Crypto is a way of protecting information: it’s a way of taking it from someone who would like to take it from you, and giving it to someone else who would like to give it to you. To understand crypto, you have to know the difference between “private” (as in “private key”) and “public” (as in “open source”).
Crypto is not just about privacy; crypto is also about identity. You can encode your identity in many ways, including but not limited to: a password, a digital signature, an encryption key.
The term crypto means “secret” in Latin. In the past, crypto was used to describe codes that could be broken and secret messages that could be read. The term crypto came into use in 1945, when the first computerized encryptions were developed; the idea was to make it harder for a user to guess the password.
But in 1998 two cryptographers proposed a new category of cryptographic objects: those that were so hard to break they would never be guessed. These are called zero-knowledge proofs. We now have lots of zero-knowledge proofs, proving things about numbers or images or other things that can’t possibly be false. So we have a new name for them: cryto – from “cryptography”.
Crypto is now widely used to mean any sort of encryption, so there is no longer a clear distinction between crypto and cryto, but there is still one between cryto and non-crypto encryption: cryto can always be broken; for example, it’s easy to break most kinds of disk encryption (but not diskless cryptosystems); and it’s easy to break most forms of voice encryption (but not Morse code).
“Crypto” is a nice word, and “cryto” a fun suffix, but it’s also misleading. The word “crypto” is used to describe any sort of cryptography, which is just the art of writing things so they are unreadable to anyone who shouldn’t be able to see them. It has nothing to do with cryptography in general.
The word “crypto” was originally used for any kind of hidden writing. In the Middle Ages this included seals, or secret messages that you could write on a glass window with a grubby finger and no one would be able to read them. But it was also used for secret languages, or codes; in this case the point was that by using some complicated rules about what characters should look like and where they should go and how many strokes they should have you could make things that looked random but were actually meaningful. The best-known example from history is probably the Voynich manuscript, which contains pictures of plants and strange diagrams and indecipherable text.
Cryptography is the art of making information unreadable. It’s the art of hiding what you say from those who might want to hear it. It’s like writing a code, but with bits instead of letters. Bits represent information, and if you can make your bits unreadable, no one can read your information.
Cryptography has been around for a long time; its history goes back to the Code Book in 1485, which was written in English by a Venetian merchant named Luigi Fioravanti. He just used normal letters and numbers to represent things, but he was trying to hide messages from pirates who might see them or break into his house to steal his stuff.
The Code Book didn’t work too well, because people figured out how it worked after they read it. They figured out that there was something wrong with the way he represented numbers. When you take a number like 3 and you put a zero after it and write 3
The most popular method of payment on the dark web is bitcoin. It’s efficient, but also pretty complicated. You need to understand the cryptographic principles behind it, and how to use a bitcoin wallet to transfer money.
Crypto is not something you can just learn by reading an article. It’s a skill like any other engineering or mathematics skill, and you have to practice it.
Cryptography is the study of how to hide information. It is often called “the science of secrecy,” but that sounds like an oxymoron: how can you study something by hiding it?
The answer is that cryptography is not really about secrecy; it’s about control. Cryptography is a tool for protecting your freedom. Most people use cryptography without thinking about it, but I think it’s a mistake to assume that the things you do with cryptography are the same as the things you do without.
Cryptography is not security software; it’s a way of changing the rules of what counts as secure or not. In particular, when you are thinking how to make a system secure, don’t think in terms of technology or mathematical statistics; think in terms of control. What features of your system would somebody have to have access to in order to make your system insecure? Where does the attack surface lie?
Cryptography is the art of keeping secrets. It has been practiced for thousands of years, with many schools of thought about what constitutes a good secret and what does not. The modern field encompasses four different branches: symmetric cryptography, public-key cryptography (used in online banking and e-commerce), hash functions (used for digital signatures, among other things), and steganography (stealing information from an unsuspecting recipient).
The first two are quite different from one another—asymmetric cryptography is much more complicated to implement—but they share a common goal: to keep messages secret. Symmetric encryption systems such as DES have been around since the 1960s; public-key encryption has been around since the 1970s. Hash functions have been around since the 1970s, too; hash functions are now used in a number of cryptographic applications. Steganography has been around since at least 1985.