Caesar cipher

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In cryptography, a Caesar cipher, also known as a Caesar's cipher, the shift cipher, Caesar's code or Caesar shift, is one of the simplest and most widely known encryption techniques. It is a type of substitution cipher in which each letter in the plaintext is replaced by a letter some fixed number of positions down the alphabet. For example, with a shift of 3, A would be replaced by D, B would become E, and so on. The method is named after Julius Caesar, who used it to communicate with his generals.

The encryption step performed by a Caesar cipher is often incorporated as part of more complex schemes, such as the Vigenère cipher, and still has modern application in the ROT13 system. As with all single alphabet substitution ciphers, the Caesar cipher is easily broken and in practice offers essentially no communication security.

Contents

Example

The transformation can be represented by aligning two alphabets; the cipher alphabet is the plain alphabet rotated left or right by some number of positions. For instance, here is a Caesar cipher using a left rotation of three places (the shift parameter, here 3, is used as the key):

Plain:    ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
Cipher:   DEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZABC

When encrypting, a person looks up each letter of the message in the "plain" line and writes down the corresponding letter in the "cipher" line. Deciphering is done in reverse.

Ciphertext: WKH TXLFN EURZQ IRA MXPSV RYHU WKH ODCB GRJ
Plaintext:  the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog

The encryption can also be represented using modular arithmetic by first transforming the letters into numbers, according to the scheme, A = 0, B = 1,..., Z = 25.[1] Encryption of a letter x by a shift n can be described mathematically as,[2]

E_n(x) = (x + n) \mod {26}.

Decryption is performed similarly,

D_n(x) = (x - n) \mod {26}.

(There are different definitions for the modulo operation. In the above, the result is in the range 0...25. I.e., if x+n or x-n are not in the range 0...25, we have to subtract or add 26.)

The replacement remains the same throughout the message, so the cipher is classed as a type of monoalphabetic substitution, as opposed to polyalphabetic substitution.

[edit] History and usage

The Caesar cipher is named for Julius Caesar, who used an alphabet with a left shift of three.

The Caesar cipher is named after Julius Caesar, who, according to Suetonius, used it with a shift of three to protect messages of military significance. While Caesar's was the first recorded use of this scheme, other substitution ciphers are known to have been used earlier.

If he had anything confidential to say, he wrote it in cipher, that is, by so changing the order of the letters of the alphabet, that not a word could be made out. If anyone wishes to decipher these, and get at their meaning, he must substitute the fourth letter of the alphabet, namely D, for A, and so with the others.

His nephew, Augustus, also used the cipher, but with a right shift of one, and it did not wrap around to the beginning of the alphabet:

Whenever he wrote in cipher, he wrote B for A, C for B, and the rest of the letters on the same principle, using AA for X.

There is evidence that Julius Caesar used more complicated systems as well,[3] and one writer, Aulus Gellius, refers to a (now lost) treatise on his ciphers:

There is even a rather ingeniously written treatise by the grammarian Probus concerning the secret meaning of letters in the composition of Caesar's epistles.
Aulus GelliusAttic Nights 17.9.1–5

It is unknown how effective the Caesar cipher was at the time, but it is likely to have been reasonably secure, not least because most of Caesar's enemies would have been illiterate and others would have assumed that the messages were written in an unknown foreign language.[4] There is no record at that time of any techniques for the solution of simple substitution ciphers. The earliest surviving records date to the 9th century works of Al-Kindi in the Arab world with the discovery of frequency analysis.[5]

A Caesar cipher with a shift of one is used on the back of the Mezuzah to encrypt the names of God. This may be a holdover from an earlier time when Jewish people were not allowed to have Mezuzahs. The letters of the cryptogram themselves comprise a divine name which keeps the forces of evil in check.[6]

In the 19th century, the personal advertisements section in newspapers would sometimes be used to exchange messages encrypted using simple cipher schemes. Kahn (1967) describes instances of lovers engaging in secret communications enciphered using the Caesar cipher in The Times.[7] Even as late as 1915, the Caesar cipher was in use: the Russian army employed it as a replacement for more complicated ciphers which had proved to be too difficult for their troops to master; German and Austrian cryptanalysts had little difficulty in decrypting their messages.[8]

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