A Westview High School student is making it a bit easier for others to understand a subset of cybersecurity.
Aditya Sood, 17, wrote a book called "Trailblazing into Cryptography: For Newbies!," which is geared toward beginners seeking an introduction to cryptography. The subject is the study of techniques to secure communication or data as it goes between two parties.
Sood describes cryptography as a "mathematically intensive field," which made it difficult for him to understand at first.
"When I started learning cryptography, I looked for an introductory book online and all of the intro books had so much math and scripting," recalled Sood. "It didn't even look like it was English at that point."
He remembers being fascinated by data that is becoming increasingly digitized as new products are created, such as Fitbits and iPhones — and more specifically, the medical data that is collected by these devices.
The Westview High School junior was able to obtain a solid understanding of cryptography when he was selected as one of 25 students for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's LLCipher cryptography program last summer.
"Honestly, I was shocked," said Sood about the honor, "because with (previous) research projects, I was mostly dealing with the implementation of these algorithms. So, I knew they were secure, but I never stopped to wonder why they were secure."
The opportunity allowed for Sood to learn about the math behind cryptography and what goes into making certain algorithms.
While at MIT, Sood was also able to talk to other students his age about their experience with the subject. That's when he realized he wasn't alone in his early experience with cryptography.
"You can take college classes and whatnot (on the subject) but those are not as effective and take a lot more time and money as well," he explained. "It's not too helpful for just a beginner trying to learn a little bit about cryptography."
Sood remembers waking up in the middle of the night after realizing he wanted to write a book about the subject.
"I came downstairs and I'm like, 'Mom and Dad, I want to write a book,' and they told me, 'OK, let's go to sleep right now and we can talk about that tomorrow,'" recalled Sood with a chuckle.
Six months later, his beginner's book about cryptography was born.
Sood described writing the book as a "big process" to make sure he had the credibility and feedback from industry professionals. He reached out to cybersecurity experts at Intel, Google and MIT to receive the seal of approval.
"Using easily understandable terminology, Aditya does a great job introducing the fundamentals of this complex topic," wrote Rafael Misoczki, a cryptography engineer at Google in a testimonial of the book. "Definitely a very insightful reading for any student interested in diving for the first time into the cryptography world."
The 47-page book includes no math and has graphics on each page.
When asked how about not including math in the book, Sood said, "Math is not needed to understand the concepts. The issue is that a lot of textbooks out there immerse the concepts with math. So, if you don't understand the math — and we're talking really high-level math — you're not going to understand the concepts, but I kind of separated the two."
He added, "The math is important, don't get me wrong — that's the fundamental bases of these algorithms — but it's not important in understanding how they work or how they are implemented."
As for the illustrations, Sood used an online tool called Canva to create his own diagrams.
He says that his young age puts him in the best position to write and illustrate a book about cryptography because other high schoolers can relate to his level of thinking.
"If you go to these experts, they're really in depth in this field and have a solid understanding of the math, and they might not understand the challenges that come with learning this because they've already been working on it for decades," Sood said. "They might have forgotten that initial difficulty in getting started."
Sood's book sells for $6.99 on Amazon, but with his other costs, the teen is only making three cents per book. It was important to make the knowledge accessible for everyone, he said.
"If I was to increase the price, that would serve as a barrier to low-income students," Sood added. "This is also one of the reasons that I'm looking to donate copies of my book to local institutions like Westview High School and other public libraries, just to make it more accessible to all students."
The giving doesn't stop there.
Sood is also in talks with a professor at Portland Community College to include his book as a supplemental text in the college's 200 level cybersecurity course.
Whether you're starting in college or in high school, Sood has advice for those interested in dipping their toes in STEM.
"(STEM) looks pretty scary, I'm going to be honest," he said, "but the truth is that it's really not as scary as it looks. A lot of it is just getting familiar with the topics. Once you can overcome that initial step, it's a lot easier because the hardest part is taking the first step and not giving up — even if it seems difficult."
As for the future, Sood plans to study computer science at a top-tier college such as Stanford University.
"Trailblazing into Cryptography: For Newbies!" is available on Amazon for purchase.
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