I have produced a talk in what will hopefully become a series, History of maths and x. This aims to offer mathematical histories for various topics, x. The idea is that each topic is covered in a talk at the University of Nottingham that is available to view online, in an article for iSquared Magazine and is accompanied by a companion podcast released through the Travels in a Mathematical World podcast as episode 49.

Abstract for talk

Cryptography is the process by which messages are communicated through secret means. Cipher cryptography converts messages by applying some cipher algorithm with a secret key to a plaintext message, converting it into a ciphertext message that cannot be read by interceptors. Cryptanalysis is the science that attempts to decipher these messages without access to the secret key.

This talk will focus on substitution ciphers and demonstrate the processes of encrypting and breaking some examples of these. The focus is on the battle between cryptographers – who create cipher systems – and cryptanalysts – who attempt to break them. As cryptanalysis develops more ingenious ciphers must be created and this constant struggle evolves from Roman generals, through the Golden Age of Islam to political intrigue in Renaissance Europe.

This talk will provide a gentle introduction and will assume no prior knowledge of cryptography.

You can find out more about this at History of maths and x website.