Venetian Cryptographies (L3) – Project Overview

Introduction

Cryptography (or more generally, cryptology) is the study of techniques for securing communication, as well as stored data. Ciphers have been used since ancient times to protect valuable information of all kinds: secret decrees and military orders to name but a few.

What did ciphers look like in medieval Venice and Europe in general? How and when were they used? Is it possible to reconstruct the encryption techniques that were created and employed by first professional cryptographers like Giovanni Soro and Leon Battista Alberti? We will try to answer these questions in our project.

We will present several of the most important cryptographic techniques and devices of the time. For each we will also provide information about the inventor, the context in which it was used and a user guide. You will then have the chance to try the devices yourself, by using our interactive implementations and solving a few cryptographic exercises.

Methodology

The final deliverable will be a web interface where users can view information, interact with examples of cryptographic machines, and contribute their own input to the project.

The interface will present the user with a general introduction to the project and will set the scene for Venetian cryptography. A menu will give the user the option of choosing between several of the most famous devices of the time.

Mini wiki

We will start by gathering information on everything related to code-cracking in Venice and related locations, as well as all the different encryption devices that we would like to present. We will include the biography of the inventor of the device or algorithm, the general context in which the cipher was used and perhaps some events which involved the usage of this cipher or device.

The wiki format is extremely convenient for its ability to show the links and relations between different people, objects and events. We are going to create a wiki resource to gather all the information we can find about cryptography in Venice and neighbor areas. The wiki will also classify the various collected data into different time periods, geographical regions and types of cryptographic algorithms. After that it will become possible to create a timeline of all the cryptography-related events.

Using a Wiki also enables community input after or even during the project, and will hopefully inspire a renewed interest in medieval cryptography, and specifically that of Venice.

Interactive cryptographic machines

Some machines presented in the Wiki will have corresponding web implementations that users can play around with in order to see them in action. To put their newly acquired skills to good use, a series of simple exercises will be provided. This will give users a unique hands on experience with some of the most famous cryptographic machines of that era.

The implementations will be done in HTML5 and JavaScript. We will use this approach in order to take advantage of the wide availability of these technologies on a broad range of devices. We will try to give a realistic feel to these devices, so that they match with their descriptions. Users will be able to interact with these machines from their computer, tablet or mobile phone, without any special platform porting being necessary.

Interactive cryptographic algorithms

Not every enciphering technique had a corresponding mechanical device, however some of these algorithms played an important role. For these kinds of ciphers we will provide a simple text-based interface for enciphering and deciphering.

Exercises

Each cryptographic device will come with several exercises. The exercises will be inspired by the actual techniques involved in using the device and will aim to help the user understand how it worked and how it was used. Examples of exercises will be to encrypt or decrypt a given sequence, after which the user will receive some feedback. Gamification techniques have proved to be really useful in education contexts, so we will consider implementing features such as contest organizing and maintenance of a users’ rating.

Timeline

We will integrate each device into a global timeline along with other famous events, so that users can see which device had what kind of influence and when, therefore getting a complete image of that era’s cryptographic mechanisms and their creators.

Milestones

Weeks 1-2 — information gathering, setting up and filling the Wiki

Weeks 3-4 — decisions are made about the machines we will implement, technologies are chosen

Weeks 5-6 — setting up the platform, start devices development, filling the Wiki non-stop!

Weeks 7-9 — developing the devices

Weeks 10-11 — designing and implementing the exercises

Weeks 12-13 — writing the report, final testing of the devices and exercises (open beta?)