Hobbies that calm you down: Cryptography

CipherDisk2000

By Hubert Berberich (HubiB) (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I have stated time and again how distracting yourself and occupying your brain can help you out when you are stressed out and/or anxious. In this post I am going to be talking about one hobby which really gets those gears turning and pretty much needs all your spare brain power (the parts that aren’t busy with breathing and stuff) to do: cryptography.

Cryptography or cryptology comes from the combination of the Greek words “kryptos” meaning hidden or secret and graphien meaning writing, and logia meaning study. It is the study and practice of creating secure communications between parties without others being able to decipher the message even if it is intercepted; in other words, codes.

Codes consist of four basic parts:

  1. The original message
  2. The coding method
  3. The coded message
  4. The cipher key

Basically you write your original message, you use the coding method to get the coded message which no one can read properly and finally you use the cipher key to decode the message and get the original message back.

Cryptography is an old art which has been in existence for as long as people have wanted to send secret messages to each other. Some of the oldest recorded forms of coded messages are:

  • Transposition ciphers, where letters were rearranged (message would become gsaseme)
  • Substitution ciphers, where letters were replaced with other letters (message would become nfttbhf by replacing each letter with the next letter in the alphabet)

As the years have gone by many different coding methods have been invented, some so elaborate that to this day these messages have not been fully decoded like some of the messages from the zodiac killer and the last message in the sculpture named Kryptos, located in the CIA headquarters in Langley.

You might be wondering how it is that I know about all this. Well the simple answer is research, but not recent research but rather research I did years ago. You see when I was a teenager, I was really into codes; I would keep making up my own codes, looking for new ways to make them that much more unbreakable. As I have grown older I have mellowed out but that love for codes and cryptography is still there. Anyways, let’s move on.

In today’s digital age everything comes with the option of encryption; with information flowing through the airwaves it has become much easier to intercept messages and so it has become that much more important to encrypt those messages. Encryption is now more part of daily life than it ever was before, even now your computer and smart devices are encrypting and decrypting messages without you doing anything.

So how can cryptography be used as a hobby? Well there are all sorts of ways, you could study the history and learn more about it, you could try making up codes that would confuse even the best of minds, you could spend your time decrypting messages, solving them like puzzles, or you could do all of the above.

If you are interested in testing your code breaking skills, you can try out these sites:

https://www.guardsupport.com/crypto/index.asp

http://www.braingle.com/Cryptography.html

https://cryptopals.com/

So happy crytographing to you and good luck with the puzzles!

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