CSIA410 – Course Purpose

Cryptology is an advanced subject, and one of last classes you’ll take in the Cyber Security BAS degree program. Even though it’s one of the last classes, it’s not a separate subject that stands on it’s own. You have been using aspects of cryptology almost from the start of degree program, when you learned about choosing strong passwords to protect your identity, or the importance of protecting data by encrypting it. And if you look back at what you’ve learned so far, you’ll see that cryptology has played a key role in providing protection in almost everything you’ve learned about cyber security. In fact, without cryptology cyber security wouldn’t exist, at least not in the way it does today.

What do I mean by saying cyber security wouldn’t exist without cryptology? Try to imagine how you would be able to secure a computer system or data without cryptology.

To better understand how crucial cryptology is to cyber security, let’s look at an analogy and compare a few of the main functions provided by cryptology to actions in the real, non-cyber, world. The main functions provided by cryptology are protecting data using encryption, and authentication or proof of identity using hashing and password systems. Let’s compare this to providing security in the real world, where physical possessions or items can be protected by locks, and someone can prove their identity using some form of ID card.

Next, to see what it would be like if we took away cryptology, let’s try and picture what physical security would be like if we took away locks and ID cards.

Can you imagine what it would be like trying to protect your possessions in the real world, except you couldn’t use locks? No locks on your car doors. No locks on the doors on your home or apartment. No locks on bank doors. How would you protect anything?

And now assume that everyone was masked and cloaked, so you had no way to identify anyone. People could walk around and claim to be anyone, and you would have no way to check to see that someone was who they claimed to be? How could you trust anyone?

It would be a much different world.

Just as locks allow us to secure items in the real world, cryptology allows us to lock systems and protect data in the cyber world. And like ID cards in the real world, password systems allow us to authenticate users and provide access to people who should be trusted.

So cryptology is the “key” building block for cyber security, and as such it’s built into every aspect of protecting systems and data.  But to this point you’ve probably never looked very deep at the algorithms and programs used to encrypt data or hash passwords. Going back to our real world analogy, up to this point you’ve learned about locks and ID cards, and that locks are good for protecting items from unauthorized access, and ID cards are a good way for someone to prove their identity. But you’ve never learned about how the various types of locks, how each type works, and how to decide which type of lock would be the best to use in a specific situation. And you’ve never learned how ID cards can be made to prevent forgery.

Learning how the cryptologic algorithms work is where this class comes in. And the goal is, that armed with this knowledge, you’ll know when and how to apply the various cryptologic systems to best protect data.

The other purpose of this class is to help you become aware of social issues associated with cryptology. That is, who should be able to encrypt their data, and who should make this decision. In the real world there’s a balance between the right to privacy and the overall security of a community. While cryptology can be used to allow people to protect their data and communications, it can also be used by criminals and terrorists to commit crimes, or organize and carry out attacks. If it were up to you would you deny individuals the ability to use cryptology? This would make it easier for law enforcement to monitor communications between criminals and terrorists and make a community or society more secure, but would also deny law abiding individuals the ability to keep their information and communications private. It’s a tough decision, but one you should be aware of as it has a huge impact on you and your way of life.