When exploring the field of information security, the topic of cryptography in computer science takes center stage. Modern cryptography is the practice of converting a readable message into an unintelligible one with the ability to convert the message back into a readable format. The practice of cryptography is becoming increasingly important as computer systems become more complex. The skills needed to implement cryptography within modern computer systems is deeply rooted in the computer science discipline. Here is an overview of how computer scientists execute cryptography, an example of how the technique keeps pace with the ever-changing world of information technology and the controversy surrounding the domestic use of cryptography.

Using Cryptography to Secure Computer Systems

The four foundational pillars of cryptography are confidentiality, non-repudiation, integrity and authentication. Confidentiality means that no one else besides the intended audience is able to decipher the data transferred on the computer’s network equipped with cryptographic tools. The nature of cryptography allows for the identification of users that access a computer network or that transmit data on the network. This environment of non-repudiation eliminates the ability of people to deny their actions on computer network systems. Authentication ensures that the identity of the sender and receiver of a message or those accessing computer networks are known. This is also the basis for electronic signatures which uses a type of cryptography known as public key. Protecting the integrity of the computer network and its transmitted data is one of the most important functions of cryptographic systems.

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The Evolution of Cryptography

Many people remember when paying for purchases online was a sketchy endeavor without the built-in security features that are prominent today. Demand for secure purchasing environments was the catalyst for spreading cryptographic techniques and tools to nearly all e-commerce websites. The explosive growth of mobile computing through smart phones and tablets has made cryptography tools and techniques even more necessary. Computer scientists and mathematicians create and update cryptographic algorithms that encrypt data and passwords. Their methods make penetrating a computer system’s security apparatus virtually impossible.

Cryptography and the Criminal Justice System

The features that make cryptography essential to computer security are the same ones that law enforcement and other government agencies want to nullify when it comes to use by the public. While the citizens of other countries are accustomed to having their governments snoop into every area of their lives, the United States offers a semblance of freedom to its citizens. Even that nod to Constitutional privacy rights is in jeopardy as government agencies seek access to even cryptography enabled computer systems. Their rationale for wanting access to all computer systems is the belief that lurking behind encrypted systems are suspected criminals and treasonous persons. A recent court case regarding a citizen’s right to maintain cryptographic computer systems in the form of encryption keys ended in favor of governmental agencies. According to the courts, even a United States citizen was ordered to present an unencrypted computer for examination by law enforcement agencies.


Organizations within the DoD, healthcare and financial services industries have traditionally relied upon sophisticated cryptography techniques to secure their computer networks and data, but now cryptographic technology is essential to any business with a web presence. The benefits of cryptography in computer science are undeniable despite the growing controversy surrounding its domestic use.