A Short History of Encryption Part 3 of 4

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In this 4-part blog series, we’ve learned the definition of encryption and how healthcare providers use it to protect ePHI, and now we’ll learn a bit about the history of encryption. 

Encryption Through the Ages

One of the most famous examples of encryption was the use of a military Enigma machine by Nazi Germany before and during World War II. Recently the story of breaking the Enigma code was featured in the 2014 film “The Imitation Game” and British television series “The Bletchley Circle”.

The use of encryption dates back much earlier, however, and was used all over the world by ancient scribes. A well-documented cuneiform tablet from Mesopotamia around 1500 BCE contained an encrypted recipe for an important and highly valuable pottery glaze. In 700 BCE the Spartan military wrote in a secret code, or cipher, by writing on pieces of parchment or leather while wound around a wooden stick called a scytale. The messages were sent unraveled and would be decoded by wrapping it around another stick that served as the key.

In our current digital world, encryption is incredibly complex. The ciphers we use today are better known as algorithms. This highly sophisticated code rearranges words and messages we communicate electronically into something unintelligible. Algorithms are specifically designed to be unique for a highly secure encryption scheme. Only the intended recipient(s) can access the message and not unauthorized users.

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