From Hieroglyphs to Blockchain: A 3-Minute History of Cryptography

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Cryptography goes back as far as our desire to keep information private. Egyptians were entombed with secret hieroglyphics, and Julius Caesar used a form of encryption, known as the Caesar Cipher, to convey orders to his armies. It was sometime around 800 AD that Arab mathematician Al-Kindi wrote the first book on cryptography.

Medieval English writers enjoyed playing with ciphers and English royalty used them to plot overthrows. To this day, the Voynich manuscript, believed to have been written in the 15th century, remains unsolved. The famous text contains illustrations, diagrams, and foldable sheets. Modern codebreakers have been unable decipher the text. Italian artist and author Leon Battista Alberti–known to some as the “father of Western cryptography”–created the first polyalphabetic cipher in 1467, a cipher based on substitution and a precursor to the infamous German ENIGMA machine.

Fast-forward to the 20th century: the ENIGMA machine sparked a period of accelerated parallel invention in cryptography. In America, Edward Hebern’s rotor machine was a major leap because it used an electrical circuit to scramble the alphabet. Unfortunately for Hebern, he was better at marketing his invention than protecting it.  He sold several of his machines to the US military. But the code was broken within the military, and they chose not to tell him so they could use this knowledge to break similar machines like ENIGMA.

Poland’s Cipher Bureau used documents from French military intelligence to determine the structure of ENIGMA, but after the invasion of Poland, breaking ENIGMA was left to British cryptologists. Enter Gordon Welchman, Max Newman, and, of course, Alan Turing who many regard as the father of modern computing. Their work breaking ENIGMA, and then keeping the break a secret, is believed to have brought an earlier end to WWII.

Cryptography had been used primarily for military purposes, but in the 1970s companies like IBM realized their customers needed encryption, and they developed a block cipher that eventually came to be accepted as the Data Encryption Standard (DES). But that too was eventually broken and was replaced in 2000 by Advanced Encryption Standard (AES).

In today’s world, everyone — not just armies – sends and receives highly sensitive data. If those secrets get out, it could spell disaster for businesses and for individuals. At Cryptelo, our approach is twofold. We want to help people share data through mirroring, so their data never leaves their control. And we also want to protect keys. If history has taught us anything, it’s that the security of the message depends on the security of the key. Once Caesar’s enemies had the key to the cipher, all was lost.

Want to learn more about Cryptelo’s blockchain-based key management and encrypted storage? Visit our website and join our pre-sale.