for WC meetings. Meetings are discussions
facilitated by the WC, and will only be productive if you come
prepared. Specifically, being prepared means:
- Writing a complete draft. (A disjointed collection of notes is
not a complete draft.)
- Turning the draft in on time so the WC has time to read it.
- Coming to the meeting with one or two specific questions about
Not being prepared for meetings will result in a reduction of your
grade on the assignment.
Take notes at WC meetings. The WC will not write up the advice
The WC does not grade your papers, nor is she responsible for the
grade that you get on a paper. Your grades are your responsibility,
and simply meeting with the WC does not guarantee a good grade.
Questions about grades should be addressed to