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MIST Takes the Caesar Cipher a Notch Higher

If you have had sleepless yet peaceful nights due to WhatsApp’s end to end to encryption chats, then be grateful for its security features. With an idea to educate the students on Android Security, The Manipal Information Security Team (MIST) held a workshop on the 22nd of January, 2018. The aim for the evening was to replicate a text encryption app. Though the turnout was low, MIST took it in their stride to have a one-on-one interactive session.

The class began with a brief introduction to object-oriented programming by Reuben Nellissery, a second-year student of IT. Taking over, Samarth Kathal of the first year, provided a snapshot of the history of cryptography. He commented on the lack of standardization in the field in the late 1970s and the development which followed. There was also a mention of algorithms like DES (Data Encryption Standard) and Triple-DES. In his last segment, he introduced the algorithm which was primarily focused on in the workshop – namely the AES (Advanced Encryption Standard).

Courtesy: The Photography Club

AES technology falls under the symmetric kind of cryptography. It uses the same secret key for both encryption and decryption purposes. Reuben Nellissery took on from here to explain two of the many branches of the AES model. He threw light on the ECB (Electronic Codebook) and CBC (Cipher Blocker Chaining) modes of AES. After a quick look at the fundamentals, the class grabbed their laptops to commence coding using Android Studio. While Reuben explained simple lines of code and the effectiveness of Android, the room buzzed with activity. The participants were also guided by other MIST volunteers.

The last speaker for the day was Shashank Goyal, another student of the first year. Moving on to greater improvements in cryptography, Shashank spoke about the RSA model. This algorithm falls under the asymmetric mode of cryptography where two keys (public and private) are involved. He gave an easy-to-deduce analogy of a credit card, where the card number is one’s public key and the pin is a private key. All in all, the workshop was a great learning experience for those who always love to play Caesar Cipher. However, it lacked a follow-up session which many participants thought was required when dealing with such a heavy subject. Tanvi Anand of the second year said, “I found the topics discussed to be very interesting. The volunteers were a great help in solving little issues on the way. I wished it were a longer session or had a second round.”

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