Classical and Contemporary Cryptology

Richard J. Spillman (2004)
Review date: December, 2010

This textbook is divided into three parts. Chapter one starts before the first part of the book. It contains an introduction to cryptology, ciphers, and the companion software package, CAP, used throughout the book.

Next comes a four-chapter part on classical ciphers: monoalphabetic, polyalphabetic, polygraphic, and transposition ciphers. This part is rather anecdotal and mixes theory with short stories about the background of the ciphers or a particularity interesting application. In this part, basic cryptanalysis techniques are explained and illustrated using the CAP package.

The following four chapters are about stream ciphers, block ciphers, public key ciphers, and key management. This is where things become computerized and algorithms like DES, AES, MD5, and RSA are explained.

The final third part consists of one chapter on quantum cryptology.

What's pretty unique about this book is its companion software, CAP, that contains both implementations of some ciphers and various analysis tools that can be used for breaking them.


To make things clear: this is a text book, and as such it has to be written in a teacher-to-student style. Review questions and exercises after each chapter are also mandatory. The style of this book is rather sympathetic. The author really takes the cryptology characters, Alice, Bob, and Eve (the eavesdropper) seriously, and writes the entire book around their attempts at communicating securely respectively breaking that security. This comes out rather well.

Another dimension related to the fact that this is a text book is the fact that the author cannot be very creative and convey anything new. All ciphers and algorithms described in this book are described in tons of other literature, which brings me to one of the weaknesses of this book: There are books out there that are better at covering the theory-heavy material. Some of the more complicated concepts are not always very clearly explained, and I would blame my limited understanding if it weren't for the fact that I looked them up in other literature and was able to comprehend them. On the other hand, the book is written in a way that keeps the reader interested between the theoretical passages.

The most creative thing about this book is the author's attempt at creating something new by supplying a software package that's used to illustrate the concepts in the book. This is novel and good in theory, but in practice it has some drawbacks. First of all, the book was published in 2004, while the software looks like it has been written for Windows 3.0 (uh... before 2004, that is). It's simply ugly. User-friendliness is zero. Even with the book, some of the options in the software package don't make sense.

Now, it so happens that the year is 2010, and the software package that wasn't good in 2004 (or whenever Windows 3.0 had its peak for that matter), hasn't exactly got better.

Enough about that. Pretend that the software isn't around when reading.

Total score? Fair student book, doesn't excel in the pedagogical dimension. OK book.

Who should read this book

Those interested in the evolution of classical ciphers into the encryption algorithms of today may find this book interesting.


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