Something?s Secret at Rowan UniversityOctober 14, 2004
While students at Rowan University aren?t prone to espionage, a class of them is hard at work learning how to ensure what is meant to be a secret stays a secret.
The 14 students are taking the Computer Science Department?s computer cryptography class, a first-time, special-topics offering taught by Prof. Seth Bergmann.
Cryptography (the process of creating ciphers from plain text) as well as cryptanalysis (the process of retrieving plain text from a cipher) are becoming increasingly important in today's society, according to Bergmann. Secure communications are essential in government, military, and financial operations, including those organizations that use the Internet. Since most such communication is done via the Internet, computers are used to encrypt and decrypt messages, authenticate messages and ensure the integrity of messages.
During the course, students are studying the history of cryptology, which includes both cryptography and cryptanalysis, and how messages have been encoded from ancient times to recent years; how weak codes are broken; some of the popular encryption methods used today; and the political and ethical aspects of cryptography. Bergmann?s students also are learning about digital signatures, methods to determine whether someone has intercepted a message and altered it, and doublechecking authenticity.
?The key is encrypting a message so your enemies cannot read it but your friends can decrypt it and retrieve the original plain text,? Bergmann said. ?There has been a lot of work done in recent years by the government and private agencies to develop better cryptology.?
Unlike the government, which according to Bergmann wants to look for ways to crack codes of foreign countries, the Rowan students are working to develop codes that can?t be cracked.
?The Internet is essentially open. Unlike USPS mail, email messages are routed through any number of host computers and wireless connections before arriving at their destination. With anything you send over the Internet, there?s no telling who can get to it. If you?re doing any kind of business over the Internet you need encryption,? he said.
The new course, Bergmann said, should help students land positions in private industry and with the federal government.