Tag Archives: Crypto

Crypto two-fer

  • Have you seen the NSA Kids website yet? It’s pretty nifty. High school math and science teachers, you should get your students on there. I am eagerly awaiting somebody to make it into an animated show on Disney or early-morning Discovery Channel for my two girls. (Anything, for the love of God, to displace my 4-year-old’s obsession with Hi-5.) 
  • Also pretty nifty is the Spelman College Science Olympiad, which has teams from historically black colleges and universities competing in teams to solve problems in programming Google Gadgets (Google is a sponsor of the event), cryptography, website design, hardware/software integration, and robotics. All in the space of one weekend! Sounds like a lot of fun, and it seems like a really good way to promote computer science education on the college level. [h/t here to the Official Google Blog]
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Filed under Higher ed, Math, Technology

Happy Birthday, William Friedman

Today is the birthday of William Friedman, one of the fathers of modern cryptology and an unsung American hero from World War II.

Before Friedman, cryptology could be described at best as a hodgepodge of tricks and unproven methods for securing information. Some tricks worked better than others. But there was no math in cryptology to quantify the strength (and exploit the weaknesses) of ciphers, really, until Friedman came along and brought the power of modern statistical techniques to bear on such problems as breaking rotor-machine ciphers. He almost single-handedly broke the Japanese PURPLE cipher, and in what’s surely one of the greatest problem-solving feats of all time, his team was able to complete reconstruct a PURPLE cipher machine using only plaintext and ciphertext samples — no technical diagrams were used.

He later suffered a major nervous breakdown, blamed mostly on his intense work on the PURPLE problem. I don’t think most human beings would have lasted even as long has he did and would have gone much further over the edge.

Here’s a page on Friedman at the National Security Agency web site. And here’s the Wikipedia article on Friedman. He’s a fascinating figure in both math history and American history, and more people should know about him.

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Filed under Crypto, Math