Saturday, November 2, 2013

Decrypting the Digital Fortress.

Mystery of any sort is enticing in nature, whether in real or reel life. Who is going out with who always forms a great means of guess game for people. The secrets and anonymity always provides an interesting opportunity to ponder and gossip. History has been a witness to the success of various movies and books associated with mystery and thrill. Personally I prefer my mystery served in a book. I cannot imagine any other way in which it can be thoroughly enjoyed. With a book you can actually experience the experience while being mentally transported into the story. Over the years I have enjoyed reading thrillers by Agatha Christie and Sydney Sheldon. My personal favorites are The Return of the Dancing Master by Henning Mankill and The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

Dan Brown’s books have substantial amount of controversies associated with them. But with every book of his, you are sure to learn a thing or two. Apart from being handsome, the guy is really smart and that is reflected in the topics he chooses for his books. The books are interesting no doubt but other than that they actually make you sit and Google in detail about stuff – whatever it maybe. Da Vinci code had us googling about the last supper, the Holy Grail, the blue bloodline, Mary Magdalene and the supposed marriage between her and Jesus Christ. Angels and demons had us looking deeply into Rome and Vatican City. I recently laid my hands on The Digital Fortress and once again Google has started to get a lot of hits from my IP.

Digital fortress was published in the year 1998, the year I was promoted in 5th standard and introduced to Enid Blaydon who would soon become my best friend. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that in a parallel world miles apart from my secret sevens and famous fives there was a buzzing of codes and encryption. The book is based on the art of cryptography (art of hiding a secret message in a seemingly inconsequential piece of data) and the means and mechanism involved in decrypting the secret message. My world was still untouched by the advent of internet and what would become a very popular means of communication in those times – the email. Not proud to admit this, but I was familiarized with the concept of cryptography another 11 years later while preparing for my engineering third year seminar, the topic of which I had chosen as Stenography.

 Stenography can be called as the sister of cryptography. It refers to the concealment of messages inside an image, sound file or any other digital media type. Another interesting branch of stenography is network stenography which utilizes the communication protocols and are apparently harder to detect. Whatever maybe the mechanism the methodology of hiding messaging is definitely a boon, especially for the unlawful transactions and elements like warlords, drug dealers and terrorists. It is a common knowledge that the 9/11 attack was planned and executed by hiding the messages in images via Stenography. To counteract this menace our intelligence agencies have to be at least one step ahead. There are various programs and dedicated computers specifically designed to break codes. And these codes are not just any random haphazardly arranged jumbled words. There are specific mathematical algorithms designed to create encoded messages. And these may take a cryptographer or a computer time ranging from few seconds to years to break them. Programs are making use of parallel processing and complex circuitry to come up with something so powerful that will break codes with seconds. On the other hand hackers and other smarties are coming up with codes that are unbreakable. A very interesting chain of actions.

US National Security Agency (NSA) is responsible for snooping stuff of internet and cracking objectionable and suspicious messages. Many a terror attacks and drug deals have been avoided after the NSA alerted the administration and authority. However all the snooping across sensitive data's has been gaining a lot of negative feedback from technology giants. Recently according to reports NSA broke into Google and Yahoo's data centers across the world.After this Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, AOL and Facebook have supported a legislation to clip NSA's wings. It seems the aggressive eavesdropping activity is causing a botheration. What fascinates me is that Mr. Brown has already described in the book published in 1998 is actually happening now!

Though still halfway through the book, the codes, keys and programming description in the book is very fascinating. By the time I am done reading the book, I will have done a more detailed and comprehensive research and analysis on the subject. Any queries or interesting piece of insight related to the topic are welcome.

NOTE: All details related to NSA, the legislation details and the pictures have been taken from various sites on internet and TOI.


P.S While re-reading the post I just realized that the last two paragraphs sound more like a technical paper write-up than a blogpost! Anyhow a little change and something new doesn’t hurt anyone, right?