Sunday, March 25, 2012

I'm really enjoying Dan Boneh's online cryptography class

I've finished the second week of Professor Dan Boneh's online cryptography class, available at

The video lectures are exceptionally clear and well presented. I've found it best to watch them through twice: I watch an entire week's videos from start to finish once, then, later, I go back and re-watch each of the videos in sequence.

The problem sets have been well-constructed, and the first week's programming assignments were challenging, but solvable, and solving them gave me some great insights into the material. For the second week, there were no programming questions, just a problem set.

On my first attempt at the second week's problem set, I got one of the questions wrong, and decided to re-take that problem set. I was very impressed to see that, on the second attempt, the overall questions were essentially the same, but the candidate answers for the multiple-choice questions were different! Furthermore, in the cases where the candidate answers were the same, they were shuffled around, so I couldn't just remember that, e.g., "I picked the second choice on problem 3", but actually had to re-solve each question again. That made re-taking the problem set much more rewarding.

A friend asked me what I had learned so far. I think it's these two things:

  1. There are good (strong, sound, legitimate) cryptographic techniques, and bad (weak, flawed, broken) cryptographic techniques, and it isn't trivial to tell the difference just by glancing at them. You really have to understand the concepts and do the analysis and work through the details in order to see.
  2. Cryptography has a mystique of being unapproachable and complex, but if it is well-presented (as this material is), a dedicated student can comprehend it.

The third week of lectures is now online, so I know what I'll be doing next week!

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