A Brief History of Cryptography

Cryptocurrency is becoming a preferred choice of currency because of its convenience and security. It uses blockchain technology to secure transactions. A core part of blockchain is cryptography, which encrypts a transaction through a mathematical algorithm so only the recipient can receive it and prevents the transaction from being altered. In a previous blog, we discussed blockchain, but cryptography is equally fascinating.

Cryptography is the study of hidden messages. The codes and ciphers in the messages ensure a secure communication. Technically, cryptography is a young science, since it was only a 100 years ago that people began to study it. The concept is much older, dating back thousands of years to the Egyptians, who would use encryption to write messages on tombs. Symbol replacement was used to encrypt the messages. According to Binance Academy, a Mesopotamian scribe used an encrypted message to protect a formula for pottery glaze. And it wasn’t just symbol replacement that made a message hard to decipher. In ancient Sparta, an encrypted message was wrapped around a cylinder. To read the message, a person would first have to wrap it around a similar- size cylinder and then decipher it.

Before all that, there was an earlier practise of concealing messages called steganography. It hid messages not through symbol replacement but in the manner it was concealed. In the fifth century A. C., a Greek named Demaratus was living in the Persian Empire. To warn the Greeks of a surprise attack by the Persians, he concealed a message on a tablet. He stripped off the wax, wrote the message on the wood and then re-waxed the tablet. The tablet would appear “blank” to anyone else. A princess discovered there was a message on the tablet and how to reveal it. The issue with steganography was that a message could remain concealed if a person did not know to look for a message. This prompted the development of cryptography.

Cryptography has been used throughout the ages, especially in the military. The need for encryption shifted from military operations to computers in the 20th century. In 1990, a new version of cryptography was created called quantum cryptography. It was used to provide security from computer hackers. Another version of cryptography has emerged, called Elliptical Curve Digital Signature Algorithm. It provides even more security and ensures transactions are made by their owners (e.g. blockchain).

In our digital age, encryption is vital in protecting cryptocurrency as well as data (e.g. contracts). Cryptography is a unique science that has gone through many changes throughout the centuries to ensure its usefulness. As fintech and blockchain industries advance, cryptography will need to advance as well.  

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