Glossary of Crypto Terms
by Timothy C. May
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Timothy C. May)
Subject: Crypto Glossary
Date: Sun, 22 Nov 92 11:50:55 PST
Here's the glossary of crypto terms we passed out in printed form at
the first Cypherpunks meeting in September 1992. Some compromises had
to be made in going from the printed form to the ASCII of this
transmission, so I hope you'll bear with me.
I'm sending it to the entire list because nearly everyone who hears
about it says "Is it online?" and wants a copy. If you don't want it,
I'm not going to be maintaining the "Cypherpunks FAQ," so don't send
me corrections or additions.
Compiled by Tim May (email@example.com) and Eric Hughes
(firstname.lastname@example.org), circa September 1992.
Major Branches of Cryptology (as we see it)
- (these sections will introduce the terms in context,
though complete definitions will not be given)
- privacy of messages
- using ciphers and codes to protect the secrecy of
- DES is the most common symmetric cipher (same key for
encryption and decryption)
- RSA is the most common asymmetric cipher (different
keys for encryption and decryption)
*** Signatures and Authentication
- proving who you are
- proving you signed a document (and not someone else)
*** Untraceable Mail
- untraceable sending and receiving of mail and messages
- focus: defeating eavesdroppers and traffic analysis
- DC protocol (dining cryptographers)
*** Cryptographic Voting
- focus: ballot box anonymity
- credentials for voting
- issues of double voting, security, robustness, efficiency
*** Digital Cash
- focus: privacy in transactions, purchases
- unlinkable credentials
- blinded notes
- "digital coins" may not be possible
*** Crypto Anarchy
- using the above to evade government, to bypass tax collection,
- a technological solution to the problem of too much
*** G L O S S A R Y ***
*** agoric systems -- open, free market systems in which
voluntary transactions are central.
*** Alice and Bob -- cryptographic protocols are often made
clearer by considering parties A and B, or Alice and Bob,
performing some protocol. Eve the eavesdropper, Paul the
prover, and Vic the verifier are other common stand-in names.
*** ANDOS -- all or nothing disclosure of secrets.
*** anonymous credential -- a credential which asserts
some right or privilege or fact without revealing the identity
of the holder. This is unlike CA driver's licenses.
*** asymmetric cipher -- same as public key
*** authentication -- the process of verifying an identity
or credential, to ensure you are who you said you were.
*** biometric security -- a type of authentication using
fingerprints, retinal scans, palm prints, or other
physical/biological signatures of an individual.
*** bit commitment -- e.g., tossing a coin and then
committing to the value without being able to change the
outcome. The blob is a cryptographic primitive for this.
*** blinding, blinded signatures -- A signature that the
signer does not remember having made. A blind signature is
always a cooperative protocol and the receiver of the
signature provides the signer with the blinding information.
*** blob -- the crypto equivalent of a locked box. A
cryptographic primitive for bit commitment, with the
properties that a blobs can represent a 0 or a 1, that others
cannot tell be looking whether itUs a 0 or a 1, that the creator
of the blob can "open" the blob to reveal the contents, and that
no blob can be both a 1 and a 0. An example of this is a flipped
coin covered by a hand.
*** channel -- the path over which messages are
transmitted. Channels may be secure or insecure, and may
have eavesdroppers (or enemies, or disrupters, etc.) who alter
messages, insert and delete messages, etc. Cryptography is
the means by which communications over insecure channels
*** chosen plaintext attack -- an attack where the
cryptanalyst gets to choose the plaintext to be enciphered,
e.g., when possession of an enciphering machine or algorithm
is in the possession of the cryptanalyst.
*** cipher -- a secret form of writing, using substitution or
transposition of characters or symbols.
*** ciphertext -- the plaintext after it has been encrypted.
*** code -- a restricted cryptosystem where words or
letters of a message are replaced by other words chosen from
a codebook. Not part of modern cryptology, but still useful.
*** coin flipping -- an important crypto primitive, or
protocol, in which the equivalent of flipping a fair coin is
possible. Implemented with blobs.
*** collusion -- wherein several participants cooperate to
deduce the identity of a sender or receiver, or to break a
cipher. Most cryptosystems are sensitive to some forms of
collusion. Much of the work on implementing DC Nets, for
example, involves ensuring that colluders cannot isolate
message senders and thereby trace origins and destinations
*** computationally secure -- where a cipher cannot be
broken with available computer resources, but in theory can
be broken with enough computer resources. Contrast with
*** countermeasure -- something you do to thwart an
*** credential -- facts or assertions about some entity. For
example, credit ratings, passports, reputations, tax status,
insurance records, etc. Under the current system, these
credentials are increasingly being cross-linked. Blind
signatures may be used to create anonymous credentials.
*** credential clearinghouse -- banks, credit agencies,
insurance companies, police departments, etc., that correlate
records and decide the status of records.
*** cryptanalysis -- methods for attacking and breaking
ciphers and related cryptographic systems. Ciphers may be
broken, traffic may be analyzed, and passwords may be
cracked. Computers are of course essential.
*** crypto anarchy -- the economic and political system
after the deployment of encryption, untraceable e-mail,
digital pseudonyms, cryptographic voting, and digital cash. A
pun on "crypto," meaning "hidden," and as when Gore Vidal
called William F. Buckley a "crypto fascist."
*** cryptography -- another name for cryptology.
*** cryptology -- the science and study of writing, sending,
receiving, and deciphering secret messages. Includes
authentication, digital signatures, the hiding of messages
(steganography), cryptanalysis, and several other fields.
*** cyberspace -- the electronic domain, the Nets, and
computer-generated spaces. Some say it is the "consensual
reality" described in "Neuromancer." Others say it is the phone
system. Others have work to do.
*** DC protocol, or DC-Net -- the dining cryptographers
protocol. DC-Nets use multiple participants communicating
with the DC protocol.
*** DES -- the Data Encryption Standard, proposed in
1977 by the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST), with
assistance from the National Security Agency. Based on the
"Lucifer" cipher developed by Horst Feistel at IBM, DES is a
secret key cryptosystem that cycles 64-bit blocks of data
through multiple permutations with a 56-bit key controlling
the routing. "Diffusion" and "confusion" are combined to form
a cipher that has not yet been cryptanalyzed (see "DES,
Security of"). DES is in use for interbank transfers, as a
cipher inside of several RSA-based systems, and is available
*** DES, Security of -- many have speculated that the NSA
placed a trapdoor (or back door) in DES to allow it to read
DES-encrypted messages. This has not been proved. It is
known that the original Lucifer algorithm used a 128-bit key
and that this key length was shortened to 64 bits (56 bits
plus 8 parity bits), thus making exhaustive search much
easier (so far as is known, brute-force search has not been
done, though it should be feasible today). Shamir and Bihan
have used a technique called "differential cryptanalysis" to
reduce the exhaustive search needed for chosen plaintext
attacks (but with no import for ordinary DES).
*** differential cryptanalysis -- the Shamir-Biham
technique for cryptanalyzing DES. With a chosen plaintext
attack, they've reduced the number of DES keys that must be
tried from about 2^56 to about 2^47 or less. Note, however,
that rarely can an attacker mount a chosen plaintext attack
on DES systems.
*** digital cash, digital money -- Protocols for
transferring value, monetary or otherwise, electronically.
Digital cash usually refers to systems that are anonymous.
Digital money systems can be used to implement any quantity
that is conserved, such as points, mass, dollars, etc. There
are many variations of digital money systems, ranging from
VISA numbers to blinded signed digital coins. A topic too
large for a single glossary entry.
*** digital pseudonym -- basically, a "crypto identity." A
way for individuals to set up accounts with various
organizations without revealing more information than they
wish. Users may have several digital pseudonyms, some used
only once, some used over the course of many years. Ideally,
the pseudonyms can be linked only at the will of the holder. In
the simplest form, a public key can serve as a digital
pseudonym and need not be linked to a physical identity.
*** digital signature -- Analogous to a written signature
on a document. A modification to a message that only the
signer can make but that everyone can recognize. Can be used
legally to contract at a distance.
*** digital timestamping -- one function of a digital
notary public, in which some message (a song, screenplay, lab
notebook, contract, etc.) is stamped with a time that cannot
(easily) be forged.
*** dining cryptographers protocol (aka DC protocol,
DC nets) -- the untraceable message sending system
invented by David Chaum. Named after the "dining
philosophers" problem in computer science, participants form
circuits and pass messages in such a way that the origin
cannot be deduced, barring collusion. At the simplest level,
two participants share a key between them. One of them
sends some actual message by bitwise exclusive-ORing the
message with the key, while the other one just sends the key
itself. The actual message from this pair of participants is
obtained by XORing the two outputs. However, since nobody
but the pair knows the original key, the actual message
cannot be traced to either one of the participants.
*** discrete logarithm problem -- given integers a, n,
and x, find some integer m such that a^m mod n = x, if m
exists. Modular exponentiation, the a^m mod n part, is
straightforward (and special purpose chips are available), but
the inverse problem is believed to be very hard, in general.
Thus it is conjectured that modular exponentiation is a one-
*** DSS, Digital Signature Standard -- the latest NIST
(National Institute of Standards and Technology, successor to
NBS) standard for digital signatures. Based on the El Gamal
cipher, some consider it weak and poor substitute for RSA-
based signature schemes.
*** eavesdropping, or passive wiretapping --
intercepting messages without detection. Radio waves may be
intercepted, phone lines may be tapped, and computers may
have RF emissions detected. Even fiber optic lines can be
*** factoring -- Some large numbers are difficult to factor.
It is conjectured that there are no feasible--i.e."easy," less
than exponential in size of number-- factoring methods. It is
also an open problem whether RSA may be broken more easily
than by factoring the modulus (e.g., the public key might
reveal information which simplifies the problem).
Interestingly, though factoring is believed to be "hard", it is
not known to be in the class of NP-hard problems. Professor
Janek invented a factoring device, but he is believed to be
*** information-theoretic security -- "unbreakable"
security, in which no amount of cryptanalysis can break a
cipher or system. One time pads are an example (providing the
pads are not lost nor stolen nor used more than once, of
course). Same as unconditionally secure.
*** key -- a piece of information needed to encipher or
decipher a message. Keys may be stolen, bought, lost, etc.,
just as with physical keys.
*** key exchange, or key distribution -- the process of
sharing a key with some other party, in the case of symmetric
ciphers, or of distributing a public key in an asymmetric
cipher. A major issue is that the keys be exchanged reliably
and without compromise. Diffie and Hellman devised one such
scheme, based on the discrete logarithm problem.
*** known-plaintext attack -- a cryptanalysis of a cipher
where plaintext-ciphertext pairs are known. This attack
searches for an unknown key. Contrast with the chosen
plaintext attack, where the cryptanalyst can also choose the
plaintext to be enciphered.
*** mail, untraceable -- a system for sending and
receiving mail without traceability or observability.
Receiving mail anonymously can be done with broadcast of the
mail in encrypted form. Only the intended recipient (whose
identity, or true name, may be unknown to the sender) may
able to decipher the message. Sending mail anonymously
apparently requires mixes or use of the dining cryptographers
*** minimum disclosure proofs -- another name for zero
knowledge proofs, favored by Chaum.
*** mixes -- David Chaum's term for a box which performs
the function of mixing, or decorrelating, incoming and
outgoing electronic mail messages. The box also strips off
the outer envelope (i.e., decrypts with its private key) and
remails the message to the address on the inner envelope.
Tamper-resistant modules may be used to prevent cheating
and forced disclosure of the mapping between incoming and
outgoing mail. A sequence of many remailings effectively
makes tracing sending and receiving impossible. Contrast this
with the software version, the DC protocol.
*** modular exponentiation -- raising an integer to the
power of another integer, modulo some integer. For integers
a, n, and m, a^m mod n. For example, 5^3 mod 100 = 25. Modular
exponentiation can be done fairly quickly with a sequence of
bit shifts and adds, and special purpose chips have been
designed. See also discrete logarithm.
*** National Security Agency (NSA) -- the largest
intelligence agency, responsible for making and breaking
ciphers, for intercepting communications, and for ensuring
the security of U.S. computers. Headquartered in Fort Meade,
Maryland, with many listening posts around the world. The
NSA funds cryptographic research and advises other agencies
about cryptographic matters. The NSA once obviously had the
world's leading cryptologists, but this may no longer be the
*** negative credential -- a credential that you possess
that you don't want any one else to know, for example, a
bankruptcy filing. A formal version of a negative reputation.
*** NP-complete -- a large class of difficult problems.
"NP" stands for nondeterministic polynomial time, a class of
problems thought in general not to have feasible algorithms
for their solution. A problem is "complete" if any other NP
problem may be reduced to that problem. Many important
combinatorial and algebraic problems are NP-complete: the
traveling salesman problem, the Hamiltonian cycle problem,
the word problem, and on and on.
*** oblivious transfer -- a cryptographic primitive that
involves the probabilistic transmission of bits. The sender
does not know if the bits were received.
*** one-time pad -- a string of randomly-selected bits or
symbols which is combined with a plaintext message to
produce the ciphertext. This combination may be shifting
letters some amount, bitwise exclusive-ORed, etc.). The
recipient, who also has a copy of the one time pad, can easily
recover the plaintext. Provided the pad is only used once and
then destroyed, and is not available to an eavesdropper, the
system is perfectly secure, i.e., it is information-
theoretically secure. Key distribution (the pad) is obviously a
practical concern, but consider CD-ROM's.
*** one-way function -- a function which is easy to
compute in one direction but hard to find any inverse for, e.g.
modular exponentiation, where the inverse problem is known
as the discrete logarithm problem. Compare the special case
of trap door one-way functions. An example of a one-way
operation is multiplication: it is easy to multiply two
prime numbers of 100 digits to produce a 200-digit number,
but hard to factor that 200-digit number.
*** P ?=? NP -- Certainly the most important unsolved
problem in complexity theory. If P = NP, then cryptography as
we know it today does not exist. If P = NP, all NP problems
*** padding -- sending extra messages to confuse
eavesdroppers and to defeat traffic analysis. Also adding
random bits to a message to be enciphered.
*** plaintext -- also called cleartext, the text that is to be
*** Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) -- Phillip ZimmermanUs
implementation of RSA, recently upgraded to version 2.0,
with more robust components and several new features. RSA
Data Security has threatened PZ so he no longer works on it.
Version 2.0 was written by a consortium of non-U.S. hackers.
*** prime numbers -- integers with no factors other than
themselves and 1. The number of primes is unbounded. About
1% of the 100 decimal digit numbers are prime. Since there
are about 10^70 particles in the universe, there are about
10^23 100 digit primes for each and every particle in the
*** probabilistic encryption -- a scheme by Goldwasser,
Micali, and Blum that allows multiple ciphertexts for the
same plaintext, i.e., any given plaintext may have many
ciphertexts if the ciphering is repeated. This protects against
certain types of known ciphertext attacks on RSA.
*** proofs of identity -- proving who you are, either your
true name, or your digital identity. Generally, possession of
the right key is sufficient proof (guard your key!). Some work
has been done on "is-a-person" credentialling agencies, using
the so-called Fiat-Shamir protocol...think of this as a way to
issue unforgeable digital passports. Physical proof of identity
may be done with biometric security methods. Zero knowledge
proofs of identity reveal nothing beyond the fact that the
identity is as claimed. This has obvious uses for computer
access, passwords, etc.
*** protocol -- a formal procedure for solving some
problem. Modern cryptology is mostly about the study of
protocols for many problems, such as coin-flipping, bit
commitment (blobs), zero knowledge proofs, dining
cryptographers, and so on.
*** public key -- the key distributed publicly to potential
message-senders. It may be published in a phonebook-like
directory or otherwise sent. A major concern is the validity
of this public key to guard against spoofing or impersonation.
*** public key cryptosystem -- the modern breakthrough
in cryptology, designed by Diffie and Hellman, with
contributions from several others. Uses trap door one-way
functions so that encryption may be done by anyone with
access to the "public key" but decryption may be done only by
the holder of the "private key." Encompasses public key
encryption, digital signatures, digital cash, and many other
protocols and applications.
*** public key encryption -- the use of modern
cryptologic methods to provided message security and
authentication. The RSA algorithm is the most widely used
form of public key encryption, although other systems exist.
A public key may be freely published, e.g., in phonebook-like
directories, while the corresponding private key is closely
*** public key patents -- M.I.T. and Stanford, due to the
work of Rivest, Shamir, Adleman, Diffie, Hellman, and Merkle,
formed Public Key Partners to license the various public key,
digital signature, and RSA patents. These patents, granted in
the early 1980s, expire in the between 1998 and 2002. PKP
has licensed RSA Data Security Inc., of Redwood City, CA,
which handles the sales, etc.
*** quantum cryptography -- a system based on quantum-
mechanical principles. Eavesdroppers alter the quantum state
of the system and so are detected. Developed by Brassard and
Bennett, only small laboratory demonstrations have been
*** reputations -- the trail of positive and negative
associations and judgments that some entity accrues. Credit
ratings, academic credentials, and trustworthiness are all
examples. A digital pseudonym will accrue these reputation
credentials based on actions, opinions of others, etc. In
crypto anarchy, reputations and agoric systems will be of
paramount importance. There are many fascinating issues of
how reputation-based systems work, how credentials can be
bought and sold, and so forth.
*** RSA -- the main public key encryption algorithm,
developed by Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Kenneth Adleman. It
exploits the difficulty of factoring large numbers to create a
private key and public key. First invented in 1978, it remains
the core of modern public key systems. It is usually much
slower than DES, but special-purpose modular exponentiation
chips will likely speed it up. A popular scheme for speed is to
use RSA to transmit session keys and then a high-speed
cipher like DES for the actual message text.
*** Description -- Let p and q be large primes, typically with more than
100 digits. Let n = pq and find some e such that e is relatively prime to (p
- 1)(q - 1). The set of numbers p, q, and e is the private key for RSA. The
set of numbers n and e forms the public key (recall that knowing n is not
sufficient to easily find p and q...the factoring problem). A message M is
encrypted by computing M^e mod n. The owner of the private key can
decrypt the encrypted message by exploiting number theory results, as
follows. An integer d is computed such that ed =1 (mod (p - 1)(q - 1)).
Euler proved a theorem that M^(ed) = M mod n and so M^(ed) mod n = M.
This means that in some sense the integers e and d are "inverses" of each
other. [If this is unclear, please see one of the many texts and articles on
public key encryption.]
*** secret key cryptosystem -- A system which uses the
same key to encrypt and decrypt traffic at each end of a
communication link. Also called a symmetric or one-key
system. Contrast with public key cryptosystem.
*** smart cards -- a computer chip embedded in credit
card. They can hold cash, credentials, cryptographic keys,
etc. Usually these are built with some degree of tamper-
resistance. Smart cards may perform part of a crypto
transaction, or all of it. Performing part of it may mean
checking the computations of a more powerful computer, e.g.,
one in an ATM.
*** spoofing, or masquerading -- posing as another user.
Used for stealing passwords, modifying files, and stealing
cash. Digital signatures and other authentication methods are
useful to prevent this. Public keys must be validated and
protected to ensure that others don't substitute their own
public keys which users may then unwittingly use.
*** steganography -- a part of cryptology dealing with
hiding messages and obscuring who is sending and receiving
messages. Message traffic is often padded to reduce the
signals that would otherwise come from a sudden beginning
*** symmetric cipher -- same as private key
*** tamper-responding modules, tamper-resistant
modules (TRMs) -- sealed boxes or modules which are hard
to open, requiring extensive probing and usually leaving ample
evidence that the tampering has occurred. Various protective
techniques are used, such as special metal or oxide layers on
chips, armored coatings, embedded optical fibers, and other
measures to thwart analysis. Popularly called "tamper-proof
boxes." Uses include: smart cards, nuclear weapon initiators,
cryptographic key holders, ATMs, etc.
*** tampering, or active wiretapping -- interfering with
messages and possibly modifying them. This may compromise
data security, help to break ciphers, etc. See also spoofing.
*** token -- some representation, such as ID cards, subway
tokens, money, etc., that indicates possession of some
property or value.
*** traffic analysis -- determining who is sending or
receiving messages by analyzing packets, frequency of
packets, etc. A part of steganography. Usually handled with
*** transmission rules -- the protocols for determining
who can send messages in a DC protocol, and when. These
rules are needed to prevent collision and deliberate jamming
of the channels.
*** trap messages -- dummy messages in DC Nets which
are used to catch jammers and disrupters. The messages
contain no private information and are published in a blob
beforehand so that the trap message can later be opened to
reveal the disrupter. (There are many strategies to explore
*** trap-door -- In cryptography, a piece of secret
information that allows the holder of a private key to invert a
normally hard to invert function.
*** trap-door one way functions -- functions which are
easy to compute in both the forward and reverse direction but
for which the disclosure of an algorithm to compute the
function in the forward direction does not provide
information on how to compute the function in the reverse
direction. More simply put, trap-door one way functions are
one way for all but the holder of the secret information. The
RSA algorithm is the best-known example of such a function.
*** unconditional security -- same as information-
theoretic security, that is, unbreakable except by loss or
theft of the key.
*** unconditionally secure -- where no amount of
intercepted ciphertext is enough to allow the cipher to be
broken, as with the use of a one-time pad cipher. Contrast
with computationally secure.
*** voting, cryptographic -- Various schemes have been
devised for anonymous, untraceable voting. Voting schemes
should have several properties: privacy of the vote, security
of the vote (no multiple votes), robustness against disruption
by jammers or disrupters, verifiability (voter has confidence
in the results), and efficiency.
*** zero knowledge proofs -- proofs in which no
knowledge of the actual proof is conveyed. Peggy the Prover
demonstrates to Sid the Skeptic that she is indeed in
possession of some piece of knowledge without actually
revealing any of that knowledge. This is useful for access to
computers, because eavesdroppers or dishonest sysops cannot
steal the knowledge given. Also called minimum disclosure
proofs. Useful for proving possession of some property, or
credential, such as age or voting status, without revealing
Timothy C. May | Crypto Anarchy: encryption, digital money,
email@example.com | anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero
408-688-5409 | knowledge, reputations, information markets,
W.A.S.T.E.: Aptos, CA | black markets, collapse of governments.
Higher Power: 2^756839 | PGP Public Key: by arrangement.
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