Knox Professor Publishes Book on Cryptology

John Dooley writes history of secret codes and ciphers

November 04, 2013

Comptuer science professor John Dooley in his officeJohn Dooley is a scholar of secret codes. As professor of computer science, he focuses his research on software development and cryptology. His passion is where computers and cryptology come together.

This September, Dooley's recent research culminated in the publication of a new book, A Brief History of Cryptology and Cryptographic Algorithms, which is a study of the history of secret codes and ciphers -- and the systems to break those codes.

The book grew out of notes for the first third of a course Dooley teaches at Knox, which is focused on cryptography and computer security.

Dooley book cover

In the book, he explores the historic relationship between the person who makes the codes, a cryptographer, and the person who breaks the codes, a cryptanalyst. He focuses on the increasingly complicated systems of encryption that have been created since the invention of the computer and the development of techniques to break these systems. He also hypothesizes where the fields of cryptology and cryptanalysis are heading in the future. As technology advances, both sides of the struggle to make and break codes will gain advantages.

For Dooley, who was one course short of a history minor in college, cryptology is a way to combine his love of history with his knowledge of computer science. While in graduate school, he read the classic history of cryptology, David Kahn's The Codebreakers. "That started the spark of wanting to know more and dig deeper," says Dooley.

When Dooley began teaching at Knox, he did an author attribution study of American cryptologist Herbert O. Yardley's fiction. "I've been working in the general area of American cryptology between the first and second world wars ever since," he says.

Though Dooley taught at another liberal arts school in the 1980s, much of his professional career was spent in software engineering. He worked for ten years at Motorola on both large-scale and small-scale projects before deciding to return to teaching. In 2001, he applied for the opening in the Computer Science department. During his interview, he was struck by the dedication of the faculty and impressed by the students he had the opportunity to meet. "The rest is history," he says.

Dooley has been pleased with the support he's received from Knox for his research. "The environment here has given me the freedom to continue to do research in software development and to branch out into cryptology and the history of cryptology."