For hundreds of years we have been attempting to sneakily pass written information from one to another while protecting this information from being read by anyone else. The history of cryptography started in its most basic form as a set of characters that could be deciphered to create a message. With the onset of the digital age the way cryptography is utilized has undergone a major change. The more we can learn from the past use of cryptography the better we can be prepared for challenges sure to come in the revolution of the digital democracy.
The earliest form of cryptography was the simple writing of a message, as most people could not read (New World, 2007). In fact, the very word cryptography comes from the Greek words kryptos and graphein, which mean hidden and writing, respectively (Pawlan, 1998).
Early cryptography was solely concerned with converting messages into unreadable groups of figures to protect the message’s content during the time the message was being carried from one place to another. In the modern era, cryptography has grown from basic message confidentiality to include some phases of message integrity checking, sender/receiver identity authentication, and digital signatures, among other things (New World, 2007).
The need to conceal messages has been with us since we moved out of caves, started living in groups and decided to take this civilization idea seriously. As soon as there were different groups or tribes, the idea that we had to work against each other surfaced and was proliferated, along with rank violence, secrecy, and crowd manipulation. The earliest forms of cryptography were found in the cradle of civilization, including the regions currently encompassed by Egypt, Greece and Rome.
As early as 1900 B.C., Egyptian scribes used hieroglyphs in a non-standard fashion, presumably to hide the meaning from those who did not know the meaning (Whitman, 2005). The Greek’s idea was to wrap a tape around a stick, and then write the message on the wound tape. When the tape was unwound, the writing would be meaningless. The receiver of the message would of course have a stick of the same diameter and use it to decipher the message. The Roman method of cryptography was known as the Caesar Shift Cipher. It utilized the idea of shifting letters by an agreed upon number (three was a common historical choice), and thus writing the message using the letter-shift. The receiving group would then shift the letters back by the same number and decipher the message (Taylor, 2002).