March 29, 2023

The History of Cryptography

The History of Cryptography

The history of cryptography starts thousands of years ago. Long before our current existence of incredibly powerful computers. While cryptography seemed an alien concept to many, the rise of cryptocurrency has seen more people wanting to understand and learn about it than ever.

In this article, we’re going to give you a brief history of cryptography, enabling you to grasp a basic understanding of what it is, how it’s developed over time, and the benefits of using it in today’s cryptocurrency space.

Let’s get started!

What Is Cryptography?

Derived from the Greek word kryptos, meaning hidden. Crypt, the prefix, stands for 'hidden' or 'vault'. Graphy – the suffix, means 'writing'. Its origins can be dated back to around 1900 BC. Furthermore, Julius Cesar is one of the first examples of using a modern cipher for communicating important messages.

Cryptography is a method of communication that uses math to protect the messages and information being passed from sender to recipient.

Information or messages are written in a rule-defined code or scrambled. When the intended recipient receives the code, they unscramble it to reveal the actual message.

The reason for doing this is to ensure no untrusted third party can decipher the message. Thus, protecting the information, and ensuring only trusted parties and the intended recipient can access the message.

Types of Cryptography & Cryptography Examples

Manual Cryptography (1900 BC - World War I)

The most historic and basic form of cryptography dates back to around 1900 BC. Amazingly, the first example of cryptography was discovered in the ancient Egyptian tomb of Khnumhotep II. Here, the artist(s) used unusual hieroglyphic symbols instead of images you’d expect to see. However, this isn’t thought to be a coded message, more an attempt at using more dignified symbols.

Fast forward around 2800 years, and you’ll see the most advanced form of manual cryptography and its phasing out. As you might have guessed, manual cryptography was carried out by humans. So, algorithms couldn’t be that lengthy or complicated. If they were, by the time the message was decoded it could be irrelevant.

However, as this approach was limited by what a code clerk could decipher, it meant it was easier for untrusted parties to crack the code.

Here’s a simple example of how manual cryptography could work with a 2-shift cipher:



Cipher alphabet:


Do you see how the three-shift works? A becomes C, B becomes D, and so on.

The message you received:

vjg eqfg jcu dggp etcemgf

The decoded message:

the code has been cracked

Mechanized Cryptography (World War II - Present)

Between the two world wars, much work went into developing more complex and harder-to-crack types of cryptography. It became apparent that manual methods weren’t fast or secure enough. So, people turned to technology in the form of telephones and telecommunications systems. The switch to machines meant messages could be encrypted, sent, and decrypted much faster than traditional manual methods. Whatsmore, there was less chance of human error.

They worked by using a number of rotors that were manually aligned. When typing a message, the rotors would print an encrypted message. Every day, the rotors would be changed to a different code, making it incredibly difficult to crack.

Until the end of World War II, cryptography had mainly been used for military purposes. However, it started to gain commercial recognition. Huge technological advancement meant cryptography became much more complex and secure. By the year 2000, the ciphertext a single device could work with had increased by over 1 billion times.

Further Advancements & Public Key Cryptography

Now, we reach the phase of cryptography as we know it and how it impacts our daily lives. In the information age, the power and ability of technology have advanced further. Now, cryptography has spread its wings way beyond encoding and decoding. Today it’s used for digital signatures, authentication, shared and distributed cryptographic functions, blockchain cryptography, and much more.

Public key cryptography will be familiar to crypto enthusiasts. This method of cryptography uses a pair of keys. In cryptocurrency, the public key is a string of 42 cryptographic characters – also known as your wallet address. The second part is the private key. A private key gives you, the owner of the wallet, access to the messages (transactions) that have been sent to you.

In Summary: The History of Cryptography

Dating back thousands of years, cryptography originally played a hugely important role in military operations. It wasn’t until post-World War II, when technology started to rapidly advance, did we see commercial interest.

With the rise of personal computers came an increased interest and need for cryptography. Now, society couldn’t function without it. What started out as simple message decoding now powers most of our technology and keeps us secure while using it.

The cryptocurrency and blockchain space is built on the complexity and security that cryptography provides. As this evolves further and technology adoption increases, cryptography will take on even greater importance in the evolution of society.

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