How to Send Secret Messages by Adam Adler Cyber Warfare Advisor
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Adam Adler ( Miami, Florida): Phone lines can be tapped, emails hacked, and mail intercepted. At some point in time, you will need to give someone a message and there can be no chance of someone else getting their hands on it.
Let me clear up a common misconception. When most people say writing in code, what they really mean is writing using a cipher. A code is when a symbol, word, or phrase is used to stand for a different word, phrase, or sentence. A cipher is where each letter in a word is represented with a different letter or symbol. For example, the first picture shows the simplest cipher there is.
Each letter has a number. A is 1, B is 2, etc. If I wanted to say hello, it would turn into 8(h)-5(e)-9(l)-9(l)-15(o). If you want to decipher 1-16-16-12-5, you would match the numbers to the letters and see that it means apple. This cipher is so simple that I don't recommend using it for deceiving anyone but small children, and even they might figure it out. This one is just to introduce you to the idea.
When learning these ciphers, get some pen and paper and try using each cipher. Doing them will make them stick in your memory and make sure that you fully understand each cipher.
The study of enciphering and encoding (on the sending end), and deciphering and decoding (on the receiving end) is called cryptography from the Greek κρυπτός (cryptos), or hidden and γράφειν (graphic), or writing. If you don't know Greek (and not many of us do) the above letters could be a form of code themselves! Although the distinction is fuzzy, ciphers are different from codes. When you substitute one word for another word or sentence, like using a foreign language dictionary, you are using a code. When you mix up or substitute existing letters, you are using a cipher. (I told you the difference was fuzzy, and you can combine codes and ciphers by substituting one word for another and then mixing up the result.) We'll concentrate on ciphers.
For a cipher to be useful, several things must be known at both the sending and receiving ends.
The algorithm or method used to encipher the original message (known as the plaintext). The key used with the algorithm to allow the plaintext to be both enciphered and deciphered.The period of time during which the key is valid.
By way of analogy, to get into your home you would put a key in a lock to open the door. This process (the use of a key and a lock) is the method or algorithm. Now, this method only works if you have the proper key to stick in the lock, and your key will be valid only as long as you are the resident of the particular abode. The next resident will have the locks changed to a different key to make sure that you cannot enter even though you may know the method.
The selection of the above three items - algorithm, key, and period - depends on your needs. If you are on the battlefield and are receiving current tactical data, you want an algorithm that makes it easy to decipher the message in the heat of battle. On the other hand, you must also assume that your opponent has intercepted your enciphered message and is busy trying to break it. Therefore you must choose an algorithm (method) that is complicated enough so that by the time your opponent figures it out, the data will be worthless. The easier the algorithm you choose, the more often you will have to change the key that unlocks the code - if you want to keep your enemy in the dark.
Ciphers are broken into two main categories; substitution ciphers and transposition ciphers. Substitution ciphers replace letters in the plaintext with other letters or symbols, keeping the order in which the symbols fall the same. Transposition ciphers keep all of the original letters intact but mix up their order. The resulting text of either enciphering method is called the ciphertext. Of course, you can use both methods, one after the other, to further confuse an unintended receiver as well.
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