The Why of Crypto Challenges: Know Yourself, Know Your Enemy | Technology
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Sun Tzu said, more than 2,500 years ago, in The Art of War, that “if you know your enemy and you know yourself, you should not fear facing a hundred battles”. Cryptology, the science and art of handling information with guarantees despite the potential presence of adversaries, has to do with this wisdom. In reality, it is the result of the interaction between two types of opposing entities: those that build mechanisms from cryptography to protect our data or our communications, and the so-called cryptanalysts, who design sophisticated attacks to circumvent these barriers.
Paradoxically, and ignoring the advice of the Chinese sage, ordinary citizens today make use of a huge number of cryptographic methods, without it being possible to say that their knowledge of this fascinating subject has increased accordingly. Every day we encrypt the content of the messages we send with our mobile, digitally sign documents or store our fragmented passwords on several servers without asking ourselves what ideas and concepts support our trust in these services and applications. Also every day we get news of cyberattacks, identity theft or credential theft; and the efforts from the good side of the force for avoiding them.
Without a doubt, many of the fundamentals of modern cryptography cannot be explained without delving into seductive and tortuous scenarios in which computer science, mathematics, physics and different areas of engineering are intertwined in an often intimidating web. There is, however, no compelling reason to avoid the ideas underlying a large number of cryptographic constructs. Many of its fundamentals can be explained through everyday examples, using elementary mathematics and intuitive reasoning. Above all, cryptographers and cryptanalysts are the result of the evolution of elemental human instincts; that of protecting our knowledge and that of interfering with that of others.
The Serie The crypto challenges, which is launching today the Technology section of EL PAÍS, is conceived as a workshop in which different methods to protect our information will be presented, through ten short stories that include a challenge for the reader. The objective is to make known some of the tools that we all unconsciously use on a daily basis, showing examples that can be understood with elementary mathematics, so that the reader discovers the tricks and mechanisms of cryptographic thinking.
Every two weeks we will publish a new story, the solution of which will be revealed in the next installment, accompanied by a commentary with the most inspiring or original ideas we have received from readers. In this way we will follow Sun Tzu’s advice, knowing what tools our digital self uses to defend itself, learning to think like its potential enemies and discovering how the constant struggle between cryptographers and cryptanalysts is an inexhaustible source of new techniques and ideas.
CRYPTOGRAPHY: From the Greek Kryptos (hide) and graphos (writing). According to the RAE, “art of writing with a secret key or in an enigmatic way”. Today, this term has been updated as the discipline that is responsible for the design of tools and methods to protect information.
CRYPTOANALYSIS: critical study of cryptographic tools and methods, in order to detect vulnerabilities that can lead to security breaches in real implementations.
CRYPTOLOGY: discipline that brings together the study of cryptographic and cryptanalysis techniques.
Maria Isabel Gonzalez Vasco She is a professor of Applied Mathematics at the Rey Juan Carlos University and a member of the Governing Board of the Royal Spanish Mathematical Society.
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