Pantepic - The Importance of Private Messaging Part I

The Importance of Private Messaging Part I

An Introduction into the history of encrypted messaging

The art of encryption had humble beginnings, mostly consisting of concealing written messages through substitution of symbols for words. Crypt comes from the Greek word Kryptos meaning hidden or secret. Throughout history, cultures have attempted to keep trade, military, and personal secrets from interested parties through a constantly evolving method of encryption.

The first known use of encrypted messages can be dated back to 1900 B.C.E. Egypt. Ancient leaders, like Roman dictator Julius Caesar, used encrypted messages to protect government information by shifting letters of the alphabet. This was an effective method considering that a majority of the population struggled with literacy.

In early American history, Thomas Jefferson invented the wheel cipher in response to European postmasters opening mail communication during his time as America’s minister to France. The wheel cipher contains thirty-six wooden pieces with letters of the alphabet inscribed onto each individual wheel. When the wheel was turned, the letters would scramble. Though it was invented in the late 1700’s, its popularity as a method of encryption did not occur until it was used by military forces in the early twentieth century.

Moving into the twentieth century, the Enigma machine, a device used by Nazi Germany during World War II, would encrypt messages by replacing letters used when the message was typed. Those who had the decipher code could then type in the message on another device in order to read the original writing. It was an effective means of hiding military plans during the war until it was broken by multiple intelligence agencies.

As advancements in technology shifted in the twentieth century, so did encryption methodology.The 1970s ushered in major developments in deterministic algorithms known as block ciphers, with IBM’s LUCIFER being the first civilian block cipher. The United States government would adopt much of LUCIFER’s algorithm in what would become the Data Encryption Standards (DES) released by the U.S. National Bureau of Standards in 1976. The DES would gain worldwide acceptance over the next two decades due to its reliability against a variety of attacks. In 2001, the aging DES was proven to be inefficient against newer techniques, such as brute force attacks, and was officially replaced by theAdvanced Encryption Standard (AES) as the national standard.

With the number of smartphone users estimated to be close to 3 billion people in 2020, encryption and security for personal devices will need to be constantly adapting and evolving to find ways of keeping users information private. Modern technology like blockchain, which allows the distribution of digital information while preventing it from being copied, is expected tobe one of the key developments for the years ahead.

Check back next week for Part II in our series, where we further explore the current state of encryption technology and its significance when it comes to messaging.


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