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Friday, October 4, 2013

What is a substitution cipher method?

There are two classic methods for cryptography namely transposition cipher method and the substitution cipher method. In this article we shall discuss about the latter one i.e., the substitution cipher method. 
- This method of encoding involves replacement of the units or letters of the plain text with some other units or letters. 
- The encoded text is then called as the cipher text. 
- The replacement of the units is made based up on some regular system. 
These units might be individual letters, pairs or triplets of letters and so on. 
On the receiver’s side, an inverse substitution is required for deciphering the text. 
- We can make a comparison between the transposition ciphers and the substitution ciphers. 
- In the former ciphers, the plain text units are rearranged unlike in substitution cipher where units are replaced.
- The order of rearrangement in the transposition ciphers is somewhat more complex than what is followed by the substitution ciphers and the units are not changed.
- On the other side, the sequence of the units remains same in the substitution cipher but they are themselves altered. 

There are various types of substitution cipher as mentioned below:

Ø  Simple substitution ciphers: 
- This involves substitution of the single letters and thus has been termed as the simple substitution. 
- The alphabet can be written out in some order so as to represent the substitution.
- This alphabet is referred to as the substitution alphabet. 
- This alphabet might be revered or shifted or scrambled in some complex manner. 
- In such cases, it is termed as the deranged alphabet or the mixed alphabet. 
The creation of the mixed alphabets involves writing out a keyword while removing the repeating letters and then rewriting the leftovers in the same sequence. 
- For avoiding the transmission errors, the cipher text is written in block form and the spaces and the punctuation are omitted. 
- This also helps in creating disguises for the boundaries between the words.

Ø Homophonic substitution: 
- This method is followed for increasing the difficulty for the frequency analysis attacks. 
- The frequencies of the letters of the plain text are disguised by homophony. 
Here the letters of the plain text are mapped to many symbols of the cipher text. 
- Normally the plain text symbols with highest frequencies are mapped with more equivalents when compared to their low frequency counterparts. 
- This leads to the flattening of the frequency distribution which in turn raises the difficulty of frequency analysis. 
- For the invention of larger alphabets a number of solutions are employed. 
The simplest of these solutions is using a numeric substitution alphabet. 
- Another method uses the variations of the existing alphabet i.e., writing it upside down, or in upper case and lower case etc. 
Nomenclature is also a variant of the homophonic substitution. 
- The other two types of homophonic ciphers namely straddling checker board and book cipher.

Ø Polyalphabetic substitution: 
- It involves the use of the multiple cipher alphabets. 
- For the facilitation of the encryption process, these alphabets are written out in a big table which is referred to as the tableau. 
- The particular poly alphabetic cipher is defined by the method with which the tableau is filled and the alphabet is chosen. 
- Some types of the polyalphabetic ciphers are:
             1. Beaufort cipher
             2. Gronsfeld cipher
             3. Running key cipher
             4. Autokey cipher

Ø  Polygraphic substitution: 
Here the letters of the plain text are substituted in terms of large groups instead of individual letter substitution.

Ø Mechanical substitution ciphers: 
Some examples of this type of substitution ciphers are enigma, rotor cipher machines etc.

Ø The one-time pad: 
This one is a special substitution cipher which has been proven that it is unbreakable mathematically.

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