Books on cryptography

From Academic Kids

' Polygraphiae (1518) — the first printed book on cryptology.
Johannes Trithemius' Polygraphiae (1518) — the first printed book on cryptology.

Books on cryptography have been published sporadically, and with highly variable quality, for a long time. This is despite the tempting, though superficial, paradox that secrecy is of the essence in sending confidential messages — see Kerckhoffs' law.

In contrast, the revolution in cryptography and secure communications of the last 25 years is well covered in the available literature.


Early history

An early example of a book about cryptography was a Roman work, now lost and known only by references. Many of the early works on cryptography were esoteric, mystical, and reputation-promoting; cryptography being mysterious, there was much opportunity for such things. At least one work by Trithemius was put on the Index (ie, banned) by the Catholic Church as being about black magic or witchcraft. Many writers claimed to have invented unbreakable ciphers. None were, though it sometimes took a long while to establish this.

In the 19th century, the general standard improved somewhat (eg, works by Auguste Kerckhoffs, Friedrich Kasiski, and Étienne Bazeries). Colonel Parker Hitt and William Friedman in the early 20th century also wrote books on cryptography. These authors, and others, mostly abandoned any mystical or magical tone.

Open literature versus classified literature

With the invention of radio, much of military communications went wireless, allowing the possiblity of enemy interception much more readily than tapping into a landline, increasing the need to protect communications using sufficiently strong cryptography. By the end of World War I, cryptography and its literature began to be both 'official', and 'classified'.

Thereupon, publicly available material started to diverge more than before from actual cryptographic, and cryptanalytic, practice, largely by 'leaving things out'. There began a period in which public descriptions of cryptography were either intended for children, deliberately misleading, or limited to historical issues. Some, such as The American Black Chamber by Herbert Yardley were mixtures of everything, including a return to the personal reputation puffery of the Renaissance, and more than a little magical gee whiz.

The Codebreakers

Until the late twentieth century most aspects of modern cryptography were regarded as the special concern of governments and the military, and were protected by custom and, in some cases, by statute. The most significant work to be published on cryptography in this period is undoubtedly David Kahn's The Codebreakers, which was published at a time (mid-1960s) when virtually no information on the modern practice of cryptography was available. Kahn has said that over ninety percent of its content was previously unpublished. The book caused serious concern at the NSA despite its lack of coverage of specific modern cryptographic practice, so much so that after failing to prevent the book being published NSA staff were informed to not even acknowledge the existence of the book if asked. In the US military, mere possession of a copy by cryptographic personnel was grounds for some considerable suspicion. Perhaps the single greatest importance of the book was the impact it had on the next generation of cryptographers. Whitfield Diffie has made comments in interviews about the effect it had on him.

Early 21st century conditions

Since the flourishing of an academic field of cryptography starting in the mid 1970s, there are many books which have since been published on cryptography. Much information that was top secret a half century ago is now available to the public. Principles and techniques of major parts of contemporary cipher design have also in many cases been published. It is unknown (publically) if the open literature of modern cryptography has caught up with the knowledge of government agencies.

The list

Significant books on cryptography include:

Cryptographic techniques

Heavily mathematical

  • A. J. Menezes, P. C. van Oorschot, and S. A. Vanstone - Handbook of Applied Cryptography ISBN 0849385237 (online version ( Equivalent to Applied Cryptography in many ways, but heavily mathematical. For the technically inclined. Covers few meta-cryptographic topics, such as crypto system design. This is currently (2004) regarded as the standard reference work in technical cryptography.
  • Lawrence Washington - Elliptic Curves: Number Theory and Cryptography ISBN 1584883650. A book focusing on elliptic curves that begins at the undergraduate level (for those who have had a course on abstract algebra) and progresses into much more advanced topics, even at the end touching on Andrew Wiles' proof of the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture which led to the proof of Fermat's last theorem.
  • Douglas Stinson - Cryptography: Theory and Practice ISBN 1584882069. Somewhere between HAC and Applied Cryptography in terms of mathematical details. Covers topics in a textbook style but with more mathematical detail then is usual. Has been adopted as the text for many university courses in cryptography.
  • Dominic Welsh -- Codes and Cryptography, Oxford University Press, 1988. A brief textbook intended for undergraduates. Some coverage of fundamental information theory. Requires some mathematical maturity; well written, and otherwise accessible.
  • Oded Goldreich's Foundations of Cryptography series [1] ( provides a comprehensive formal treatment of the theory underlying modern cryptography. The focus is on mathematical abstractions, rigorous constructions and proof techniques; practical aspects are best sought elsewhere. It may require a computer science background.
  • Mao, Wenbo (2004).Modern Cryptography Theory and Practice ISBN 0130669431. A more uptodate self contained book on cryptography. It does touch upon provable security. It is written with students and practioners in mind.

Less mathematical

  • Ferguson, Niels, and Schneier, Bruce - Practical Cryptography, Wiley, 2003, ISBN 0471223573. A cryptography reference. Covers both algorithms and protocols. This is an in depth consideration of one cryptographic problem, including paths not taken and some reasons why. At the time of its publication, most of the material was not otherwise available in a single source. Some was not otherwise available. In a sense, a follow-up to Applied Cryptography.
  • Schneier, Bruce - Applied Cryptography, 2 ed, Wiley, 1996, (ISBN 0471117099). The most accessible single volume available covering modern cryptographic practice, and approachable by the non mathematically oriented. Incredibly, not exhaustive. Extensive bibliography which can serve as an entry into the modern literature. Less immediately mathematical than some others, eg Menezes et al Handbook of Applied Cryptography. Note however, that the lack of extensive proofs and notation does not imply that the mathematical concepts are optional. Modern cryptography is fundamentally based on mathematics and Schneier covers it here, just not formally.
  • Nigel Smart - Cryptography: An introduction ISBN 0077099877. Similar in intent to Applied Cryptography but less comprehensive. Covers more modern material and is aimed at undergraduates covering topics such as number theory and group theory not generally covered in cryptography books.

Cryptographic environment/context -- 'security'

  • Schneier, Bruce - Secrets and Lies, Wiley, ISBN 0471253111, a discussion of the context within which cryptography and cryptosystems work. Practical Cryptography also includes some contextual material in the discussion of crypto system design.
  • Schneier, Bruce -- Beyond Fear, Wiley, ISBN 0387026207
  • Ross Anderson -- Security Engineering, Wiley, ISBN 0471389226, advanced coverage of computer security issues, including cryptography. Covers much more than merely cryptography. Brief on most topics due to the breadth of coverage.
  • Edney, Jon and Arbaugh, William A -- Real 802.11 Security: Wi-Fi Protected Access and 802.11i, Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0321136209, covers the use of cryptography in Wi-Fi networks. Includes details on Wi-Fi Protected Access (which is based on the IEEE 802.11i specification). The book is slightly out of date as it was written before IEEE 802.11i was finalized but much of the content is still useful for those who want to find out how encryption and authentication is done in a Wi-Fi network.

History of cryptography

  • Bamford, James - The Puzzle Palace : A Report on America's Most Secret Agency (ISBN 0140067485), and the more recent Body of Secrets. The first is one a very few books about the US Government's NSA. The second is also about NSA but concentrates more on its history. There is some very interesting material in Body of Secrets about US attempts (the TICOM mission) to investigate German cryptographic efforts immediately as the fighting moved on as WWII wound down.
  • Gustave Bertrand, Enigma ou la plus grande énigme de la guerre 1939–1945, Paris 1973. The first public disclosure in the West of the breaking of the Enigma, by the chief of French military cryptography prior to WWII. The first seems to have been a journal article by a Polish Colonel about Rejewski's breakthrough.
  • Kahn, David - The Codebreakers (ISBN 0684831309) A single volume source for cryptographic history, at least for events up to the mid '60s (ie, to just before DES and the public release of asymmetric key cryptography). The added chapter on more recent developments (in the most recent edition) is quite thin. Kahn has written other books and articles on cryptography, and on cryptographic history. They are very highly regarded.
  • Kozaczuk, Wladislaw, Enigma (ISBN 078180941X), a history of the codebreaking efforts against Enigma, concentrating on the early Polish contributions of Rejewski et al. First published in English in 1984. Original Polish version was a few years earlier.
  • Levy, Steven - Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government Saving Privacy in the Digital Age (ISBN 0140244328) A journalistic overview of the development of public cryptographic techniques and the US regulatory context for cryptography. This is an account of a major policy conflict.
  • Singh, Simon - The Code Book (ISBN 1857028899). An anecdotal introduction to the history of cryptography. Covers more recent material than does even the revised edition of Kahn's The Codebreakers. Clearly written and quite readable. The included cryptanalytic contest has been won and the prize awarded, but the cyphertexts are still worth attempting.
  • Bauer, F L, Decrypted Secrets, This book is unusual. It is both a history of cryptography, and a discussion of mathematical topics related to cryptography. In his review, David Kahn said he thought it the best book he'd read on the subject. It is essentially two books, in more or less alternating chapters. Originally in German, and the translation shows it in places. Some surprising content, eg, in the discussion of President Edgar Hoover's Secretary of State, Henry Stimson.
  • Budiansky, Stephen -- Battle of Wits, This is a one volume history of cryptography in WWII. It is well written, well researched, and responsible. Technical material (eg, a description of the cryptanalysis of Enigma) is limited, but clearly presented.
  • Prados, John -- Combined Fleet Decoded, An account of cryptography in the Pacific Theatre of World War II with special emphasis on the Japanese side. Reflects extensive research in Japanese sources and recently available US material. Contains material not previously accessible or unvailable.
  • Marks, Leo, Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's Story 1941-1945, (HarperCollins, 1998). (ISBN 068486780X). A humorous, but informative, account of code making and breaking in Britain's WWII Special Operations Executive.
  • Yardley, Herbert. The American Black Chamber, A classic 1931 account of American code breaking during and after WWI (ISBN 0345298675).

Historic works

  • Abu Yusuf Yaqub ibn Ishaq al-Sabbah Al-Kindi, (A Manuscript on Deciphering Cryptographic Messages), 9th century included first known explanation of frequency analysis cryptanalysis
  • Roger Bacon (English friar and polymath), Epistle on the secret Works of Art and Nobility of Magic, 13th century, possibly the first European work on cryptography since Classical times, written in Latin and not widely available then or now
  • Johannes Trithemius, Steganographia ("Hidden Writing"), written ca. 1499; pub 1606, banned by the Catholic Church 1609 as alleged discussion of magic, see Polygraphiae (below).
  • Johannes Trithemius, Polygraphiae Libri Sex ("Six Books on Polygraphy"), 1518, first printed book on cryptography (thought to really be about magic by some observers at the time)
  • Giovan Batista Belaso, La cifra del. Sig. Giovan Batista Belaso, 1553, first pub of the cypher widely misattributed to Vigenère.
  • Giambattista della Porta, De Furtivis Literarum Notis ("On concealed characters in writing"), 1563.
  • Blaise de Vigenère, Traicte de Chiffres, 1585.
  • Gustavus Selenus, Cryptomenytics, 1624, (modern era English trans by J W H Walden)
  • John Wilkins, Mercury, 1647, earliest printed book in English about cryptography
  • Friedrich Kasiski, Die Geheimschriften und die Dechiffrierkunst ("Secret writing and the Art of Deciphering"), pub 1863, contained the first public description of a technique for cryptanalyzing polyaphabetic cyphers.
  • Etienne Bazeries, Les Chiffres secrets dévoilés ("Secret ciphers unveiled") about 1900.
  • Émile Victor Théodore Myszkowski, Cryptographie indéchiffrable: basée sur de nouvelles combinaisons rationelles ("Unbreakable cryptography"), published 1902.

Overview of cryptography

  • Piper, Fred and Sean Murphy - Cryptography : A Very Short Introduction ISBN 0192803158 This book outlines the major goals, uses, methods, and developments in cryptography.


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