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Northwestern Prepares Students for Cryptography

By Melissa Brookman on Friday, August 31, 2018


In the fall of 2018, Northwestern will offer a new course called Introduction to Cryptography. Mathematics professor Dr. Johnathan Zderad stresses the importance of the course.

“Cryptography involves the ethics of what personal information should be private, what information should be privileged, and what information should be public. These issues are at the heart of human dignity and freedom. Having Christians who can impact the sharing of information is important to make sure that information is shared for the good of those involved and to keep private information that is harmful. Christians who view people as made in the image of God can help to bring ethical issues to the forefront in a society where information is a major source of political power and money,” said Dr. Zderad.

The course is part of a trilogy series at Northwestern which include Computer Security Fundamentals, Introduction to Cryptography, and Computer Forensics. It will be offered as a two credit quad class with key topics consisting of levels of security, security objectives, techniques of cryptography, providing secure internet communications, anonymity, non-repudiation, traceability, and authenticity.

“In this course, students will get to experience all three roles of information sender, information hacker, and information receiver. They will get to write computer programs that encode information, decode information, or attempt to intercept information,” said Dr. Zderad.

The course was designed for management information systems majors, but it is also relevant for computer science, mathematics, and criminal justice majors because computer security is becoming an increasing focus in these fields.

Dr. Zderad knows that it is important to have good Christians serving in these areas which is why the Bible is integrated throughout the coursework.

“Management information systems and computer science both integrate faith-related perspectives on software design, internet security, and new computer innovations. Students use Biblical perspectives on designing software that will increase its use for good, analyzing the role of technology on its impact on one’s relationship with God and others,” said Dr. Zderad.

Students who desire to work in the cryptography field can apply to organizations that maintain sensitive information on the web. This includes educational institutions, banks, government agencies like the FBI, military intelligence, or department of homeland security, and those who manufacture computer hardware and software.

Dr. Zderad will be the primary instructor for the new course but another professor may be added when it is offered again in the fall of 2020. He has a wealth of knowledge in the subject which is why he is designing the curriculum.

“I have written a number of encoder/decoder programs and labs for use in educational settings. I have helped students research and investigate current cryptographic techniques. These programs have included the use of fractals, ciphers, prime numbers, and language dialects,” said Dr. Zderad.

The course will be available to Northwestern students every other year and is listed as MIS4369 Introduction to Cryptography in the university catalog.