During the Spring Semester of 2016, one of my classes was Modern Cryptography, also known as MATH 3096. My class consisted solely of UHP students and the course was counted as an Honors experience. I had this class TR from 3:30 to 4:50 with Professors Jintai Ding and Crystal Clough, one of the more contrasting pairs of professors I’ve had as a student.
Before taking this class, I had been a little confused as to why a Cryptography course was classified as a Math; I knew that cryptography required problem solving skills similar to math, but I didn't know how math itself was needed for code making and code breaking. The class description told us that we wouldn't need any math experience past Calculus, and since I loved taking calculus I thought that the course might suit me well.
This class became one of my favorite classes that I have taken at UC; we were constantly presented with puzzles with encryption and decryption and learning about their historical use in society.We first learned about the basic Caesar cipher which consisted of an alphabet shift (A becomes B, B becomes C, C becomes D, etc.). This cipher was simple for all of us to understand; if we wanted to encrypt the word MATH with a Caesar cipher which shifted every letter to the right by 1, our new word would be NBUI. We all thought the class would be a breeze after learning Caesar cipher, but little did we know that since the Caesar cipher was so easy to break, cryptography would become more and more difficult to the point where it was more efficient to do it by computer than by hand.
When we entered the age of computers, we saw how encryption affects our daily lives, from buying items securely on Amazon to updating our Microsoft computers. Most online encryption is done through a system called RSA which we learned is generated with the help of random 600+ digit prime numbers that serve as “keys” to breaking the code. Professor Jintai told us that breaking this code would be as likely as winning the Powerball lottery twice!
To test our abilities with code breaking, our class was split into groups where we were told to construct our own RSA system with smaller prime numbers and we had to present our information to another group as they would try to crack it with the help of computer coding. Attached below is an artifact of my group’s report on the project.
This class truly tested my problem solving and analytical ability in a different way than my major curriculum science classes; I was able to collaborate with students outside my major to think of abstract ways to crack codes efficiently.