Into the Dark Web
Into the Dark Web

Cryptography: A Whole New World

Exploring One of the Fastest Growing Fields in Technology

You may be wondering what exactly this article is, and what cryptography is. That's what I am trying to tell you here. Cryptography is everywhere, and in a sense, it's the only way for people to remain completely private about certain things. Cryptography is a lock you put on your information that only you have the key to. The word Cryptography comes from the Greek Kryptos, meaning secret, and -ography meaning the study of. The study of secrets.

So, why is Cryptography even important? Well, the short answer is it allows you to freely communicate in a technology-driven world. The longer answer is that without ciphers, or codes, or encryption, everything anybody does would be at risk. You could go to the store one day then almost immediately and indefinitely have your entire existence erased from every system world-wide. Without security, you cannot be yourself. It is imperative to understand the fundamentals behind what keeps you going, because one day the people who protect you could decide to not do so any longer.

In relation to the media, and journalism, cryptography is the fundamental defense before that information becomes public. People share what they want to share, or it gets stolen from a breach in the system. No information is able to be shared without being revealed, and it is the cryptographer's job to keep information from being revealed, or at times, revealing information.

DaVinci's Disappearance and the 21st Century Shift

A common misconception about Cryptography is that it is about reading patterns. With the simple substitution ciphers in the newspaper, almost everyone assumes that it is Etaoin Shrdlu testing like in the spy movies. While knowing letter frequency has its usage in cryptography, we've shifted paradigms.

As a comparison, the Cicada emerges every 13 to 17 years. This is to minimize the risk of natural predators emerging at the same time. If the cicada emerges every 15 years, it falls victim to predators that emerge every 1, 3, 5, and 15 years. Whereas in the circadian rhythm, they only fall victim to 1, 13, or 17 year predators.

If you think of numbers like a lock, and the factorization of those numbers as a key, then you choose a random number to keep your secrets with — let's say 8 because it's a cool number — and sideways it looks like an infinity sign which reminds you of Tumblr-inspired tattoos. Well, the factorization of 8 makes your lock open to 1 * 8, 2 * 4, and 2 * 2 * 2 keys. So in total, three keys open your lock. Had you chosen 7 instead, then one key, 1 * 7, would open your lock. But you are on Tumblr, so it's not like you were big on keeping secrets anyway.

Cryptography is what you get when you remove all observable patterns, and leave yourself a very precise and closed chest to safely store your information in. There are no longer patterns (or shouldn't be) in modern cryptography, and that is the way we are shifting.

Who has my nudes?

Confusion and Diffusion are two fundamental subjects in cryptography. Confusion aims to make the ciphertext and key as complex as possible; diffusion aims to coorelate the structure of plaintext to ciphertext. Both measure the "breakability of a code," and one of the strongest early codes we have in existence is the Polybius Square, which was developed by the historian Polybius to convert alphabetical symbols into alphanumeric symbols.

The Polybius Square

Polybius square, originally called Phryctoria, is a method of secure communication that was capable of communicating up to 20 miles away using 5 torches in each hand.

The Polybius square went relatively unnoticed in telecommunications up until the Korean and Vietnam wars when the Tap Code was created. By this time, Morse code was already in effect, and more distinguishable to intercept than the tap code. It was used by tapping each individual digit in the polybius square, and was mostly used by prisioners of war in Korean and Vietnam which allowed communication with the bare hand or rock without speaking or revealing the message.

Morse code uses a ternary code, and doesn't work as binary. Tap code is used as a binary since there are two signal types, a tap, and silence. Similarly, in binary there are 0's, or 1's. The tap code spelled out each individual letter on the polybius square, for example, the letter 'A' would be 'Tap', silence, 'Tap', or the letter 'H' would be 'Tap-tap', silence, 'Tap-tap-tap'. Essentially, 101 for 'A', or 110111 for 'H'.

Don't share this with anybody, got it?

Before I talk about binary in texting, I want to talk about how fast texts are. Text messages use radio waves which fall into the electromagnetic spectrum of the color red, the fastest visible color we know of. Radio waves, and the color red, can travel at the speed of light, In fact, that is why the sun seems yellow and the sunrise or sunset is orange or red itself, so the bits of data your phone uses move at the speed of light as well. You do not receive the messages at light speed, because your text messages are stored in a server which is slowed down by traffic.

Like most data, when your text message is put into this server, your text is temporarily stored so it can move onto the intended recipient's phone. Once the quick layover is complete, the data is "deleted" on the server; however, it is still recoverable until the data on the server is overwritten with new data. Deleting the message just marks the space the data was using as "Vacant." This is how the NSA recovered nude and sexually explicit photos and texts which the contractor, activist, and whistle blower, Edward Snowden, warned the United States about.

Man In the Middle Still Kickin' in your Ears

Now into the binary part, when you send a text, your message is converted into a binary state of zeroes or ones which occurs simultaneously around the world when the state is sent up to a system of satellites which convey information to radio towers. The traffic is directed to a centralized "database" of specific identification numbers and looks for your friends ID to match. When you write a text message, your phone converts the string of language into a "SMS PDU String" which includes all the necessary information for that text to go to the write place, with the correct time, from the correct number, to the correct number.

PDU String Breakdown:


This is achieved by converting a plaintext message into decimal, into hexadecimal, into binary, and back after the text is received. During the few seconds to minutes it takes for the text message to be successfully delivered, or the amount of time it takes the server to overwrite the data, there is a chance of interference to the data. A man in the middle can intercept the text message, and rewrite the PDU string, or steal valuable information, or read your text. The way to counteract this is to encrypt your text messages. iMessage has built-in encryption, Signal is for communication to Android phones (needed for iPhone users too!), and also the new Knox platform for Android users encrypts the entire phone!

How can I hijack a phone?

How do you intercept someone else's messages? You can clone the SIM card, or you can use some super illegal "firmware" to essentially turn your phone into a radio tower. Some people have these protocols on their phones to steal information from unsuspecting locals, but for the majority of us? We don't care that much about your information.

Our Quantum Future

Today's topic is the application of Quantum Computing to increase secrecy of security in a massive way. So then, what is Quantum Computing? Well, the easiest way to explain what it is, is if you imagine a room of people who speak English. Bob is talking to Alice, when Alice says that, "It is taking way too long to finish our sentences," so Bob suggests that they leave out the vowels in their words, Alice relies sternly with "Ky tht snds gd t m." In comparison, Quantum Computing is a new language that computers use to communicate. Instead of using Binary which is a singular bit, they use Quantum Bits (or less than a bit) of data. This is achieved by a series of tiny magnetic pulls on the system, the smallest movement is another quantum bit.

When a cipher is being applied to a super computer, it can utilize a series of extremely long, and convoluted keys. Previously, it would of taken years to achieve anything possible by quantum computing but today, it is achievable within a foreseeable time frame. The QKD, or Quantum Key Distribution, is the most well-known example of quantum cryptography, which guarantees privacy between two parties. The unique thing about the QKD is if there is a MITM (Man in the Middle) trying to gain access to the key, the two parties communicating will know straight away. The QKD detects a certain amount of "noise," and if that noise is below the threshold set for three people, then it can distribute a key, which of course, is the one-time pad.

The QKD also has a Forward Secrecy, comparable to a block chain cipher. It makes it so that no past keys will effect long-term keys, or vice versa. It makes it so past communications cannot be decrypted, or retrieved by any means necessary. Blockchain ciphers (Notably Bitcoin) use Forward Secrecy, as well as a "Mode of Operation," and then an Initialization Vector (Like starting air on an engine, the binary that "kickstarts" the entire operation).

The process is as follows: The plaintext is created and put into the blockchain, the blockchain then begins the Initialization Vector, the plaintext gets a key applied to it (Block cipher encryption key), and then another key, and another key, and another key, and so on. The reapplying of keys is what makes the "Block chain" a chain. However, if encryption is needed at any point in the block chain's cycle, then it is readily available as ciphertext without ever breaking operation. However, even bitcoin is not completely anonymous. Unlike the QKD, previous transactions can be viewed by anyone, although there is no personal information associated with bitcoin (BTC). This sacrifices anonymity, and although the block chain is secured, perfect anonymity is nearly impossible. The block cipher is often referred to as "psuedo-anonymous."

Blueprints to the First Large Scale Quantum Computer

Credit: Ion Quantum Technology Group, University of Sussex

This strange looking circuit board is a part of a quantum computer. It is actually the core of the trapped ions. The University of Sussex released the blueprints for this core, and the entire computer! It will be the most powerful computer in existence today. What does that mean for the rest of us? Well, not much. Quantum Computing is still a long way off for reaching the general public. But it does mean that we are making steps towards quantum computing.

Once it is built, the computer will make keen advances in many industries, answering questions that would take a human decades to answer. With the computer, we have a new breakthrough which permits quantum bits to be transmitted between modules in order to obtain a modular machine that is capable of reaching any current processing power.

This invention which uses electrically charged fields to project ions to different modules is up to 100,000 faster than the original design which utilized fiber optic cable in order to connect those modules.

The machine's capabilities could be endless, and it is definitely a large-scale project. The machine is estimated to fill a large building with ventilation, vacuum pressure, and cooling units for the machine itself.

The University of Sussex will be updating us on the machine fairly regularly.

Next Generation: Post-Quantum Cryptology


With organizations like the University of Sussex starting to delve into quantum computing, we need Quantum-Resistant cryptography. The goal for quantum-resistant cryptography is to build encryption systems which are secure in both a quantum, and a classical computing environment. A new mathematical model has been developed, and we are working on a standardized public key algorithm that is efficient and ambiguous to quantum and classic computers.

Certain affiliations such as NIST, CryptomathCREST, and others are working adamantly on moving away from asymmetric public key encryption and into a "Post-Quantum" field of cryptography. They want to do more than just encrypt and sign documents and want to implement identification methods, privacy and copyright detection protocols, a centralized database to search for who owns what. They also will adapt current mathematical efforts in cryptography, outside of number theory, computational laws, and geometry. They focus on moving into polynomial theories, mathematical physics, quantum computation, quantum mechanics, and multi-variable encryption.

In fact, the mathematical methods used are exactly how we will subdivide the field of post-quantum cryptography. Multivariate, lattice base, hash base, code base, and study of isogenies (the morphing) for super-elliptic curves.

Change the world. Change your major.

The Deuterium-Tritium reactor has been a focal point for isotopic studies in Quantum Mechanics since the 1964 World’s Fair where we displayed the first public demonstration of Nuclear Fusion. In the information age, we are moving away from isotopes and into isogeny in Quantum Mechanics. The difference between these words from a semantic perspective are the root words isos- meaning equal; -topos meaning place, thus the word isotopes means “The Same Place.” -geny means produced, therefore isogeny means “Produced equally.” The difference between these words in a more broad sense is the place that they come from. Isotopes are usually discussed in Nuclear Engineering, while Isogenies are fluent to mathematicians, computer geeks, and Cryptographers. The reason we are discussing Isogenies is the rise of quantum computing, and quantum cryptography. Developed in the 1980s, we created a new asymmetric algorithm; a two-way communication method between computers. It was known as the ECC, or Elliptical Curve Cryptography. Fundamentally, this is a fancy way to look at an ellipse on a graph and write down all intersecting points on a line and then using relative measurements to create a new line and write down those points, for however many times you want to. The interconnecting of relative points is the isogeny, and cryptographers are developing ways to transfer those isogenies into quantum algorithms.

Quantum mechanics are not the only new big thing in cryptography either. As classical computers develop, so do encryption systems. Cryptographers are working on new encryption methods for your phones, your laptops, your ATM transactions, and even your TV. There are new standards in the works such as CAKES, or the Circadian Anonymous Key Escrow System, which is a way to protect information in a crisis for everyone from refugees, to single mothers looking for a safe place, to whistle blowers. There are also new systems being developed for large databases to protect information of individuals to prevent things like the Department of Labor’s big data leak in 2012, or more recently, Cloudflare who manages 5.5 million websites across the internet had an information leak for client and customer lists in February 2017. Cryptography, sometimes called Cryptology, is the first and only line of defense in the digital age. Without Cryptographers, everybody’s information would be everywhere.

For those of you who aren’t mathematicians, computer geeks, or quantum physicists, there is also a Linguistics and communication side of cryptography, focusing on the secrecy of messages, much like what was depicted in the DaVinci Code. These breeds of cryptographers focus on decoding things such as the Voynich Manuscript, musical compositions such as Elgar’s Enigma, or old relics refound by museums with undecipherable messages. These are also the kinds of cryptographers who intercept messages and decipher them from foreign adversaries, such as ISIS, the Taliban, and the like. They have a broad range of knowledge in history, literature, language, and English.

With a phenominally 21 percent projected job growth in Cryptography and a $100,000 median salary, I wonder why more people aren’t interested in the subject. I know a very close knit community of cryptographers, hackers, and outspoken activists which includes some very famous individuals, however I rarely see this group ever grow. If you want to make a difference to your own privacy and are a detail-oriented, outside-the-box thinker who loves to achieve difficult but critical work, then learn more about cryptography. Check out some forums, or some public educational material.

Benjamin R. Tucker in his periodical entitled Liberty once said:

“if an individual has the right to govern himself, all external force is tyranny.”

Today, our sacrifice of privacy is tyranny but you can make a difference in the field of Cryptography.

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Kryptos Journal

Pleasure writer focusing on academics and forward thinking. I am a student, but primarily a social scientist with a vast interest in a broad range of subjects.

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