Cryptography Research Paper Examples
Type of paper: Research Paper
Topic: Cryptography, Information, Encryption, Receiver, Public, Sender, Internet, Confidentiality
Cryptography refers to the rendering of information into an unintelligible or secret format so that when it is transmitted over a public or insecure medium, it is unreadable to everyone except the sender and the intended receiver. Cryptography has a number of definitions, but the most common one defines cryptography as the science of secret writing. Cryptography has been in use for thousands of years. The earliest known use of cryptograph dates back 4,000 years ago to ancient Egypt, where it was originally used in the tombs of noblemen and kings probably as a way for the tomb builders to hide the meaning of their “religious rituals from the common people” (McDonald 2014, 5). As the effectiveness of cryptography in hiding information and protecting secrets became better understood, it increasingly found use in a wide range of activities. Two of cryptography’s more notably uses was in securing diplomatic and military communications from spies and enemies. To be sure, from the days of the Roman Empire to the present day, cryptography has played a major role in some of history’s most well-known events. For instance, during World War II, the German High Command relied on cryptography to communicate with its troops all over the world until the code was broken by British forces.
Over the last decade, however, cryptography has become increasing important for the information technology industry and our growing reliance on the Internet and telecommunications to do everything from work to play; from buying products online to banking; from calling our parents/children to contacting the hospital. But why is this? Currently, most “roadways” for transmitting information, namely the Internet and telecommunications, are unsecure. This means that information sent via the Internet or your 4G network are like a postcard sent in the traditional mail; easily readable by anyone that handles the information on its way from sender to receiver. Furthermore, most communications applications such as e-mail, text and browser do not provide the tools, such as an envelope in traditional mail, to secure communications. Accordingly, encryption provides the envelope that you can seal your information in so that no one can “read your mail” except the person you designate to read it.
The general modern cryptographic process involves: (1) taking everyday information, (2) scrambling it into random and unreadable data, (3) sending it to the intended receiver, and (4) having the receiver unscramble it to reveal the original information. In cryptography, the original everyday information is known as plaintext. Plaintext can be any type of digital data including text, voice, video or a combination of all three. The most common forms of plaintext data includes private or personal information such as a credit card or bank account number which the sender does not want revealed to the public. The scrambled, coded format that plaintext is transformed into during the second step is known as ciphertext. Ciphertext contains the same exact information of the original plaintext, except that it is unreadable without a first having it “translated” into a language commonly understood. Plaintext is transformed into ciphertext by the sender through a process known as encryption. Ciphertext is transformed back plaintext by the receiver through a process known as decryption.
Encryption, as mentioned, transforms the plaintext into ciphertext. To accomplish this, an algorithm, generally known as a cipher is used to “encrypt” the plaintext. A cipher, in essence, is a precise method used to transform the plaintext into its unintelligible form. Normally the cipher is a number that is either directly substituted mathematically for letters of words in the plaintext to create a new set of information that at first glance is meaningless (Kessler, 2015). For example, if the plaintext to be sent was “cab,” and the cipher was a=2155, b=490, and c=65543; the encrypted message would be 655432155490.The greater the number of the cipher the more possible combinations are available as well as the harder it would be to “break” or understand the encryption code. Cryptography would be useless without decryption. Decryption is the re-translation of ciphertext back into readable plaintext. So in the above example, the receiver of the ciphertext 655432155490 would use another cipher to translate the number back into the original meaning of cat. The fundamental idea underlying cryptography is that the sender and receiver share unique ciphers that are not known by anyone else which are used to encrypt and decrypt the messages between them.
Currently there are two common encryption-decryption methods (ED), namely symmetric or secret-key encryption, and asymmetric or public-key encryption (Zotos and Litke, 2005). Traditionally, ED was done via symmetric encryption. In symmetric encryption the sender and receiver both use the same cipher to encrypt the plaintext and decrypt the ciphertext. In short, the same cipher is used to encrypt and decrypt the message. Symmetric encryption, for example, was the common method used by the German High Command during World War II. The advantage of symmetric encryption is that it is fast and convenient within a single organization that can easily and securely distribute the cipher among all relevant users. The disadvantage is that is someone can gain access to the one cipher; they can readily access every plaintext message sent.
Asymmetric encryption, on the other hand, is an increasingly popular form of ED in contemporary cryptography. With Asymmetric encryption, the cipher is divided into a private cipher that is only available to the sender and receiver; and a public cipher that is easily available through public networks. In practice, a sender uses the receiver’s public (available to all) cipher to encrypt plaintext into ciphertext and send it to the receiver. Once received, the receiver uses his private cipher to decrypt the ciphertext. The advantage of asymmetric encryption is that to gain access to the ciphertext, a person would need to break both the public and private cipher. Accordingly, if the public and private cipher is long and strong, the chances of breaking it are extremely difficult. Moreover, gaining learning one or even two ciphers would only allow access to certain plaintext messages rather than them all.
Since the primary goal of cryptography is to keep secrets, its increasing use by the general public has raised concerns among government and law enforcement official who feel that it can be used to frustrate police investigations into criminal activity or government efforts against spies, terrorists and other threats to national security (Nakashima and Gellman, 2015). On the other hand, after the revelations by Edward Snowden about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) programs monitoring the private communications of large segments of the population; more and more people are making use of encryption or demanding that technology encrypt their data for them.
Cryptography is an extremely powerful and useful means to ensure that authorized people cannot and will not “snoop” on the activities normally sent between two people. While there is the potential that individuals with an understanding of cryptology can use it for nefarious purposes; the benefits of its use has been proven for thousands of years. As it stands, cryptography has evolved from a rarely used process of tomb builders to become one of the defining issues of the modern information society.
Kessler, Gary C. An Overview of Cryptography. 21 Jan. 2015. TS. Selected Works of Gary C. Kessler. Web. 10 Spr. 2015. < http://www.garykessler.net/library/crypto.html>
Lessig, Lawrence. Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. New York: Basic Books, 1991. Print. 09 Apr. 2015.
McDonald, Nicholas, G. “Past, Present, and Future Methods of Cryptography and Data Encryption.” University of Utah. University of Utah, 29 Oct. 2014. Web. 11 Apr. 2015. <http://www.eng.utah.edu/~nmcdonal/Tutorials/EncryptionResearchReview.pdf>
Nakashima, Ellen, and Barton Gellman. “As encryption spreads, U.S. grapples with clash between privacy, security.” Washington Post. washingtonpost.com, 10 Apr. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.
Zotos, Nostas, and Andreas Litke. “Cryptography and Encryption.” Cornell University Library, 4 Oct. 2005. Web. 10 Apr. 2015. < http://arxiv.org/ftp/math/papers/0510/0510057.pdf >