The Necessity Of Computer Security
When the first electronic computers emerged from university and military laboratories in
the late 1940s and early 1950s, visionaries proclaimed them the harbingers of a second industrial
revolution that would transform business, government and industry. But few laymen, even if they
were aware of the machines, could see the connection. Experts too, were sceptical. Not only
were computers huge, expensive, one-of-a-kind devices designed for performing abstruse
scientific and military calculations, such as cracking codes and calculations missile trajectories,
they were also extremely difficult to handle.
Now, it is clear that computers are not only here to stay, but they have a profound effect
on society as well. As John McCarthy, Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University,
speculated in 1966: "The computer gives signs of becoming the contemporary counterpart of the
steam engine that brought on the industrial revolution - one that is still gathering momentum and
whose true nature had yet to be seen."
Today's applications of computers are vast. They are used to run ordinary household
appliances such as televisions and microwaves, to being tools in the workplaces through word
processing, spreadsheets, and graphics software, to running monumental tasks such as being the
heart and soul of the nations tax processing department, and managing the project timetables of
the Space Shuttle. It is obvious that the computer is now and always will be inexorably linked to
our lives, and we have no choice but to accept this technology and learn how to harness its total
With any progressing technology, an unauthorized application can almost be found for it.
A computer could and has been used for theft and fraud - for example, as a database and manager
of illegal activities such as drug trafficking and pornography. However, we must not just consider
the harmful applications of the computer, but also take into account the good that they have
When society embraced the computer technology, we have to treat this as an extension of
what we already have at hand. This means that some problems that we had before the computer
era may also arise now, in the form where computers are an accessory to a crime.
One of the problems that society has faced ever since the dawn of civilization is privacy.
The issue of privacy on the Internet has risen many arguments for and against having it. The issue
of privacy has gotten to the point where the government of the United States has placed a bill
promoting a single chip to encrypt all private material on the Internet.
Why is privacy so important? Hiding confidential material from intruders does not
necessarily mean that what we keep secret it illegal. Since ancient times, people have trusted
couriers to carry their messages. We seal out messages in a envelope when sending mail through
the postal service. Using computer and encrypting programs to transfer electronic messages
securely is not different from sending a letter the old-fashioned way. This paper will examine the
modern methods of encrypting messages and analyse why Phil Zimmerman created an extremely
powerful civilian encipherment program, called the PGP, for "Pretty Good Privacy." In
particular, by focusing on cryptography, which was originally intended for military use, this paper
will examine just how easy it is to conclude why giving civilians a military-grade encrypting
program such as the PGP may be dangerous to national security. Therefore, with any type of new
technology, this paper will argue that the application of cryptography for civilian purposes is not
just a right, but is also a necessity.
Increasingly in today's era of computer technology, not only banks but also businesses and
government agencies are turning to encryption. Computer security experts consider it best and
most practical way to protect computer data from unauthorized disclosure when transmitted and
even when stored on a disk, tape, of the magnetic strip of a credit card.
Two encryption systems have led the way in the modern era. One is the single-key
system, in which data is both encrypted and decrypted with the same key, a sequence of eight
numbers, each between 0 and 127. The other is a 2-key system; in this approach to cryptography,
a pair of mathematically complementary keys, each containing as many as 200 digits, are used for
encryptions and decryption. In contrast with ciphers of earlier generations, where security
depended in part on concealing the algorithm, confidentiality of a computer encrypted message
hinges solely on the secrecy of the keys. Each system is thought to encrypt a message so
inscrutably that the step-by-step mathematical algorithms can be made public without
The single key system, named the Data Encryption Standard - DES for short - was
designed in 1977 as the official method for protecting unclassified computer data in agencies of
the American Federal government. Its evolution began in 1973 when the US National Bureau of
Standards, responding to public concern about the confidentiality of computerized information
outside military and diplomatic channels, invited the submission of data-encryption techniques as
the first step towards an encryption scheme intended for public use.
The method selected by the bureau as the DES was developed by IBM researchers.
During encryption, the DES algorithm divides a message into blocks of eight characters, then
enciphers them one after another. Under control of the key, the letters and numbers of each block
are scrambled no fewer than 16 times, resulting in eight characters of ciphertext.
As good as the DES is, obsolescence will almost certainly overtake it. The life span of
encryption systems tends to be short; the older and more widely used a cipher is, the higher the
potential payoff if it is cracked, and the greater the likelihood that someone has succeeded.
An entirely different approach to encryption, called the 2-key or public-key system,
simplifies the problem of key distribution and management. The approach to cryptography
eliminates the need for subscribers to share keys that must be kept confidential. In a public-key
system, each subscriber has a pair of keys. One of them is the so-called public key, which is freely
available to anyone who wishes to communicate with its owner. The other is a secret key, known
only to its owner. Though either key can be used to encipher or to decipher data encrypted with
its mate, in most instances, the public key is employed for encoding, and the private key for
decoding. Thus, anyone can send a secret message to anyone else by using the addressee's public
key to encrypt its contents. But only the recipient of the message can make sense of it, since only
that person has the private key.
A public key cryptosystem is called the PGP, for Pretty Good Privacy. Designed by Phil
Zimmerman, this program is freely distributed for the purpose of giving the public the knowledge
that whatever communications they pass, they can be sure that it is practically unbreakable.
PGP generates a public and private key for the user using the RSA technique. The data is
then encrypted and decrypted with the IDEA algorithm - which is similar to the DES, but the
work factor to decode the encrypted message by brute force is much higher than what the DES
could provide. The reason why the RSA is used only when generating the keys is that the RSA
takes a very long time to encrypt an entire document, where using the RSA on the keys takes a
mere fraction of the time.
At this time, Zimmerman is bing charged by the US government for his effort in
developing the PGP. The government considers encryption as a weapon, and they have
established regulations controlling or prohibiting the export of munitions. Since the PGP is a
powerful encryption program, it is considered and can be used as a powerful weapon and may be
a threat to national security.
On the Internet, it is clear that many people all over the world are against the US
government's effort on limiting the PGP's encryption capabilities, and their reason is that the ban
infringes on the people's right to privacy.
The PGP must not be treated only as a weapon, for it contains analogies that are not used
in wartime. One of them is authentication. The two-key cryptosystem is designed with
authentication in mind: Using someone's public key to encrypt enables only the owner of the
private key to decrypt the same message. In the real world, we use our own signature to prove
out identity in signing cheques or contracts. There exists retina scanners that check the blood
vessels in out eyes, as well as fingerprint analysis devices. These use our physical characteristics
to prove our identity. A digital signature generated by a public key cryptosystem is much harder
to counterfeit because of the mathematics of factoring - which is an advantage over conventional
methods of tests for out identity.
Another analogy the PGP has with the real world is the need for security. Banks and
corporations employ a trusted courier - in the form of an armoured truck or a guard - to transfer
sensitive documents or valuables. However, this is expensive for civilian purposes, and the PGP
provides the same or better security when securing civilian information.
While many argue that limiting the PGP's abilities are against the people's right to privacy,
the PGP must also be seen as a necessity as we enter the Information Age. There is currently
little or no practical and inexpensive way to secure digital information for civilians, and the PGP is
an answer to this problem.
Computer privacy must not be treated differently than any other method to make private
any documents. Rather, we must consider the computer as a tool and use it as an extension of
society's evolution. Clearly the techniques we employ for computer privacy such as encryption,
secure transfers and authentication closely mirrors past efforts at privacy and non-criminal efforts.
The government is putting more pressure against the distribution of PGP outside of the
United States. One of their main reasons was that since it is freely distributed and thus can be
modified in such a way that even the vast computational resources of the US government cannot
break the PGP's secured message. The government could now reason that the PGP can provide
criminal organizations a means of secure communications and storage of their activities, and thus
make the law enforcement's job much harder in tracking criminals down and proving them guilty.
Also, we must never forget one of out basic human rights - one that many laid their lives
for, is freedom. We have the freedom to do anything we wish that is within the law. The
government is now attempting to pass a bill promoting a single algorithm to encrypt and decrypt
all data that belongs to its citizens. A multitude of people around the world are opposed to this
concept, arguing that it is against their freedom and their privacy.
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