REVIEW: "Codebreaker", Stephen Pincock

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BKCDBRKR.RVW   20090420

"Codebreaker", Stephen Pincock, 2006, 978-0-8027-1547-0, U$19.95
%A   Stephen Pincock
%C   104 Fifth Ave, New York, NY   10011
%D   2006
%G   978-0-8027-1547-0 0-8027-1547-8
%I   Walker and Company
%O   U$19.95
%O  ( product link shortened)
  ( product link shortened)
%O   Audience n- Tech 1 Writing 2 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   176 p.
%T   "Codebreaker"

The introduction does not clearly identify the intent or audience of
the book.  The fact that readers are encouraged to delve into
cryptographic puzzles would seem to indicate that the codes used are
relatively simple.

The second paragraph of the first chapter contains errors in the early
use of cryptographic forms of Egyptian hieroglyphics, which doesn't
bode well for accuracy.  There is decent coverage of fundamental
cryptographic concepts (mostly in regard to substitution algorithms),
but this is hidden (you should pardon the expression) in lots of
miscellaneous history, and some misinformation as well.  Chapter two
covers some minor polyalphabetic ciphers, along with more history and
a fair bit of wild speculation.  Since a number of the chronicled
tales come from the period of 1400-1800 AD, it seems a bit odd that
chapter three starts out by telling us that, as of roughly 1850,
cryptography had been neglected for 450 years.  We are given an
algorithm for decrypting certain forms of polyalphabetic ciphers (and
some examples of digraphic encryption and other complex forms), but no
additional theory.

Chapter four provides acceptable reviews of the structures of Enigma,
Lorenz, and Purple, but with limited technical detail and no
abstraction.  The UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)
gets credit for asymmetric encryption, along with Diffie and Hellman,
but Ralph Merkle gets left out in the cold.  So do the details of, and
ideas behind, asymmetric encryption: instead we get lists of fictional
ciphers, mostly of the plain substitution variety.  In chapter six,
Pincock deals with quantum cryptography as well as the theorized
decryption of the RSA algorithm using quantum computers.  These are
radically different ideas, but that doesn't bother the author: he
flips back and forth between them with gay abandon, throwing in some
chaos theory for good measure.

I was asked to review this book to see if it would be useful in
helping candidates learn enough about cryptology to get through that
domain on the CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security
Professional) exam.  Well, it isn't.  The book is interesting, and
contains a lot of historical trivia.  It doesn't contain enough on the
basic concepts of cryptography.  It does go into practical
cryptanalysis in more depth than is to be found in the normal run of
texts on simple cryptography, but it doesn't get far enough into the
concepts for commercial or professional decision making.  Asymmetric
encryption is mentioned, but not the uses thereof, nor the extensive
infrastructure necessary for full utilization.

It's fun, but it isn't useful.

copyright Robert M. Slade, 2009    BKCDBRKR.RVW   20090420

"Dictionary of Information Security," Syngress               1597491152 /
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