Use of Cryptography

Topics: Cryptography

Cryptography has been in practice dating back to the Greeks of classical times and some ciphers have even been seen carved in stone in Egyptian times. These civilizations practiced cryptography with the goal of sending messages with confidentiality.

Students of cryptography today learn about the “Caesar cipher”, a form of substitution cipher used by Julis Caesar to communicate with his generals. Whether through history class or movies we’ve seen the stories of the Enigma machine used by Nazi Germany during World War II.

The importance of secrecy and privacy is shown by the resources and time these powerful civilizations in history put into studying cryptography. Just as it was in the past, the study and practice of securing information is a focus of the governments and powerful entities of modern civilization.

The difference today is that with the advent of computers, the study of cryptography has shifted both its breadth and depth of focus. The power of personal computers have allowed cryptography to be distributed amongst the common individual, taking power away from the central entities.

A power important enough for the government to implement restrictions on the exporting of encryption tools, an issue made visible by the lawsuits of its creators against the U.S. government. The power of computers also revealed what’s possible with cryptography that allows us to think deeper about the underlying privacy issues below the surface of basic security.

“Crypto-for-security has been extremely successful, at least by the criterion that it has been a key to enabling e-commerce.

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On the other hand, crypto-for-privacy often has social and political goals, and a misalignment of incentives frequently occurs.” (Narayanan) In his research article, the professor goes on to describe the emergence of ideas by crypto creators like David Chaum which create a world where we can maintain secure systems, but remove central authorities altogether. He later discusses the more pragmatic ideas and how leaders in this technology space can take action to improve cryptography’s effectiveness in privacy. The goal of this review is to dive into some of these pragmatic technologies that researchers have been working on more recently and to wrap it up by diving into some of Narayanan’s actions for improving cryptography and privacy.

Cryptography in Voting

Privacy in voting is an important measure in establishing fair elections without influence to the voter by intimidation, blackmailing, and vote buying. Voting systems today range from paper-based methods, machine voting, online voting, postal voting, open ballot, and other methods. As technology advances and we move into more computational and network based voting systems, the need for securing those systems becomes increasingly important. Cryptography can be used in remote voting systems to encrypt votes, ensure vote integrity, verify voter identification, and improve the vote counting process. Succeeding in implementing these cryptographic systems into our voting, will allow for people without the ability to vote in person to use secure online voting systems.

The problem is how we go about turning this seemingly physical ballot voting process into a secure virtual process. We start by breaking down the current system into smaller pieces that we can securely replicate using an online system. “Digital signatures are the cryptographer’s replacement for signatures or stamps.” (Bernhard and Warinschi) In a research paper by Bernhard and Warinschi, the authors break down the physical voting system piece by piece and compare them to the cryptographic system they will be replaced by. The paper presents ideas in a consumable format for a non-technical person with these comparisons and introduces the tools necessary for building a cryptographic voting system. For example, they introduce digital signatures as the “cryptographer’s replacement for signatures or stamps” in a physical voting system. They then propose a voting system called Helios that implements the cryptographic schemes and techniques they explained.

As shown by the research paper, we can create voting systems with cryptography that replace the physical systems with the same or even greater privacy. These improvements on privacy will allow for more elections where we can trust the results in online voting will not be tampered and the people’s privacy will be protected. Improving cryptography in voting may even help solve more difficult political issues around voter id. People will be able to feel safe voting in the privacy of their homes without revealing their identity. At the same time, the government will have cryptographic proof through digital signatures that the voter is correctly identified. Along the same lines, in special situations like a pandemic where large amounts of people aren’t able to reach physical voting ballots, the need for a secure, private, and accurate virtual voting system is essential.

Visual Cryptography in Surveillance

Just like cryptography the history of surveillance is as old as civilization itself. Unlike the modern surveillance technologies like CCTV, RFID, and GPS they came in the form of spies that collected information and disseminated false information. Surveillance is used by many organizations from governments collecting intelligence to religious organizations detecting heresy via auditors. Modern surveillance comes with a lot of controversy and arguments both in support and in opposition of its use by any organization. Regardless of support or opposition to surveillance, as a society we end up agreeing to technologies that are constantly monitoring our actions, like our smartphones. Cryptography may be one of the only solutions to ensuring our privacy in the face of all these inevitably surveillant and privacy-invasive technologies.

In the encryption of written information over the internet, one of the goals of cryptography is to obscure information into a non-human readable format. Obscure information makes malicious attacks using this information more difficult. Visual cryptography is the area of study that takes this idea and applies them to the problem of securing images and video. “The sole purpose of using visual cryptography is distributing the trust.” (Okkalı and Sandıkkaya) In this research article, the solution to creating a more private surveillance system is to divide the private images into pieces distributed amongst independent channels. Only when the purpose of the surveillance is met will the channels join the information together to reveal the image. For example, the camera surrounding a bank will only reveal sensitive information if a malicious attack was made to steal money. The article then goes deep into detail of how we can implement this privacy-enhancing system cost effectively for all our security cameras.

Along with the authors of this research article, many supporters of surveillance would like to see a world where we can use surveillance in locations where security and safety are important. However, the authors also agree with the sentiment of the opposition in the dangers of allowing our data to be carelessly left in control by a centralized entity even for the purpose of security. The solution of distributing information among independent entities may be a middle ground for both parties in allowing surveillance systems for security purposes. Today research around surveillance becomes increasingly important as tensions between people and their governments are rising as seen in Hong Kong. Beyond security, reasons, we may see the use of surveillance increase as a form of disease mitigation as seen by the recent pandemic outbreaks. With the increase of surveillance unwillingly through our phones and willingly through the government the proposals of these cryptographic researchers help move our technologies forward with privacy.

Digital Currency and Privacy

The privacy around monetary transactions suffers from some of the same controversies as surveillance and its need for privacy is similar to our voting privacy. However, unlike voting, digital currency doesn’t have a strong history of support by the mainstream around privacy. Not until the inception of the digital cryptocurrency Bitcoin has there been any impactful challenge against the regulation of monetary transactions. Now with the innovation of currencies that are detached from the control of central entities, we are seeing engineers seek to improve Bitcoin’s privacy. At the same time, alternative cryptocurrencies are being built with the main focus of privacy. Bitcoin has changed the narrative around the regulation of money to question the need for complete surveillance of our monetary transactions.

Bitcoin put into motion a working cryptocurrency where many other cryptographic payment systems failed. Although it created a pseudonymous system that allows people to transact without identities, the nature of the public blockchain allows for transactions to be tracked. “This shortcoming, which introduces the possibility of tracing, results in, for example, spending history of a user becoming available and accessible to all other people, or cash flow of merchants becoming exposed to their competitors.” (Khalilov and Levi) The research of Khalilov and Levi dives deep into these shortcomings and provides research on extensions and alternatives to Bitcoin which improve it’s privacy. Coinjoin is one of the methods included in the paper that obfuscates cash flows by combining Bitcoin payments of multiple spenders into a single transaction in order to make it difficult to determine individual transactions.

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Use of Cryptography. (2021, Nov 11). Retrieved from

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