Cryptanalysis (from the Greek kryptós, “hidden”, and analýein, “to loosen” or “to untie”) is the study of methods for obtaining the meaning of encrypted information, without access to the secret information which is normally required to do so. Typically, this involves knowing how the system works and finding a secret key. In non-technical language, this is the practice of codebreaking or cracking the code, although these phrases also have a specialised technical meaning (see code).

“Cryptanalysis” is also used to refer to any attempt to circumvent the security of other types of cryptographic algorithms and protocols in general, and not just encryption. However, cryptanalysis usually excludes methods of attack that do not primarily target weaknesses in the actual cryptography, such as bribery, physical coercion, burglary, keystroke logging, and social engineering, although these types of attack are an important concern and are often more effective than traditional cryptanalysis.

Even though the goal has been the same, the methods and techniques of cryptanalysis have changed drastically through the history of cryptography, adapting to increasing cryptographic complexity, ranging from the pen-and-paper methods of the past, through machines like Enigma in World War II, to the computer-based schemes of the present. The results of cryptanalysis have also changed — it is no longer possible to have unlimited success in codebreaking, and there is a hierarchical classification of what constitutes a rare practical attack. In the mid-1970s, a new class of cryptography was introduced: asymmetric cryptography. Methods for breaking these cryptosystems are typically radically different from before, and usually involve solving carefully-constructed problems in pure mathematics, the best-known being integer factorization.


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