[ Making better encryption ]

Submitted on: 2/8/2015 1:39:00 AM
By: D. Rijmenants (from psc cd)  
Level: Intermediate
User Rating: By 17 Users
Compatibility: VB 3.0, VB 4.0 (16-bit), VB 4.0 (32-bit), VB 5.0, VB 6.0
Views: 2596
     Want to make your own encryption algorithm? Taking your first steps into cryptology? Busy for a while but not too sure about it? Think your encryption is strong? Read this article first and get some good tips!


Guide for better encryption.

I notice that many people are fascinated by cryptology. It's an exciting branch of coding, but many put their first steps into it without any background. This results in huge mistakes in writing and implementing their new 'unbreakable' algorithm. Every cipher can be broken! the only question is: How long does it takes?

Many programmers proclaiming they have good encryption, and i'm sure they believe it. Unfortunately their ciphers are all broken within very short time without any 'brute force attack' or cryptanalysing, but with a bit of examining and maths by anyone who sets his mind to it. This goes surprisingly also for many commercial software! I hope by giving some simple basic tips, they realize how easy it is to break weak ciphers and they will make the code a bit securer, so that not every amateur can break their cipher.

Tip1: Don't thrust yourself
NEVER thrust your own encryption. Yes, you're smart and you don't find a way to break it, but there are always others, smarter than you (unless you're Stephen Hawkins), who will break it. Thats why you allways need others to check your work. The best way to learn writing ciphers, is by first learning how to break them. How can you tell your encryption is safe, if you don't know how to break (read cryptanalyse) it?

Tip 2: The easy way?
Stream ciphers like RC4 are popular because they are easy to implement. Watch out! Streams have some big weak spots. You can only use the key once. If you use it twice, simple cryptanalyse can compromise the key. This very important disadvantage goes for all xor ciphers! If you really want to use xor based ciphers, you should always follow tip 3 and tip 10. Don't get blinded by easy ciphers. A good example is the very simple one-time-pad. Although theoretically unbreakable, it is impossible to implement it in a practical way, due to hughe problems it poses on management and distribution of keys. Often good ciphers are useless because they are implemented the wrong way. It is not because a cipher is unbreakable in theory, that you can also implement it on a unbreakable way.

Tip 3: Easy to enhance
Finished your cipher? Take the next char to encrypt, and xor it with the previous cipher output. On decrypting, just xor the result with the previous decrypted char. This is called chaining. That way, one decryption error is fatal to the rest of the message and thus makes the cipher much stronger. You can chain ciphers, output or input. This is a simple tip, easy to apply, but has a great result!

Tip 4: Don't make it easy to the bad guys
Never use your key or password directly to manipulate bits and bytes in your plain text, or use the bytes of your key one by one, and start all over at the end. That way you link your key directly to the cipher text and the door is wide open to crack the cipher. It's like giving it away for free. About 90 percent of all ciphers, found on PSC, are all kinds of variations on poly-alphabetic rotation or substitution, and easy to break by simple multiple frequency analysis!

Tip 5: Make it hard to follow
Create a cipher where the plain input determins how the algorithm works. A cipher that does the same work all the time is sensitive to attacks. Simplified example: if the next plain text is an A, the cipher will for instance xor it with a value, but if the next plain is a B, it rotates the bits n times left, and is it a C then rotate 2n times right. On xor ciphers, you could use a mask byte, changed on certain conditions as just described, and xor it with each cipher output. You could have the plain input manipulate the key bits, or swap key bits or bytes, so that the key changes all the time during encryption. How does the cipher works? Who knows, it's changes all the time.

Tip 6: The serious work
To create a block cipher the most common way to encrypt data is a feistel network. When you use 64 bit blocks, divide the block in two 32 bit parts where the right part together with the key are the input of a function, and the output is xored with the left part. Next the left part is encrypted with the right and so on. Each step is called a round (DES uses 16 rounds). To decrypt, the whole process is reversed form step 16 to 1. You can find plenty of documentation on the structure of block ciphers on the net.

Tip 7: The basics
A good function uses three important steps:
1. Substitution: the replacing of groups of bits or words by others.
2. Fractionation: breaking up groups of bytes in smaller parts before relocating.
3. Transposition: swap words, bytes or bits from position with each other.
The combination of these three operations results in diffusion. This diffusion is required for any good encryption scheme (see Shannon). This can be applied in a whole text, or within blocks, for instance combined with a feistel network. The way these steps are executed must depend on a secret key.

Tip 8: Help the users
Don't make it possible for the user to use weak keys. Write a routine where you refuse key's as 'aaaa', 'mamama' or '123'. Even good ciphers are useless if you use those, or 'top secret' or 'britney spears' as password. There are many idi*ts that use those keys. Be nice and help them to use only good passwords. Of course, they will always be that negligent to use the same key more than once. So take care that the key isn't compromised by this (see straightforward used streams and xor's). If a key is compromised, and they use it also for other important stuff like banking or account login, this could mean that your weak cipher is responsible for their problems!

Tip 9: Random and Random
Big mistake of many beginners: random isn't random when it comes out of your computer. Computers are NEVER random, they are to disciplined for that. If you do use a computers rnd function, seed it first with randomly chosen values. Better to use your own rnd-code. But it's very difficult to write a good one. Writing good randoms, as for use in stream ciphers, is an art. You want random? Get a bunch of xy values from the moving of your mouse, and use these to initialize your own rnd code. that's random (unless you have some tic). Never forget that there is a big difference between randomness and crypto secure randomness, so get well informed on the quality of Linear Shift Registers and other pseudorandom generation schemes before getting into the Random bussiness.

Tip 10: Get a good start
Put a bunch of randomly chosen bits and bytes before your real data and encrypt them along with them. This is very effective in a cipher where the algorithm is used in a chaining or feedback mode. That way, others cannot retrieve the key settings at the beginning of the actual data, and every encryption, althoug with the same key, is different. Those rnd bytes are simply disgarded during decryption. Even better is that the number of rnd bytes is also a random quantity, by this hiding the position of the actual start of data, so encrypt your rnd header length also. This tip is an absolute must on xor ciphers like RC4 if you really want to use them.

Tip 11: Stronger stuff
Compress your data BEFORE encryption, this will stenghten your encryption greatly! Ofcourse, don't use a zip-file, but compress it in your code. There are several good compressions in vb. Compression will fraction the data already before any encryption deals with it.

Tip 12: The finish?
Think it's finished? Try to encrypt let's say 100.000 A's with a repetitive key like 'ABC'. Next, take a good look at the encrypted data and do some statistics on it. If there are any repetitions or regular patterns, there's a smelly thing about your algorithm. Back to the drawing board! ALWAYS be paranoia about your own cipher, and NEVER thrust others so called unbreakable ciphers before you have done a good analysing of them. I know, it's easy to copy and use that encryption scheme from mister X. Do you want to use and thrust code that does unknown things? Finally, copy these tips and save them. Read them all over when you finished writing your cipher.

Tip 13: Top Secret?
A good algorithm should always be published. If you wrote some encryption scheme, document it properly, with commonly used notation, so that anyone can understand it. A secrecy system may only depend on the secrecy of the key, NEVER on the secrecy of the algorithm! Any crypto program can be reverse engineerd, so secrecy is useless. A good hint on the quality of the encryption is it's description. Watch out for snakeoil with great names like chaos theoretics, triangulating arrays, cryptonic sublimation, cosmic correlation, bla bla bla: Big crap! If they say it's a secret algorithm, you can be absolutely sure that it's junk or has backdoors.

Tip 14: Think it's too hard?
Never give up, it's a great and exiting art. look around, read crypto papers, check out FIPS's and RFC's on encryption on the net, visit sites, learn from the big ones. Start by learning how the classic ciphers like Vigenere, Auto-key, Bifid and Trifid, ADFGVX, and many more work, and how they were broken. These are the origins of modern cryptology and a good learning base. Good luck !

Tip 15: Some ideas
Check out submissions like 'Cipher Classics' or 'ULTRA file and text encryption', an example that applies many of the tips...and no, I won't say that ULTRA is unbreakable...but it's a strong one ;-)

Tip 16: Some great links
Introduction to Codes, Ciphers and breaking them:
Basics on classic ciphers and how to break them:
Bruce Schneier's site, the crypto and security guru:
Handbook of Applied Cryptography, pdf downloads

A cryptographic compendium:
Claude Shannon Theory Of Secrecy, the basics on crypto:
A crypto dictionary:

Never forget:
A weak encryption is more dangerous
than being careful without encryption !!!

Happy codings from Dirk ;-)

PS: and pleaaaase don't call your ciphers unbreakable any more, even in best cases, call it strong... :-)

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