The Frame of Reference of Cryptanalysis

Simon Singh, the author of The Code Book, stated “cryptanalysis could not be invented until a civilization had reached a sufficiently sophisticated level of scholarship” (Singh, 15). She supported her statement with examples, such as Caesar cipher, Arabs cryptanalysts, and others. I believe, carefully understanding any kind of a problem, not just cryptography, is the key to that problem. If “carefully understand” means “sufficiently sophisticated level of scholarship”, then I agree with her. If “sufficiently sophisticated level of scholarship” means great advancement in science, technology, and literature, then I partially disagree with her.

Advancement in educational areas is definitely an advantage in cryptanalysis. It is true that in one of my courses, Cryptography and Privacy, I cracked two cipher texts using a combination of common sense and basic counting. But is it fair to compare the level of current advancement to the level of ancient advancement? I think it is not. It is more difficult to initiate and come up with a new thing than to continue doing it. Advancement is like a recursive sequence. Its every step grabs information from the prior step. A higher order, say nth step, has more knowledge than a lower order, (n-5)th step. A problem, trivial for the nth step might be a tough nut to crack for the lower steps. In other words, what we called common sense and basic counting might be a level of sophistication for prior generations. I am not saying that we are more intelligent than our ancestors, but we do have a broader range of knowledge. I cracked the cipher texts, given in the assignment, in few minutes because I knew that some wild guesses and substitution would be enough to decipher. I doubt my success if I was in Caesar’s era and I was given those cipher texts.

I won’t stress that advancement is everything. The Adventure of the Dancing Men, a famous Sherlock Holmes story, is based on cryptanalysis. The story depicts how Holmes cleverly deciphers encrypted messages, in which each alphabet was converted into a dancing posture. The key to the secret code was not a mathematical number but it was the careful understanding of Holmes. Hence, I think that a systematic thought process is the key to any problem, be it cryptanalysis or growing an ear on a mouse body.