Hiding in Plain Sight: An Introduction to the Art of Cryptography

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This course is under review for 2022. Course registration will open to accepted students once courses are confirmed.

Course Description

Since the ancient world, humans have been captivated with the idea of "hidden writing". From decoding the Enigma during World War II to the World Wide Web, cryptography has shaped the world as we know it today. We see a wide range of "secure" applications everyday, from one-time passwords and two-factor authentication to the encrypted hard disks and even WhatsApp messages. However, security breaches continue to occur, compromising our private data. It is of the utmost importance to understand the underlying design principles and reason about the level of security these systems provide. In this course, we will offer an introduction to the fascinating world of cryptography, from its beginnings with simple cipher schemes to the latest work in the security and privacy of our data in the modern world.

The course is designed to be a perspective on cryptography over the years. We will explore the basic elements of cryptosystem design through activities and discussions. The course will provide an intuitive understanding of the concepts underlying modern-day cryptography. We will study currently relevant topics such as multi-party computation, structured encryption and cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin). We will also briefly consider some of the important questions that researchers in cryptography are exploring today.

At the end of the course, the student will be able to:
• Reason about what security means intuitively
• Acquire a sense of the different sub-fields of cryptography
• Understand how cryptography fits in the world we live in
• Comprehend the privacy and security concerns of modern systems
• Develop a healthy sense of skepticism when told that a system is secure because it "uses encryption"

Prerequisites: There are no strong prerequisites to this course. It is designed to be self-contained and self-explanatory, but a high-school level exposure to math (or even just an interest in math) will come in handy on occasion.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CECS0912

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences for students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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