View Full Version : REVIEW: "The Code Book", Simon Singh

Rob Slade, doting grandpa of Ryan and Trevor
09-26-08, 05:54 PM

"The Code Book", Simon Singh, 2001, 0-385-72913-8, U$16.95/C$24.95
%A Simon Singh www.SimonSingh.com simon@simonsingh.net
%C 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036
%D 2001
%G 0-385-72913-8
%I Random House
%O U$16.95/C$24.95 http://www.bdd.com webmaster@bdd.com
%O http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0385729138/robsladesinterne
%O http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/0385729138/robsladesin03-20
%O Audience n- Tech 1 Writing 2 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P 263 p.
%T "The Code Book"

The introduction states that the book is intended to outline the
evolution of encryption, and to demonstrate that encryption is more
important today than it has ever been.

It's too bad that the text doesn't live up to that noble ambition.
The work is readable and quite entertaining, and is even somewhat
educational. The stories are interesting, and, being basically gossip
level tales, reveal the character of some individuals who have worked
on cryptography over the centuries. However, the text lacks structure
in terms of the flow of the ideas and concepts of cryptology, and is
certainly far from complete.

The basic notions of cryptology; such as the operation of simple
substitution and transposition ciphers, and the use of frequency
analysis to break them; are explained. Many fundamental concepts (the
importance of randomness, for example) are mentioned only
tangentially. A significant number of foundational abstractions are
presented in either a misleading fashion, or with very odd emphases.
Singh asserts the idiosyncratic position that transposition and
substitution form two classes of encryption into which all types of
encryption can be grouped. (This was picked up and even fallaciously
expanded by Eastton in "Computer Security Fundamentals" [cf.
BKCMSCFN.RVW]. Most modern symmetric algorithms use combinations of
transposition and substitution.)

Information technology is significant in modern society, and
encryption is vital to information technology: that much is obvious.
Singh does not, though, provide any further evidence of this fact.
The use of encryption is limited, in his writing, to the support of
confidentiality, and the importance of the technology in regard to
authentication, integrity, and even availability is noted only in
passing in some of the anecdotes.

The narratives are diverting, and some are even meaningful in the
history of cryptology. Certain of the tales flesh out material that
is glossed over in works such as Stamp's "Information Security:
Principles and Practice" (cf. BKINSCPP.RVW). However, Stamp obviously
knew his stuff in regard to encryption, and explained it clearly,
which Singh does not. (And, in only 50% more pages, covered a good
chunk of the rest of infosec, to boot.)

copyright Robert M. Slade, 2008 BKCODBOK.RVW 20080724

rslade@vcn.bc.ca slade@victoria.tc.ca rslade@computercrime.org
"Dictionary of Information Security," Syngress 1597491152
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