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Chapter: Security in Computing : Cryptography Explained

Cryptography Explained

Creating and implementing good cryptography is subtle and difficult, because the goals of a cryptographic algorithm seem to conflict with each other.

Chapter 12

Cryptography Explained

In this chapter


·         Mathematics of encryption


·         Cryptanalysis: how encryption systems are "broken"


·         Theory of strong symmetric algorithms


·         Detailed descriptions of the DES and AES algorithms


·         Theory of public key encryption


·         Detailed description of the RSA algorithm; details of other public key algorithms


·         Digital signatures


·         Quantum cryptography


Creating and implementing good cryptography is subtle and difficult, because the goals of a cryptographic algorithm seem to conflict with each other. We want to construct an algorithm that is easy for the legitimate sender and receiver to operate, but difficultbordering on impossiblefor the malicious interceptor to break. As we noted in Chapter 2, the interceptor can use any kind of attack to try to break the encryption: find a weakness in the algorithm, deduce or coerce or guess a key, determine the decryption of a single message or a whole flood of transmissions, exploit a flaw in the algorithm's implementation, or even cut and paste encrypted text without actually knowing the underlying plaintext. Although cryptography is arguably the most important tool a security expert has available, failed or flawed cryptography can give the false illusion of security. For these reasons, the security expert should have both a solid understanding of cryptography and a healthy respect for what can go wrong with its use. This chapter gives you that understanding by explaining in detail the mathematics underpinning different encryption schemes.


If there is one lesson to be learned from the history of cryptography, either before or after computerization, it is that cryptography is best left to experts. By learning the material in this chapter, you will have an advanced understanding of cryptography. But be mindful that understanding is not the same as mastery. You need to learn more than this book offers to appreciate cryptography's subtlety. At the end of the chapter, we recommend several references to help you on your way to mastery, should you be interested in it. The information presented in Chapter 2 described the basic concepts of cryptography, addressing what you need to know to understand how to use cryptography in various kinds of security controls. In this chapter, we look more closely at the how and why, not just the what.


Solid cryptography is based on results generated by the disciplines of mathematics and formal computer science. Thus, this chapter begins with discussion from these fields, with enough detail for you to understand the cryptography but not so deep as to be far beyond the scope of this book. Then we progress to the two branches of cryptography introduced in Chapter 2 : symmetric (single, secret key), and asymmetric (public key) algorithms. We present details of the DES, AES, and RC- series of symmetric systems, and the knapsack, RSA, and El Gamal asymmetric systems. We conclude with quantum cryptography, an interesting but futuristic approach with some emerging commercial products; it is new and relatively untested, but it is likely to appear in actual cryptosystems in the next few years.

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