Acmetek - Blog

July 26, 2022

Encryption and Decryption – The Never-Ending Battle

Do you know, since 3,000 B.C Ciphers have been used to encrypt and decrypt sensitive data? However, with the expansion of the internet and the escalating volumes of sensitive data exchanged online every day, their importance and relevance for day-to-day information security have doubled. 

The history of ciphers and encryption is fascinating.  It introduces us to a constant battle between cryptographers (encryption) and cryptanalysts (decryption), with repeated cryptographic algorithm development cycles, attempts to break an existing cipher algorithm, followed by the creation of a new cipher algorithm to replace the broken one.

The same conflict is still there today, but there is a greater focus on developing ever-stronger keys, ensuring that there is always a backup key available in case an existing key gets factored or compromised (or shows signs of weakening). On the web, you must have encountered the RSA algorithm whose influence is everywhere.  By Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Len Adleman in 1977, the RSA algorithm was initially made available to the public. Since then, a lot has changed as new algorithms have been developed to replace outdated or nearly obsolete ones. However, the risk that the next generation of RSA algorithms will be factored too is ever present, since the computing power is always on the rise. As usual, it's simply a matter of time. 

Cryptographic milestones

Let's take a look back at some significant cryptographic achievements to acquire a better understanding of what the future holds in the fight against hackers and the significant new breakthroughs that are in the works.

The hieroglyphics (ancient Egyptian script) on monuments, which date back more than 5,000 years, are thought to be the oldest known cyphers. Up until the 19th century, they were thought to be indecipherable. But if history has taught us anything, it's that nothing in the domain of security is ever truly sacred.

Caesar cipher

The Caesar cypher, one of the most well-known forms of cryptography, first appeared in the first century B.C. Julius Caesar, the Roman emperor, frequently utilised it. Each letter in the original message was changed for a letter that was situated a certain number of positions down the alphabet in order for this cypher to function. The sender and recipient were the only parties aware of this fixed position (known as shift ciphers). A maximum of 26 shift numbers can be tried in order to easily decipher these cyphers. They could have significantly increased the number of permutations (to 26 × 25 x 24 x.... = 40000000000000000000000! ), making message decryption much more challenging, if they had the technology to employ a random shift.

The substitution cypher encryption technique, which rearranges the sequence of characters according to a predetermined rule, is the foundation of the Caesar cypher. These have historically been the cryptographic systems that have been utilised the most. But utilising frequency analysis, which incorporates linguistic characteristics to infer pre-encrypted letters based on how frequently they appear, substitution cyphers can all be broken.

Why war demands stronger encryption

During the First World War, the advent of modern communications and the necessity to conceal critical information sparked a boom in cryptography and cryptanalysis. The possibility of breaking even the most complicated cyphers expanded with the invention of mechanical cypher machines. These tools also made it possible to develop more sophisticated encryption techniques. None has had a greater impact on the public consciousness in earlier generations than the legendary Enigma.

Enigma cryptography

Enigma cryptography, developed by German engineer Arthur Scherbius in 1918, utilised polyalphabetic substitution encryption. This device included a plugboard, many rotors (known as scramblers), and the 26 letters of the alphabet embedded in them. This device had the capacity to convert just one alphabetic character. The scrambler rotated one grade for each letter entered on the keyboard, making it simple to encrypt or decrypt data using a key that changed for each letter.

Poland developed their own encryption device, known as Bombe, in response to the prospect of invasion by Germany. However, it became unprofitable for Poland to carry out its cryptanalysis effort given the continual advancements made to Enigma and the capacity to produce an expanding number of encryption patterns. Poland provided Britain with its research findings and decoding efforts in 1939, just two weeks before the Second World War officially began. With the help of this knowledge, Britain was eventually able to crack the Enigma code and decipher the pattern used by the German troops.

The enormous electro-mechanical "Bombes," forerunners to contemporary computers, were created by Alan Turing, widely regarded as the pioneer of computer science and artificial intelligence. The Bombes were essential to Bletchley Park's success during World War II in decrypting Enigma, also known as Ultra. Up to the end of the 1938–1945 conflict, the Allies' principal data source for intelligence was information gleaned through decrypting German communications regarding their activities and battle plans. In order for Germany to deploy Enigma with perfect confidence until the end of the war, this innovation was kept highly secret. However, it wasn't until 1974 that the general public learned that Enigma had been broken.

How to stay Prepared?

Since World War II, computers have replaced mechanical equipment as the primary tools used by cryptographers and cryptanalysts. The significance of everyday information security is no longer seen to be just a military or government priority as a result of the development of the internet, the widespread use of computers, and the proliferation of smartphones. This brings us back to the problems we must solve and the never-ending struggle to keep one step ahead of cybercriminals. How can we continue to go forward? Being prepared for what’s out there starts with getting the strongest encryption available for your organization here:

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