Cyber security, our modern encryption, is always in the news and hackers make headlines with their data breaches. Everyone with an ATM card or Facebook account rightly cares about protecting their information. But encryption is nothing new, it goes back to ancient times, and so does code breaking, the original hackers. The Spartan armies of 700 BC would send military dispatches during battle fully encrypted. As more and more encryptions were discovered from Greece and Rome, scholars wanted to decipher these government documents. Many texts were coded via symbols. Al-Kindi, a man from Baghdad and prominent philosopher who lived from 801 to 873 is the first famous code breaker.
His book: “On Deciphering Cryptographic Messages” - Al-Kindi shared his method to break cryptic texts which is now known as frequency analysis. Essentially, if you have enough text of a known language, about a full page of text, any subject matter, you can break that symbolic code. Take the most frequently used letter, it is the “first” and then rank all the others by frequency. Then take the code symbols and rate them by frequency, so if the most used of the text is the letter “E” and the most used symbol is a half circle, use: E=half circle. Do each ranking and it all falls together.
This method gave birth to a whole new field of study: statistics. Statistics is the theory and application of mathematics to the scientific method. From sample data you can predict and estimate far beyond the sample data to the entire population. It changed the world. The next serious advancement in statistics would not occur for another eight hundred years.
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