What is Encryption?
Encryption is a form of security created by altering information before transmission, so that only an authorized sender and receiver can encode and decode the information. It is a fairly effective form of information security. While the technology that enables encryption to code and decode messages sent over telephone lines is a product of the late twentieth century, encryption has been around for centuries, most notably as a province of war rather than commerce. As early as the 5th century B.C., the rulers of Sparta employed a cipher device called a scytale to disguise communications of an official nature that for delivery by courier. If intercepted by an enemy, it was unreadable. This method of security protected vital information from reaching enemy hands for centuries.
Encryption remained a pencil and paper technique up until World War I when machines began to be used to code information. These electronic mechanical devices both produced strong ciphers and increased the speed of encoding and decoding. They eventually gave way to the construction of the world’s first digital machine.
Following the World War II engineers began to experiment by programming computers with ciphering and enciphering technology, marking the advent of electronic encryption. Like virtually all such techniques since Caesar’s time, the new electronic encryption was primarily utilized to keep military secrets. However, as one author notes, the use of this technology changed dramatically in the late 1970s and early 1980s when organizations other than the government began transmitting sensitive information over phone lines.