15 April 2011


    Whether you want to create a cipher for yourself to hide a trade secret or romantic appointment, you are trying to read an encrypted message that “fell” into your hands, or you just want to study the history of cryptography you are going to need some good books.

    Two of the earliest books dealing with cryptography are The Art of War1 by Sun Tzu and the Kama Sutra2 by Vatsyayana. The Art of War dates to the 6th century BC. No exact date is known for the Kama Sutra, but it is believed to be from around the 2nd century AD.
    In The Art of War, Sun Tzu says “The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy's not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable”. To that end, he adds: “So if you do not know the plans of your competitors, you cannot make informed alliances”. In other words, hide your plans and discover theirs. Encryption and cryptanalysis.
    The Kama Sutra lists 64 arts that a woman should study. #45 is “The art of understanding writing in cipher, and the writing of words in a peculiar way“.
    Both books are widely available in various forms from any number of outlets.

    Galileo is said to have hidden important information in anagrams to protect his discoveries; specifically that Venus had moon-like phases 3
   The writings of Nostradamus4  fall into the category of steganography because he hid his prophecies in cryptic writings called quatrains.

   With all the comments and questions I regularly receive about secret codes and the attention paid to the subject in the news lately (see my posting from earlier this month), I decided that it was time to present a list of worthwhile books on cryptography. While this list is by no means comprehensive, it will provide a lot of important information needed to understand the pitfalls in the use of ciphers and codes, a history of secret writing of all kinds and a rudimentary education in cryptanalysis. Most of these are in my personal library and I highly recommend them. Your local public library or Amazon.com should be able to supply all of the titles.
    Also, for some entertaining but fictional accounts of cryptography, The Gold Bug by Edgar Allan Poe and Sherlock Holmes story of The Dancing Men are practically required reading.

The Code-Breakers
Author: David Kahn
Publisher: Scribner
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0-684-83130-9
ISBN-13: 978-0140244328
Probably the gold standard of cryptography books from the 20th century. Almost every other book that I have ever read on the subject cites and/or quotes The Code Breakers. It's kind of pricey (about $50.00 USD) but well worth the cost. I figured that if all my other books were quoting it, I should probably own it.

Code Breaking
Author: Rudolf Kippenhahn
Publisher: The Overlook Press
Language: English-translated from German by Ewald Osers
ISBN: 1-58567-089-8
Focuses primarily on cryptanalysis, with one of the best descriptions of frequency analysis I've read, using bi-graphs and tri-graphs as well as letter frequencies in different languages. Also has an excellent discussion of the inner workings of the Enigma.

Code Breakers: The Inside Story of Bletchley Park
Authors: F. H. Hinsley & Alan Stripp
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Language: English
ISBN: 0-19-280132-5
First-hand accounts from many of the people who worked in Bletchly Park during WWII. It's what I'm reading right now- for the 3rd time. Gives a personal insight to the victories and frustrations encountered during 7 years of cryptanalysis in war-time.

Philip Johnston and the Navajo Code Talkers 
Author: Syble Lagerquist 
Publisher: Council for Indian Education 
Language: English 
ISBN-10: 0899921396 
ISBN-13: 978-0899921396 
I reviewed this excellent work back in November of 2007. These guys were real heroes. Nicholas Cage starred in a movie about them called Windtalkers. Highly fictionalised but worth seeing. Also visit: 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Johnston_%28code_talker%29 and 

Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government Saving Privacy in the Digital Age
Author: Steven Levy
Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics); 1st edition (January 15, 2002)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0140244328
ISBN-13: 978-0140244328
This is an in-depth history of public-key cryptography and the development of PGP. Introduces you to Ron Rivist, Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman: the inventors of RSA encryption algorithm; Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman who developed the Diffie-Hellman key exchange and Phil Zimmerman: the author of PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). Good reading.

The Code Book
Author: Simon Singh
Publisher: Fourth Estate Limited
Language: English
ISBN: 0-00763-574-5
Sub-titled The Secret History of Codes and Code-breaking, this is the history lesson I mentioned. Along with Kahn's The Code-Breakers, it is the most complete history of cryptography that I have found. It also covers related topics like Egyptian hieroglyphics and Linear B. I've almost worn out my copy re-reading it.

Free-ware Encryption
Author: Michael Chesbro
Publisher: Paladin Press
Language: English
ISBN: 1-58160-270-7
A great resource for computer encryption. Contains a brief discussion of the legal implications of encryption and a plethora of websites to download various encryption programs. My favorite is VGP if I'm working in Windoze.
Written in 2001, some of the sites may be out of date, but the general information is timeless.
Visit: http://www.freebyte.com/security/  for a list of more current resources.

The Man Who Saw Tomorrow – The Prophecies of Nostradamus
Author: Michel Nostradamus (born Michel de Nostredame)
Translated by: Erika Cheetham
Publisher: Berkley Books
Language: English
ISBN: 0-0425-08757-3
Not actually a book that has much to do with cryptography, but probably the best example in history of hiding meanings within other writings (steganography).

Other Recommended books

Codes and Secret Writing
Author: Herbert Spencer Zim
Publisher: Scholastic (January 1978)
ISBN-10: 0590025856
ISBN-13: 978-0590025850
Although I no longer own this book, it was the beginning of my infatuation with cryptography. Phil Zimmerman, Whitfield Diffie and a lot of other pioneers in modern cryptography first read this book and peaked their interest. While it is primarily a children's' book, it's still a valuable resource.

Handbook of Applied Cryptography
Authors: Alfred J. Menezes, Paul C. van Oorschot & Scott A. Vanstone
Publisher: CRC Press
ISBN: 0-8493-8523-7
I have never read this, but understand that it is the definitive source for computer cryptography. It is available in print from any one of these on-line book-stores: 
Prices as of April 15, 2010 
I understand that: The Puzzle Palace: Inside the National Security Agency, America's Most Secret Intelligence Organization by James Bamford will give you a fair concept of the guys in America's black chamber; the ones that are trying to undo everything that you do to protect your information. It is next on my “Have To Get It” list. High on my “Ongoing Conspiracy” list, too.

The Cambridge Quintet
     by John L. Casti
     by Neal Stephenson
The Da Vinci Code and Digital Fortress
     both by Dan Brown
The Eleventh Hour
     by Graeme Base (children's book)
Simple Simon
     by Ryne Douglas Pearson (see films)
     by Scarlett Thomas
Secrets of the Alchemist Dar
     by Michael Stadther

      Good story and very fact-based. You get to see an original Enigma machine in use. It was loaned to the production company by none other than Mick Jagger, who also helped finance the production and even makes a cameo appearance. The convoy battle and convoy numbers (HX 229/SC 1225), several names(Fasson and Grazier6) and many other parts are right out of the history books. There has been criticism regarding some license taken, but; hey! Yes it's based on true events but it's FICTION people.

     One of my all-time favorites. Starring a young Robert Redford and a whole contingent of A-list actors.

Mercury Rising (based on Pearsons' Simple Simon)
     Stars Bruce Willis

The Net
      Starring Sandra Bullock. If you watch this movie, and substitute Microsoft for Gregg Microsystems, you'll have an accurate concept of my view regarding Microcrap Corp., Windoze operating System and Bill Let's-Take-Over-The-World Gates.


1 http://classics.mit.edu/Tzu/artwar.html , http://www.chinapage.com/sunzi-e.html , http://suntzusaid.com/

Additional Information
While doing some research for another posting, I came across this website.

Free Encryption / Cryptographic Software, Free On the Fly Encryption, Free Disk Encryption Tools, Steganography, Free Public Key Encryption Software

    Here you will find more resources for computer encryption as well as some good advice like "Be careful when you use cryptographic / encryption software that do not tell you which algorithm they use. Claims like "strong encryption", "military encryption" and "secure encryption" do not tell you very much — after all, anyone can simply convert the letters on (say) this page to numbers (where a=1, b=2, etc) and still claim it is strong encryption / cryptography."

    With the exception of GPG and PGP, I have not used and cannot personally endorse any of the software or information this site offers, so use with care.
    GPG (GNU Privacy Guard) works well with Linux; my os of choice. I also use KGPG; the graphic front end for GPG. I use both frequently and highly recommend them.

01 April 2011


     I had a whole different item planned for this post. Then: “Ricky McCormick Murder: FBI Wants Public's Help in Breaking Encrypted Clues1,2,3” showed up in the news. Suddenly cryptography jumps out of the shadowy world of trench coats and Mata Hari and into the 5 o'clock news.
      Apparently, back in 1999, a gentleman named Ricky McCormick was found dead. His death was ruled a homicide. His body was dumped in a field and the only clues left behind were two encrypted notes in his pocket.

      The FBI (and probably every group of spooks employed by the federal government4) has been working on these notes attempting to decrypt them; all with no success. So now they're asking for the public's help. Can you break the encryption, read the notes and possibly solve a twelve-year-old murder?
      While you're at it, if you're into a little mental gymnastics and like cryptography, look into the encrypted letters from the infamous Zodiac Killer4. Several of them have yet to be broken.
composite sketches of the Zodiac Killer
      There are many other old cryptograms that have never been solved5. Try your hand at a few of them. Who knows; maybe you'll find a new career. Solve the Beale cyphers and you could even become a millionaire.
      To help you get started, you might want a good example of forensic cryptanalysis. Take a look at the case of Ed Burns6 . Here you will see not only the cryptograms and their solutions, but a short lesson on how they were solved.
      Look to my next posting for a good list of resources regarding encryption and cryptanalysis.
Happy decrypting.

1 http://www.geeksaresexy.net/2011/03/31/fbi-asks-for-help-cracking-murder-victims-secret-code/