I was reading The Codebreakers by David Kahn, and today I learned:
- Étienne Bazeries was among the most badass cryptologists who ever lived (at least, as far as I’ve read). Noted as “the great pragmatist of cryptology” by David Kahn (a tremendous understatement), he tore through ciphers like tissue paper. I cannot understate how deftly this man manipulated ciphers and unlocked their secrets.
- Sometimes this had hilarious results: someone sent a message to a duke in France, with many errors in its encipherment, yet Bazeries was able to solve it. The duke’s frustrated, contemptuous one-word response: “Merde.”
- On a related note: I will never design my own cipher. Repeat after me: I will never design my own cipher. Write this on a chalkboard 50 times if you have to. Just don’t do it.
- If you don’t trust me on the last point, consider this: Bazeries was able to solve the ciphers used by the French military, which at that point, was the largest military in Europe. If he could solve their ciphers, a modern cryptanalyst will be able to crack yours. Granted, they were wimpy ciphers compared to the systems Bazeries suggested, but still.
- I didn’t technically learn this today, but: the Vigenère cipher was not created by Blaise de Vigenère himself, and was misattributed to him. It was actually invented by Giovan Battista Bellaso. However, Vigenère did create an even more powerful “autokey” cipher.
Over the past few week or so, as I’ve read Codebreakers, I’ve gained an immense respect for French cryptography in general. The “black chambers” were a fertile source of cryptanalysis, for one. On top of that, some of the greatest books on cryptography have come from the French. Most of all, France produced the great Étienne Bazeries, one of my new heroes.
More to come, folks…