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Until modern times cryptography referred almost exclusively to encryption, which is the process of converting ordinary information (plaintext) into unintelligible gibberish (i.e., ciphertext). Decryption is the reverse, in other words, moving from the unintelligible ciphertext back to plaintext. A cipher (or cypher) is a pair of algorithms that create the encryption and the reversing decryption. The detailed operation of a cipher is controlled both by the algorithm and in each instance by a key. This is a secret parameter (ideally known only to the communicants) for a specific message exchange context. Keys are important, as ciphers without variable keys can be trivially broken with only the knowledge of the cipher used and are therefore useless (or even counter-productive) for most purposes. Historically, ciphers were often used directly for encryption or decryption without additional procedures such as authentication or integrity checks.
In colloquial use, the term "code" is often used to mean any method of encryption or concealment of meaning. However, in cryptography, code has a more specific meaning. It means the replacement of a unit of plaintext (i.e., a meaningful word or phrase) with a code word (for example, wallaby replaces attack at dawn). Codes are no longer used in serious cryptography-except incidentally for such things as unit designations (e.g., Bronco Flight or Operation Overlord)-since properly chosen ciphers are both more practical and more secure than even the best codes and also are better adapted to computers.
Some use the terms cryptography and cryptology interchangeably in English, while others (including US military practice generally) use cryptography to refer specifically to the use and practice of cryptographic techniques and cryptology to refer to the combined study of cryptography and cryptanalysis. English is more flexible than several other languages in which cryptology (done by cryptologists) is always used in the second sense above. In the English Wikipedia the general term used for the entire field is cryptography (done by cryptographers).
The study of characteristics of languages which have some application in cryptography (or cryptology), i.e. frequency data, letter combinations, universal patterns, etc., is called cryptolinguistics.
History of cryptography and cryptanalysis
Main article: History of cryptography
Before the modern era, cryptography was concerned solely with message confidentiality (i.e., encryption)-conversion of messages from a comprehensible form into an incomprehensible one and back again at the other end, rendering it unreadable by interceptors or eavesdroppers without secret knowledge (namely the key needed for decryption of that message). Encryption was used to (attempt to) ensure secrecy in communications, such as those of spies, military leaders, and diplomats. In recent decades, the field has expanded beyond confidentiality concerns to include techniques for message integrity checking, sender/receiver identity authentication, digital signatures, interactive proofs and secure computation, among others.
Reconstructed ancient Greek scytale (rhymes with "Italy"), an early cipher device
The earliest forms of secret writing required little more than local pen and paper analogs, as most people could not read. More literacy, or literate opponents, required actual cryptography. The main classical cipher types are transposition ciphers, which rearrange the order of letters in a message (e.g., 'hello world' becomes 'ehlol owrdl' in a trivially simple rearrangement scheme), and substitution ciphers, which systematically replace letters or groups of letters with other letters or groups of letters (e.g., 'fly at once' becomes 'gmz bu podf' by replacing each letter with the one following it in the Latin alphabet). Simple versions of either offered little confidentiality from enterprising opponents, and still do. An early substitution cipher was the Caesar cipher, in which each letter in the plaintext was replaced by a letter some fixed number of positions further down the alphabet. It was named after Julius Caesar who is reported to have used it, with a shift of 3, to communicate with his generals during his military campaigns, just like EXCESS-3 code in boolean algebra. There is record of several early Hebrew ciphers as well. The earliest known use of cryptography is some carved ciphertext on stone in Egypt (ca 1900 BC), but this may have been done for the amusement of literate observers. The next oldest is bakery recipes from Mesopotamia.
Cryptography is recommended in the Kama Sutra as a way for lovers to communicate without inconvenient discovery. Steganography (i.e., hiding even the existence of a message so as to keep it confidential) was also first developed in ancient times. An early example, from Herodotus, concealed a message-a tattoo on a slave's shaved head-under the regrown hair. More modern examples of steganography include the use of invisible ink, microdots, and digital watermarks to conceal information.
Ciphertexts produced by a classical cipher (and some modern ciphers) always reveal statistical information about the plaintext, which can often be used to break them. After the discovery of frequency analysis perhaps by the Arab mathematician and polymath, Al-Kindi (also known as Alkindus), in the 9th century, nearly all such ciphers became more or less readily breakable by any informed attacker. Such classical ciphers still enjoy popularity today, though mostly as puzzles (see cryptogram). Al-Kindi wrote a book on cryptography entitled Risalah fi Istikhraj al-Mu'amma (Manuscript for the Deciphering Cryptographic Messages), in which described the first cryptanalysis techniques, including some for polyalphabetic ciphers.
16th-century book-shaped French cipher machine, with arms of Henri II of France
Enciphered letter from Gabriel de Luetz d'Aramon, French Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, after 1546, with partial decipherment
Essentially all ciphers remained vulnerable to cryptanalysis using the frequency analysis technique until the development of the polyalphabetic cipher, most clearly by Leon Battista Alberti around the year 1467, though there is some indication that it was already known to Al-Kindi. Alberti's innovation was to use different ciphers (i.e., substitution alphabets) for various parts of a message (perhaps for each successive plaintext letter at the limit). He also invented what was probably the first automatic cipher device, a wheel which implemented a partial realization of his invention. In the polyalphabetic Vigenère cipher, encryption uses a key word, which controls letter substitution depending on which letter of the key word is used. In the mid 1800s Charles Babbage showed that polyalphabetic ciphers of this type remained partially vulnerable to extended frequency analysis techniques.
Although frequency analysis is a powerful and general technique against many ciphers, encryption has still been often effective in practice; many a would-be cryptanalyst was unaware of the technique. Breaking a message without using frequency analysis essentially required knowledge of the cipher used and perhaps of the key involved, thus making espionage, bribery, burglary, defection, etc., more attractive approaches to the cryptanalytically uninformed. It was finally explicitly recognized in the 19th century that secrecy of a cipher's algorithm is not a sensible nor practical safeguard of message security; in fact, it was further realized that any adequate cryptographic scheme (including ciphers) should remain secure even if the adversary fully understands the cipher algorithm itself. Security of the key used should alone be sufficient for a good cipher to maintain confidentiality under an attack. This fundamental principle was first explicitly stated in 1883 by Auguste Kerckhoffs and is generally called Kerckhoffs' principle; alternatively and more bluntly, it was restated by Claude Shannon, the inventor of information theory and the fundamentals of theoretical cryptography, as Shannon's Maxim-'the enemy knows the system'.