Section 1

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Dispelling The Myth of Cryptography
Are you also one of those people, who feel somehow strange hearing the words "cryptography" or "ciphers"? Do these words evoke in you the mysterious world of secret agents and spies with all its upsides and downsides? Guess it is more than likely to be that way. Cryptography in the eyes of ordinary people, who have never come across it, is surrounded by many myths. Too many unspoken secrets, too many unanswered questions. Yet, it does not necessarily have to be like that. Let us lift up the blanket that covers the real cryptography, and bring it a bit closer to you. To begin, let's move a few centuries back in timeĀ…

Why? Simply because cryptography is nothing new and surprising to this world. The basic purpose of cryptography making some written (or graven) text readable only to a particular group of people has been explored since the old times. Strange as it may seem, the first known implementation of cryptographic principles comes already from the Classical times. Rosetta Stone originated in 196 BC, is a good proof of it. It bears a messaged encrypted in three different languages. The Stone was found in 1799 in Egypt during the march of Napoleonic troops. In the old Greece, sticks of different diameters were used to keep messages secret. Tapes were wound onto these sticks, and messages written lengthways onto these tapes. After that tapes were untwisted, containing a seemingly random mixture of letters. The person, for whom the message was intended, had to have a stick of exactly the same diameter to be able to read it from the tape. From the famous figures, Julius Caesar used a simple substitution of individual alphabet letters based on shifting in the alphabet (known a Caesar Cipher). Cardinal Richelieu invented an encryption screen (known from the book of Jules Verne: Mathias Sandorf. The New Earl Monte Christo). And the trip in the history could easily continue.

Yet, the main boom of cryptography as a scientific branch came with both world wars. The diplomats and the army always needed to hide their sensitive information from the curious eyes of their enemies. After the wars, it was the rapid process of the mass computerized processing of data that brought along another fast development of cryptography. From different techniques, multi-purpose encryption algorithms evolved. Algorithms are certain general mathematical processes, which say how to encrypt a given text. To ensure, that an encrypted text cannot be decrypted by anyone using just this general process, an encryption key comes onto the scene something unique for a given encrypted text. Such encrypted text cannot be usually decrypted without the knowledge of the encryption key.

All aspects and relations of this scientific branch are fully understandable only to a few "privileged". So, who are those mysterious men, who have the word "cryptologist" written on their business cards, and what do they do? There is nothing mysterious about them they are most of all excellent mathematicians. It was only the lack of knowledge that placed on them and this whole area the shadow of perplexity.

You can hear a lot of different opinions about cryptography, and it can be difficult to filter them and see the truth. Let us take you through the maze then. It is not true that:

cryptography is only about encryption Cryptography has means for meeting far more objectives. All of us intuitively assume that cryptography is just for encryption and decryption of a text, making it readable only to those people, who possess the appropriate encryption key and encryption algorithm. Yet, cryptography offers much more. "Hiding" a text would not be enough with the current technologies. There are demands to ensure, for example, integrity (no change during transfer) and authenticity (real identity of the sender) of transferred data. This is possible thanks to a cryptographic technology called digital signature, which has lately been used together with encryption as a security element for electronic mail.

cryptographic applications are difficult to use The word "cryptography" itself evokes an idea of something extremely difficult. It is true that we would need a rather deep knowledge of maths to fully understand the principle of encryption algorithms. Yet, we do not need this knowledge to use these algorithms in real-world user applications, as all the difficult mathematical processes inside them are hidden under one button, which on clicking arranges everything. Most applications with implemented encryption algorithms work fully automatically, without any or minimal demands on their users.

unpublished algorithms are safer than those publicly known It has happened several times in the past that an encryption algorithm was broken just because of a mistake in its design. In the majority, the principles of new encryption algorithms are publicized. This allows any cryptologist to review and evaluate them, and point out their weak points if any are found. These algorithms are therefore generally considered to be more secure and trusted than those, whose principle is not known. The majority of user applications nowadays implements these generally approved algorithms.

the quality of information protection depends only on the length of encryption keys This myth was created because there was not enough knowledge about the principle of using encryption algorithms. The quality of encryption algorithms and length of the key are one of the prime parameters for security, yet not the only ones. The ways how and where keys are stored, and how they are protected are equally important factors. PKI (Public Key Infrastructure) systems for secure storing of encryption keys successfully address this issue, and represent one of the most advanced and demanded technologies. The same as in the previous myth applies the most secure solution is a solution developed in accordance with approved international standards.

encryption provided by hardware is safer than that provided by software The security of encrypted information depends on the type of implemented algorithm and the level of protection of encryption keys (as these are the keys to decrypt the information). Yet, for most applications, it is not important, whether the algorithm is running on a processor i.e. in a special modem providing the encryption, or whether it has the form of computer software. The software solution is usually more favorably priced and more easily changed onto new versions (all to be done is to update the software).

encryption algorithms are used only for special purposes Without even noticing, cryptographic means are surrounding us in everyday life. Cryptographic tools are used for example in GSM mobile phones, hacking dream league soccer game, for encoding of paid TV channels or for the protection of electronic mail. More and more they make their way into our computer networks, where they help to protect our valuable data from their leak or illegal tampering.

Cryptography is not supposed to frighten us, it is supposed to help us. Whether you like it or not, cryptographic means are more and more becoming a part of our modern world. Do not be afraid of them anymore. Over the decades they have become our good companions and will become even better ones in the future.
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