A History of Code Making

Timeline created by SLewis5
  • 3,000 BCE


    The Sumer society grew and fell during this time period. Although there are no exact dates to work with, anthropologists have determined their largest city, Uruk, to have existed around 3,000 BC. Sumer civilization is believed to be one of the main origins of written language. They used a language called Cuneiform, and wrote on primarily clay tablets. For more information, consider looking here.
  • 1,300 BCE

    Phoenician Alphabet

    Phoenician Alphabet
    The Phoenician alphabet comprised of 22 letters, which were primarily "simplifications of Egyptian hieroglyphic symbols." It was considered easy to learn, and is the ancestor of many of the common alphabets used today. The Greek alphabet (the predecessor to Latin alphabet) is based off of the Phoenician system, but with the unique addition of vowels. For more information on the Phoenician system, click here.
  • -440 BCE

    First use of Steganography

    First use of Steganography
    Steganography refers to the hiding of a message within another message. Herodotus, an ancient historian, used a form of this around 440 BC, when he shaved a slave's head and tattooed a coded message onto his scalp. Once the hair grew back, the slave was able to secretly deliver the message of revolution to the city of Miletos. He recorded several other uses of these methods, found here.
  • -400 BCE

    The Scytale

    The Scytale
    Military communication was the first real historical use of encryption. The Spartans were said to have used a Scytale, a thin rod that is designed to reveal a message when its corresponding parchment is wrapped around it. This type of cipher is called a "transposition cipher" and, although not very advanced, was an effective tool for maintaining secrecy at the time. Here is more information on Greek encryption.
  • -100 BCE

    The Caesar Cipher

    The Caesar Cipher
    The Caesar Cipher is one of the most simple and widely understood encoding methods. A user takes a message and pushes each letter in the message up or down in the alphabet. For example, saying "Hello" but shifted three down results in a message reads "Khoor." Julius Caesar used this for his private messaging and for encoding military communications, and is thus attributed with its popularity. For more information, click here.
  • 850

    Al-Kindi & Encryption

    Al-Kindi & Encryption
    Al-Kindi, or Alkindous to the west, was an Arabic mathematician, scientist, and philosopher of the 9th century. He is often attributed with the "birth of cryptanalysis." More specifically, he invented what we call 'frequency analysis,' which involves counting the rates of letters in a language and then comparing those ratios to an encoded message's contents to see if there are matches. More information on Al-Kindi can be found in our Singh readings, as well as here.
  • 1466

    The Polyalphabetic Substitution Cipher

    The Polyalphabetic Substitution Cipher
    Leon Battista Alberti revolutionized polyalphabetic substitution using a cipher disk in the mid 1400s. His method essentially allowed for the substitution of mixed alphabets into a message, so rather than using just one alternate alphabet, the encoder can use multiple, creating a more complex message. This evolved significantly over the next centuries, and thus was very impactful on the world of encryption. For more information, click here.
  • 1553

    The Vigenère Cipher

    The Vigenère Cipher
    Giovan Battista Bellaso invented what we now call the Vigenère cipher in the mid 1500s. His method of polyalphabetic substitution differs from Alberti's in that new keys were easier to generate and apply, and in that the system was easier to maintain securely. The name arose when Blaise de Vigenère publicized a very similar cipher just a few decades later and the public confused the two. More information on this can be found here.
  • The Babington Plot

    The Babington Plot
    Mary, Queen of Scots, sent a letter in 1586 consenting with the assassination of Queen Elizabeth and the invasion of England by Spanish troops. England's spymaster at the time, Sir Francis Walsingham, discovered the nomenclator cipher in use by utilizing some degree of classic 'spycraft:' double agents. The encryption being used was quite weak, and this led to Mary being caught and later executed. This is elaborated on here and is mentioned in several course readings.
  • Thomas Jefferson's Disk Cipher

    Thomas Jefferson's Disk Cipher
    As Secretary of State in the late 18th century, Thomas Jefferson required the ability to securely communicate with other government officials. He satisfied this through the creation of his 'Wheel Cipher,' which was a device consisting of 36 wooden circles stacked around an iron rod. Each circle had letters inscribed on the side, and by aligning them to form a message, the user could take any other line on the wheel as their encoded message. Click here for more info.
  • Rosetta Stone was Found

    Rosetta Stone was Found
    The Rosetta Stone is a large granite-like rock with several inscriptions etched into its surface from around 200 BC, Egypt. It was discovered in 1799 during Napoleon's venture into northern Africa, when French soldiers found the rock slab while doing construction on a military fort. The Rosetta Stone replicates the same decree in several languages, and has allowed for significant progress to be made in understanding Egyptian language. More information can be found here.
  • Scovell & The French Ciphers

    Scovell & The French Ciphers
    Sir George Scovell was a British soldier during the Napoleonic Wars best known for his deciphering of French communications. He cracked their "Army of Portugal Code" in 1811 and managed to break their "Great Paris Code" in late 1812. This cipher was unique in its incorporation of random characters to the end of words to confuse enemy cryptologists. In decoding the messages, Scovell provided pivotal information to the British troops. Click here for more information.
  • The Invention of Morse Code

    The Invention of Morse Code
    Samuel Morse was an American best known for his creation of Morse Code in the early 19th century. The code is transmitted with pulses of varying length, normally written in a dash-dot form, like this: ".... . .-.. .-.. ---" which says "hello." It was primarily used for long distance communication and was heavily used in the shipping industry up until very recently. For more information of Samuel Morse and the code's usage, click here.
  • The Beale Ciphers are Published

    The Beale Ciphers are Published
    The Beale Ciphers are a set of encoded messages that came out of Virginia in the early 19th century. It is said that a man named Thomas Beale hid gold and jewels, and the ciphers encode the location of the treasure. Of the three messages, only one has actually been solved. The Beale Ciphers are often attributed as popularizing cipher-usage within the general public due to their wide circulation when they were published in 1885. More information here.
  • The Zimmermann Telegram

    The Zimmermann Telegram
    One of the first examples of government intelligence work drastically affecting world events can be found with the Zimmermann Telegram. In January of 1917, British Intelligence intercepted a German message sent to Mexico. The note promised Mexico US land in return for help in WW1. The cipher used, however, was not strong enough. After being intercepted, cryptographers in 'Room 40' deciphered it and warned the US before Mexico could respond. More information is here.
  • Alan Turing & The Enigma Code

    Alan Turing & The Enigma Code
    During WWII, Germany encoded their communications with what they called an "Enigma Machine." This machine was extremely complex and, due to the regular changing of keys, was considered impossible to crack. Alan Turing and his team at Bletchley Park proved otherwise, however, by creating a "Turing Machine," capable of rapidly checking different solutions far faster than the human hand. This helped win the war, and is largely elaborated on here and in "The Imitation Game."
  • DES Is Published

    DES Is Published
    The Data Encryption Standard (DES) was an extremely important evolution in modern cryptography developed by IBM in the early 1970s. It is called a "symmetric-key block cipher" and was intended to help encrypt electronic data. This was the widely set standard used throughout much of the 70s and 80s, and encoded everything ranging from ATM transactions to customer database information. It is no longer considered secure due to its low bit-rate. DES is elaborated on here.
  • The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

    The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
    The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (the CFAA) was a law passed by Congress in 1986 that made breaking into computers without authorization a crime. This was revolutionary in that up until this point, there were very few federal laws that addressed anything to do with computer security, particularly in regards to hacking. The law was primarily focused on government computers due to the lack of wide-spread accessibility at the time, but was significant nonetheless.
  • The Invention of the World Wide Web

    The Invention of the World Wide Web
    In the late 1980s, scientists at CERN pioneered what we now refer to as the "world wide web." Originally built to allow for the sharing of information between scientists, it is now one of the most used services in the world, and has completely changed how humans interact with one another. Naturally this has also led to new standards of encryption - the more information there is out there, the larger the need for a way to store it safely. Here is some more info.
  • Charles Bennitt Demonstrates Quantum Cryptography

    Charles Bennitt Demonstrates Quantum Cryptography
    Working with Gilles Brassard, Charles Bennit developed a system called BB84 in 1984. BB84 utilizes quantum computing to maintain secure communication between two parties. In 1989 he first demonstrated the application of this technology for the first time. Although quantum computing is still in its earliest stages of development, Bennitt managed to transform the global standards for encryption and paved the way for new quantum cryptography methods to come about.
  • PGP Encryption is Developed

    PGP Encryption is Developed
    PGP Encryption, aka 'Pretty Good Privacy,' was a method of encryption developed by Phil Zimmermann in 1991. The idea behind is that each user of PGP has their own unique decryption keys, and they can use those keys to encode anything from an email to entire hard drives. Users of PGP range from normal citizens aiming to communicate more securely to Vendors on Darkweb Markets who would like to keep their information away from the authorities. Find more information here.
  • The DMCA Goes Into Effect

    The DMCA Goes Into Effect
    The DMCA is a 1998 US law. It is aimed at strengthening copyrights and protecting copyrighted materials. However, it has had vast implications on cryptanalysis. Essentially, the law prohibits the distribution of programs that can strip copyright protection off of certain computer files (like protected e-books). This sounds insignificant, but a lot of decryption software use similar tools to these and this has led to confusion. More information can be found here..
  • Bitcoin is Inveted

    Bitcoin is Inveted
    In 2009, Satoshi Nakamoto, an online pseudonym, released an open-source software now called Bitcoin. Bitcoin is essentially an encrypted currency. It is designed such that user transactions are 'impossible' to track, and as such is often used for illicit transactions. It is also used in many countries where the domestic currency is unstable, as Bitcoin provides an easy to use alternative. This is elaborated on here and is only growing more significant as time passes.