Tag Archives: key

Lets Learn About XOR Encryption

One of the more common things about this generation is the constant desire to write up (type) their thoughts. So many of the conversations from my high school days were long lasting, but quickly forgotten. Today’s generation is much more likely to blog, tweet, write status updates or simply open up a notepad file and write up their thoughts after such a conversation.

When we feel that our thoughts are not ready for public eyes (maybe you want to run your idea by the Patent and Trademark Office before speaking about it) we may seek some form of security to ensure that they stay private. An old fashioned way of doing this was to write in a diary and enclosed it within a lock and key. The mathematical field of encryption also tries to grant privacy by encoding messages so that only people with the necessary information can read them.

The type of encryption I want to speak about today is called XOR encryption. It is based on the logical operation called “exclusive or” (hence the name XOR). The exclusive or operation is true between two logical statements if exactly one of the two statements is true, but not both statement. This can be represented with the following truth table

Input 1 Input2 XOR Result
T T F
T F T
F T T
F F F

XOR Encryption is particularly useful in this day and age because we every character we type is understood by the computer as a sequence of zeros and ones. The current standard encoding that is used is Unicode (also known as UTF-8). Under this encoding the letter ‘a’ is represented as the binary string ‘01100001’. Similarly every letter, number and special character can be represented as its own binary string. These binary strings are just an assignment of numbers to these characters so that we can to help represent them in the computer. The numbers can the be thought of in base 10, which is how we generally think about numbers, or in base 2 which is how computers generally work with numbers (or a number of other ways). The way we would use these binary strings in encoding is first by translating a text from human-readable text to machine readable text via its binary string. For example, the word “Invincible”, we would get the following binary strings:

Letter Unicode in base 10 Unicode in base 2
I 73 01001001
n 110 01101110
v 118 01110110
i 105 01101001
n 110 01101110
c 99 01100011
i 105 01101001
b 98 01100010
l 108 01101100
e 101 01100101

To encrypt the message we need a key to encode the message and will simply perform an XOR operation on the key and every character in the string. Similarly, do decrypt the message we perform XOR operation on the key and every character in the encoded message. This means that the key (much like a normal key to a diary) must be kept private and only those whom the message is to be shared between have access to it.

Here is a link to the script where you can check out XOR Encrpytio. Try it out and let me know what you think.

The RSA Algorithm

I can remember back when I was in school, still deciding whether I wanted to study pure or applied mathematics. One of the common questions I would receive from those in applied mathematical realms would sound like “What’s the point of doing mathematics with no real world applications?”. Generally my response to these questions was about the intrinsic beauty of mathematics, no different from an artist painting not for some desire to be a millionaire, but because of an burning desire to paint. Whether their paintings would one day be on the walls of a Smithsonian museum or sit on their mother’s refrigerator is generally outside of the thought process of the artist. So too, would I argue about the thought process of a pure mathematician.

When I was an undergrad and learned about the RSA algorithm (named for Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman who discovered the algorithm) it helped me explain this concept a lot better. The algorithm is based on prime numbers and the problem of finding the divisors of a given number. Many mathematicians throughout the ages have written papers on the beauty of prime numbers (see Euclid, Eratosthenes, Fermat, Goldbach, etc). For a large period in time one of the beautiful things about prime numbers was that they were so interesting in themselves. There were questions about how to check if a number is prime, question of patterns in primes, famous conjectures like the Goldbach conjecture and the twin prime conjecture, quick ways of finding prime numbers or numbers that are almost always prime, etc. In short, this was an active area of research that much of the applied world was not using. This all changed in 1977 when Rivest, Shamir and Adleman published the RSA algorithm.

The algorithm is in the area called public key cryptography. These algorithms differ from many of the previous cryptography algorithms, namely symmetric key cryptography. Whereas symmetric key cryptography depends uses the same device (key) to encode as to decode, public key cryptography creates two keys – one for encoding that is generally shared with others, and another for decoding which is kept private. These two keys in generally relate to a mathematical problem that is very difficult to solve.

In my example script for the RSA Algorithm, I show two people who want to communicate, Alice and Bob. Bob wants people to be able to send him messages securely so he decides to use the RSA algorithm. To do this, he first needs to think of two prime numbers, p1 and p2.
From these, he computes the following:
n = p1 * p2

Next, he computes Euler’s function on this n which can be calculated as
(n) = (p1 – 1) * (p2 – 1)

Then Bob looks for a number e that is relatively prime to . This is what he will use as the encryption key.

One he has e, he can calculate d, which is the multiplicative inverse of e in (n).
This means that e * d = 1 (mod (n)).

The public key that will be used for encryption will be the pair (e, n). This is what he posts publicly via his web page for others to communicate with him securely. Bob also has a private key pair (d, n) that he will use to decrypt messages.

Alice sees Bob’s public key and would like to communicate with him. So she uses it to encode a message. The formula she uses to encrypt her message is c = me mod n, where c is the encrypted message. Once Alice encrypts her message, she sends it to Bob.

Bob receives this encoded message and uses the private key (d, n) to decode the message from Alice. The formula to decrypt is m = cd mod n.

For a more illustrative idea of how this algorithm works as well as examples, be sure to visit Script for the RSA Algorithm.