Concepts : Security & Cryptography

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From - The Past, The Present & The Future
Musings by Genisys Consultant, Nigel

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Security & Cryptography:-

"Codes have decided the fates of empires, countries, and monarchies throughout recorded history. Mary, Queen of Scots was put to death by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth, for the high crime of treason after spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham cracked the secret code she used to communicate with her conspirators. And thus the course of British history was altered by a few sheets of cryptic prose." {From the introduction to 'The Code Book' by Simon Singh}

Access passwords act as a sentinel on the door to storage areas or other resources. But then any information stored behind that will normally be in a ready-to-view and useable form. 

It's still the 'norm' that direct operation at the keyboard of a system allows the user to open anything. 

As digital computers work in binary, from the human point of view - everything they do is in code, but that doesn't mean hidden or secure - so what should you do with confidential material ?

Generally network access IS subject to security checks, but then you're still relying on the systems administrator to have ensured that no one else can get in. In a small organisation, 'Confidential' usually means that it shouldn't be available to outsiders, but if it's incumbent on you to ensure compliance with the Data Protection Act or your trade secrets are targeted, real Secrecy may be called for.

Applications like Word & Excel allow you to set passwords to limit viewing and/or editing - and will encrypt the file/s - to a degree.

Winzip - (Think of it as packaging) adds the ability to collect a range of documents and password the lot.

If the need is to ensure that a document can be widely read, but not saved, printed or edited - consider using Adobe Acrobat - it offers all these options. 

Perhaps the ultimate is a package called Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) developed by Phil Zimmerman. It's unbreakable to the extent that the US Government fought against it’s use for 10 years : Presumably, they could get into just about anything else. 

"World War II was a time of great technological advancement. Radar was invented to defend Great Britain from the bombers of the German Luftwaffe. Aviation was advanced by the jet engine. And no one will forget the climax of the war with the world's first glimpse of nuclear weapons over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But none of these advancements were as significant to the twentieth century as the electronic digital computer." - Introduction to The ENIAC by Kevin W. Richey

Code breaking fathered the first electronic computer. In 1939 British code breaker Alan Turing devised and built the 'bombe' machine effectively an electro-mechanical Enigma decoding system which could test and prove all the possibilities worked out by the decryption team. In 1943 Dr. Tommy Flowers of the post office completed Colossus, the first real electronic computer which was to be used at Bletchley park on the Lorenz cipher.

Impressive? Well, when pushed, the punched paper (teleprinter) tape readers worked up to 60mph (9,600cps): In normal operation they read at 5,000 characters per second, and of course, the rest of the system had to decode the messages at least as fast. It impresses me !

On the practical front, processing the codes to break the Lorenz messages was reduced from weeks, to hours… and that directly had a significant effect on the course of the war.

Churchill ordered the destruction of Colossus at the end of the war ( actually there was 10 of them ) - in an attempt to hide how the code breaking had been done so effectively - or at all ? : Which led to the Americans believing &/or claiming they'd been first.

The need to calculate ballistics trajectories fathered the second electronic computer:-

ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer - 1946), built at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering in Pennsylvania for the US Army Ordnance Department, was indeed fairly close on the heels of Colossus. "Freddie Williams, while visiting a number of places in the US in June 1946, saw the ENIAC, and he was impressed at the evidence that such a large electronic machine could be kept error free for long enough to make useful calculations."

So, there was no direct development from the first defence computer to business systems, but naturally, as the seed had been sown, a number of the people and their theories moved on and the first ever commercial computer - the Ferranti Mark 1, was completed in Manchester in February 1951, closely followed by EDVAC (which had evolved from ENIAC) in May the same year.

All this may seem like ancient history - but hey, it means there was no such thing as a business computer before I was born! Any quips about Zimmer frames will not be appreciated.

Now business computers are not just commonplace, indeed there are very few businesses that don't have at least one. 

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