Cryptography from the Past to Now

2 August 2023

8m read

One of the key factors in the development of modern cryptocurrencies and blockchains is cryptography, the study of creating codes and ciphers for secure communication. However, the development of the cryptographic methods utilized today has a remarkably long history. People have used cryptography to send information securely since the dawn of time. The intriguing development of cryptography that led to the sophisticated and cutting-edge techniques employed for modern digital encryption is detailed below.

The Origins of Cryptography in the Past

Ancient cryptographic methods are known to have existed, and the majority of the earliest civilizations seem to have employed cryptography in some capacity. The most fundamental type of cryptography, symbol replacement, may be found in writings from both Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. The tomb of an Egyptian nobleman named Khnumhotep II, who lived about 3,900 years ago, contained the first recorded instance of this kind of cryptography.
The Knhumhotep inscription's symbol change was done not to hide information but to make it more linguistically appealing. Around 3,500 years ago, a Mesopotamian scribe utilized cryptography to hide a recipe for the ceramic glaze that was used on clay tablets, which is the earliest recorded instance of cryptography being used to secure sensitive information.
Cryptography was frequently utilized to safeguard crucial military secrets during later times of antiquity, and it continues to do so now. Messages were written on parchment draped around a cylinder of a specific size in the Greek city-state of Sparta to encrypt them, rendering them unintelligible until the recipient wrapped it around a cylinder of like size. The use of coded messages by spies dates back to the second century BC in ancient India.
Roman encryption was arguably the most sophisticated in the ancient world. The Caesar cipher, a well-known example of Roman cryptography, included moving a predetermined number of letters down the Latin alphabet in an encrypted message. A recipient may successfully decode the otherwise unintelligible message if they were aware of this procedure and how many places to shift the letters.

Middle Ages and Renaissance Developments

Although substitution ciphers, of which the Caesar cipher is one example, continued to be the norm throughout the Middle Ages, cryptography gained importance. The study of cracking codes and ciphers, known as cryptanalysis, started to catch up to the still-relatively-rudimentary field of cryptography. Around 800 AD, the eminent Arab mathematician Al-Kindi created a method called frequency analysis that made substitution ciphers susceptible to decryption. For the first time, anyone attempting to decrypt encrypted messages has access to a means for doing so in a systematic way, necessitating future development in cryptography for it to continue to be helpful.
The polyalphabetic cipher, invented by Leone Alberti in 1465, is said to be the answer to Al-Kindi's frequency analysis method. A message is encoded using two unique alphabets in a polyalphabetic cipher. The first alphabet is the one in which the message is written in its original form, and the second is the alphabet in which the message appears after being encoded. Polyalphabetic ciphers significantly boosted the security of information that was encoded when used in conjunction with conventional substitution ciphers. The frequency analysis method was useless unless the reader was aware of the original alphabet used to write the message.
The Renaissance saw the creation of new information-encoding techniques, including an early, well-liked binary encoding scheme created in 1623 by the renowned polymath Sir Francis Bacon.

The Developments of More Recent Centuries

Over the ages, cryptography has become a more sophisticated science. Thomas Jefferson proposed a huge cryptographic advance in the 1790s, but it may never have been realized. His creation, the cipher wheel, was made up of 36 letter rings on rotating wheels that could be utilized for complicated encoding. The Second World War would see the use of this notion as the foundation for American military encryption since it was so far ahead of its time.
The Enigma machine, a model of analog cryptography, was created during World War II. This Axis tool, similar to the wheel cipher, uses moving wheels to encrypt messages, making it nearly hard to decipher without another Enigma. The Enigma encryption was eventually broken with the aid of early computer technology, and the successful decryption of Enigma signals is still regarded as a crucial element of the eventual Allied victory.

Cryptography in the Age of Computers

Cryptography significantly improved during the analog age with the advent of computers. Many sensitive equipment and computer systems currently use 128-bit mathematical encryption, which is much more powerful than any antique or medieval cipher. Computer scientists started working on a brand-new type of cryptography called quantum cryptography in 1990 in an effort to once more raise the amount of security provided by contemporary encryption.
In more recent times, cryptocurrencies have also been made possible using cryptographic methods. Hash functions, public-key cryptography, and digital signatures are just a few of the sophisticated cryptographic methods used by cryptocurrencies. Authenticating transactions and ensuring the security of data kept on blockchains are the main purposes of these systems. Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (ECDSA), a specific type of cryptography, is the foundation of some cryptocurrency systems, adding additional security and guaranteeing that only the legitimate owners of money can utilize the funds.
In the past 4,000 years, cryptography has advanced significantly, and it is unlikely to slow down any time soon. Cryptography will keep developing as long as sensitive data needs to be protected.

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