Cryptography is no longer a military thing that should not be messed with. It is time to demystify cryptography and make full use of the advantages it provides for the modern society. In the following, tbasic terminology and the main methods of cryptography are presented. Any opinions and evaluations presented here are speculative, and the author cannot be held responsible for their correctness.
Suppose that someone wants to send a message to a receiver, and wants to be sure that no-one else can read the message. However, there is the possibility that someone else opens the letter or hears the electronic communication. In cryptographic terminology, the message is called plaintext or cleartext. Encoding the contents of the message in such a way that hides its contents from outsiders is called encryption. The encrypted message is called the ciphertext. The process of retrieving the plaintext from the ciphertext is called decryption. Encryption and decryption usually make use of a key, and the coding method is such that decryption can be performed only by knowing the proper key.
Cryptography is the art or science of keeping messages secret. Cryptanalysis is the art of breaking ciphers, i. e. retrieving the plaintext without knowing the proper key. People who do cryptography are cryptographers, and practitioners of cryptoanalysis are cryptoanalysists.
Cryptography deals with all aspects of secure messaging, authentication, digital signatures, electronic money, and other applications. Cryptology is the branch of mathematics that studies the mathematical foundations of cryptographic methods.
Basic Cryptographic Algorithms
A method of encryption and decryption is called a cipher. Some cryptographic methods rely on the secrecy of the algorithms; such algorithms are only of historical interest and are not adequate for real-world needs. All modern algorithms use a key to control encryption and decryption; a message can
be decrypted only if the key matches the encryption key. The key used for decryption can be different from the encryption key, but for most algorithms they are the same. There are two classes of key-based algorithms, symmetric (or secret-key) and asymmetric (or public-key) algorithms. The difference is that symmetric algorithms use the same key for encryption and decryption (or the decryption key is easily derived from the encryption key), whereas asymetric algorithms use a different key for encryption and decryption, the decryption key cannot be derived from the encryption key.
Symmetric algorithms can be divided into stream ciphers and block ciphers. Stream ciphers can encrypt a single bit of plaintext at a time, whereas block (5)siphers take a number of bits (typically 64 bits in modern ciphers), and encrypt them as a single unit. Many symmetric ciphers are described on the algorithms page.
Asymmetric ciphers (also called public-key algorithms or generally public-key cryptography) permit the encryption key to the public (it can even be published in a newspaper), allowing anyone to encrypt with the key, whereas only the proper recipient (who knows the decryption key) can decrypt the message. The encryption key is also called the public key and the decryption key the private key or secret key.
Modern cryptographic algorithms cannot really be executed by humans. Strong cryptographic algorithms are designed to be executed by computers or specialized hardware devices. In most applications, cryptography is done in computer software.