# User Contributed Dictionary

### Verb

ciphering- present participle of cipher

# Extensive Definition

In cryptography, a cipher (or
cypher) is an algorithm for performing
encryption and decryption — a
series of well-defined steps that can be followed as a procedure.
An alternative term is encipherment. In non-technical usage, a
“cipher” is the same thing as a “code”;
however, the concepts are distinct in cryptography. In classical
cryptography, ciphers were distinguished from codes. Codes
operated by substituting according to a large codebook which linked a random
string of characters or numbers to a word or phrase. For example,
“UQJHSE” could be the code for “Proceed to the following
coordinates”. When using a cipher the original information is known
as plaintext, and the
encrypted form as ciphertext. The ciphertext message contains all
the information of the plaintext message, but is not in a format
readable by a human or computer without the proper mechanism to
decrypt it; it should resemble random gibberish to those not
intended to read it.

The operation of a cipher usually depends on a
piece of auxiliary information, called a key
or, in traditional NSA parlance, a
cryptovariable. The encrypting procedure is varied depending on the
key, which changes the detailed operation of the algorithm. A key
must be selected before using a cipher to encrypt a message.
Without knowledge of the key, it should be difficult, if not nearly
impossible, to decrypt the resulting cipher into readable
plaintext.

Most modern ciphers can be categorized in several
ways:

- By whether they work on blocks of symbols usually of a fixed size (block ciphers), or on a continuous stream of symbols (stream ciphers).
- By whether the same key is used for both encryption and decryption (symmetric key algorithms), or if a different key is used for each (asymmetric key algorithms). If the algorithm is symmetric, the key must be known to the recipient and to no one else. If the algorithm is an asymmetric one, the encyphering key is different from, but closely related to, the decyphering key. If one key cannot be deduced from the other, the asymmetric key algorithm has the public/private key property and one of the keys may be made public without loss of confidentiality. The Feistel cipher uses a combination of substitution and transposition techniques. Most block cipher algorithms are based on this structure.

## Etymology of “Cipher”

“Cipher” (Middle French as cifre and Medieval Latin as cifra, from the Arabic sifr = zero) is alternatively spelled “cypher” (however, this variant is now uncommon and therefore often incorrectly considered an error by native speakers); similarly “ciphertext” and “cyphertext”, and so forth.The word “cipher” in former times meant “zero”
and had the same origin (see Zero —
Etymology), and later was used for any decimal digit, even any
number. There are these theories about how the word “cipher” may
have come to mean encoding:

- Encoding often involved numbers.
- The Roman number
system was very cumbersome because there was no concept of zero
(or empty space). The concept of zero (which was also called
“cipher”), which we all now think of as natural, was very alien in
medieval Europe, so confusing and ambiguous to common Europeans
that in arguments people would say “talk clearly and not so far
fetched as a cipher”. Cipher came to mean concealment of clear
messages or encryption.
- The French formed the word “chiffre” and adopted the Italian word “zero”.
- The English used “zero” for “0”, and “cipher” from the word “ciphering” as a means of computing.
- The Germans used the words “Ziffer” (digit, “Zahl”) and “Chiffre”.

## Ciphers versus codes

In non-technical usage, a “(secret) code” typically means a “cipher”. Within technical discussions, however, the words “code” and “cipher” refer to two different concepts. Codes work at the level of meaning — that is, words or phrases are converted into something else and this chunking generally shortens the message.An example of this is the Telegraph
Code which were used to shorten long telegraph messages which
resulted from entering into commercial contracts using exchanges of
Telegrams.

Ciphers, on the other hand, work at a lower
level: the level of individual letters, small groups of letters,
or, in modern schemes, individual bits. Some systems used both
codes and ciphers in one system, using superencipherment
to increase the security. In some cases the terms codes and ciphers
are also used synonymously to substitution and transposition.

Historically, cryptography was split into a
dichotomy of codes and ciphers; and coding had its own terminology,
analogous to that for ciphers: “encoding, codetext, decoding” and
so on.

However, codes have a variety of drawbacks,
including susceptibility to cryptanalysis and the
difficulty of managing a cumbersome codebook. Because of this,
codes have fallen into disuse in modern cryptography, and ciphers
are the dominant technique.

## Types of Cipher

There are a variety of different types of encryption. Algorithms used earlier in the history of cryptography are substantially different from modern methods, and modern ciphers can be classified according to how they operate and whether they use one or two keys.### Historical ciphers

Historical pen and paper ciphers used in the past are sometimes known as classical ciphers. They include simple substitution ciphers and transposition ciphers. For example “GOOD DOG” can be encrypted as “PLLX XLP” where “L” substitutes for “O”, “P” for “G”, and “X” for “D” in the message. Transposition of the letters “GOOD DOG” can result in “DGOGDOO”. These simple ciphers and examples are easy to crack, even without plaintext-ciphertext pairs.Simple ciphers were replaced by polyalphabetic
substitution ciphers which changed the substitution alphabet
for every letter. For example “GOOD DOG” can be encrypted as “PLSX
TWF” where “L”, “S”, and “W” substitute for “O”. With even a small
amount of known or estimated plaintext, simple polyalphabetic
substitution ciphers and letter transposition ciphers designed for
pen and paper encryption are easy to crack.

During the early twentieth century,
electro-mechanical machines were invented to do encryption and
decryption using transposition, polyalphabetic substitution, and a
kind of “additive” substitution. In rotor
machines, several rotor disks provided polyalphabetic
substitution, while plug boards provided another substitution. Keys
were easily changed by changing the rotor disks and the plugboard
wires. Although these encryption methods were more complex than
previous schemes and required machines to encrypt and decrypt,
other machines such as the British Bombe were invented
to crack these encryption methods.

### Modern ciphers

Modern encryption methods can be divided by two criteria: by type of key used by type of input data.By type of key used ciphers are divided into:

- symmetric key algorithms (Private-key cryptography), where the same key is used for encryption and decryption, and
- asymmetric key algorithms (Public-key cryptography), where two different keys are used for encryption and decryption.

In a symmetric key algorithm (e.g., DES
and
AES), the sender and receiver must have a shared key set up in
advance and kept secret from all other parties; the sender uses
this key for encryption, and the receiver uses the same key for
decryption. In an asymmetric key algorithm (e.g., RSA), there are two
separate keys: a public key is published and enables any sender to
perform encryption, while a private key is kept secret by the
receiver and enables only him to perform correct decryption.

Type of input ciphers data can be distinguished
into two types:

- block ciphers, which encrypt block of data of fixed size, and
- stream ciphers, which encrypt continuous streams of data

## Key Size and Vulnerability

In a pure mathematical attack (i.e., lacking any other information to help break a cipher), three factors above all, count:- Mathematical advances that allow new attacks or weaknesses to be discovered and exploited.
- Computational power available, i.e., the computing power which can be brought to bear on the problem. It is important to note that average performance/capacity of a single computer is not the only factor to consider. An adversary can use multiple computers at once, for instance, to increase the speed of exhaustive search for a key (i.e., “brute force” attack) substantially.
- Key size, i.e., the size of key used to encrypt a message. As the key size increases, so does the complexity of exhaustive search to the point where it becomes infeasible to crack encryption directly.

An example of this process can be found at
Key Length which uses
multiple reports to suggest that a symmetric cipher with 128
bits, an
asymmetric cipher with 3072 bit keys, and an elliptic curve cipher
with 512 bits, all have similar difficulty at present.

Claude
Shannon proved, using information theory considerations, that
any theoretically unbreakable cipher must have keys which are at
least as long as the plaintext, and used only once: one-time
pad.

## References

- Helen Fouché Gaines, “Cryptanalysis”, 1939, Dover. ISBN 0-486-20097-3
- Ibrahim A. Al-Kadi, “The origins of cryptology: The Arab contributions”, Cryptologia, 16(2) (April 1992) pp. 97–126.
- Ibrahim A. Al-Kadi, “Cryptography and Data Security: Cryptographic Properties of Arabic”, proceedings of the Third Saudi Engineering Conference. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Nov 24-27, Vol 2:910-921., 1991.
- David Kahn, The Codebreakers - The Story of Secret Writing (ISBN 0-684-83130-9) (1967)
- Abraham Sinkov, Elementary Cryptanalysis: A Mathematical Approach, Mathematical Association of America, 1966. ISBN 0-88385-622-0
- William Stallings, ''Cryptography and Network Security, principles and practices, 4th Edition

## See also

## External links

- SecurityDocs Resource for encryption whitepapers
- Accumulative archive of various cryptography mailing lists. Includes Cryptography list at metzdowd and SecurityFocus Crypto list.
- Voice and Data Ciphering

ciphering in Russian: Шифр