Wednesday, June 25, 2008

the Autonomous cipher

The basic outline of a cipher is that it combines a message and a key to produce unreadable text. At some level, then, the key is like a set of instructions that informs the encryption algorithm about what to do with the message. Compare the process to that of assembling an attractive grill. The message is like the parts, the key is like the sheet of directions, and the finished grill is the encrypted message (presuming the directions' language isn't French--"Le grille?...What the hell is that?!"). Why not have the key actually be a set of encryption instructions?

The Autonomous cipher uses this concept. In this cipher, each digit of the key represents two operations (the key "self-directs" the encryption to a large degree, hence the name Autonomous). The operations' instructions assume a "current cipher index" variable, i, of an array of numbers representing the message. For that matter, the message array could be visualized as a long "tape" and i could be visualized as a "read/write head" that shifts position along the tape:
  1. "0" increases by 3 the array value whose index is i and subtracts 3 from i; corresponding operations of the remaining digits will be displayed as pairs
  2. "1" is (3,2)
  3. "2" is (1,2)
  4. "3" is (3,-1)
  5. "4" is (1,-3)
  6. "5" is (2,3)
  7. "6" is (1,-1)
  8. "7" is (3,4)
  9. "8" is (2,-2)
  10. "9" is (1,4)
Bonus points to anyone who noticed the Turing Machine references. The rest of the encryption algorithm is simple (simpler than the Pointed cipher) because all it does is interpret the key.
  1. Convert the message to a numerical representation as an array of numbers. Duh.
  2. Set both i and the reading position of the key (key index) to 0. Perform the following two steps until the resulting value of i is 0.
  3. Use the key index to determine which instruction to execute, then execute it. This means i and the message array are updated accordingly. When i "falls off" either end of the array, merely wrap it around to the other end.
  4. Increment the key index. Wrap around to the start of the key if the end is reached.
  5. Undo the last increment of the key index; it wasn't actually used. Then append this last value of the key index to the end of the message array.
The decryption algorithm is the encryption algorithm in reverse (flip integer signs, change i before modifying the array, etc.). It should be noted that a more helpful visualization of the message array is a circle, because of the wrap-around. Study of the cipher leads to some conclusions.
  • Any given key may not really work for any given plaintext, for two definitions of "not work": 1) the key starts with a sequence like '18' (i + 2 followed by i - 2) and therefore halts before barely encrypting at all, 2) the key consists of instructions that will jump around but never return to 0 in a reasonable time for the message text. The most extreme example of case 2 is a key that starts with '9' (i + 4) then continues in infinite repetitions of '583' (i + 3, i - 2, i - 1). However, all finite keys will repeat eventually, and with enough repetitions all keys must return to 0. When the net effect of a key is to go from 0 to "x" on a message of length "m", there exist a number of repetitions "r" and a multiple of m "n" such that m*n = r*x. (Any multiple of m works for returning to index 0 because it's identical--congruent--to repeatedly moving from 0 to 0, 0 = (0 + m) % m.) Rearranging terms yields m/x = r/n where m and x are constants. One solution among many to this two-variable equation is r = m and n = x. Stated in practical language, no matter what a finite key does and no matter how long the message is, the index will certainly return to 0 after cycling through the entire key a number of times equal to the message length. For long keys and even longer messages, this absolute upper bound on the number of key repetitions is hardly restrictive. In any case, the key may return to 0 much sooner anyway, of course.
  • Although infinite keys may cause problems, any finite key may be arbitrarily extended to produce a longer key, a key that requires more cycles to return to 0. This extension can be accomplished with a couple techniques, but I suppose there are many more possibilities. 1) Replace one or more digit(s) with other digits that have the same net effect. The key thereby will take more iterations to return to 0, as long as none of the "intermediate" steps of the replacement lands on 0. Two '1' or '2' digits (+2 each) can take the place of one '9' digit (+4). A '76' (+4 then -1) can take the place of a '5' (+3). A more complicated replacement is '2' (+2) by '2233' (+2 then +2 then -1 then -1). And each '2' in '2233' can then be replaced by '2233', and so on--but each of these specific replacements only succeed when the value of i before the replacement point, "j", solves none of the equations (j + 4) % arraylength = 0, (j + 3) % arraylength = 0, (j + 2) % arraylength = 0. 2) At some point in the key when i is not 0, i.e not at the start or end, insert another (full) key. By definition, the net effect of the inserted key will be 0. However, as before, the inserted key itself must not incidentally hit 0 as it runs. Assuming the value of i in the enclosing key is "j" at the point before insertion, the inserted key must not ever attain the i index "message length - j" when it runs on its own. For instance, consider two boring keys for a simple message length of 8. Key A is '99' (+4 then +4). It has only one intermediate value, 4. Key B is '2143' (+2 then +2 then -3 then -1). To make B longer by inserting A, A could be inserted before '3' to produce '214993' because one of A's intermediate i values isn't 8 - 1 = 7. A couldn't be inserted before '4' to produce '219943' because (the only) one of its intermediate values is 8 - 4 = 4. The key would end up being '219', one digit smaller than the original! Notice that B could also be inserted into B, '2(2143)143', since B never assigns i the index 8 - 2 = 6.
  • Looking at the list of ten operations, some interrelationships stick out. Five decrease i (03468), five increase i (12579). For each particular change in i, one or two operations perform it. -3 has 0 and 4, -2 has 8, -1 has 3 and 6, +2 has 1 and 2, +3 has 5, +4 has 7 and 9. Complementary pairs of digits that undo each other's effects, and so are by definition keys, are (0 or 4) and 5, (1 or 2) and 8. Complementary triples of digits that have a net effect of 0, and so are by definition keys, are (1 or 2) and (3 or 6) and (3 or 6), (3 or 6) and 8 and 5, (7 or 9) and 8 and 8, (7 or 9) and (0 or 4) and (3 or 6). Remember that order doesn't matter in these keys. '385' is a key so '538' is also a key.
  • The digits of irrational numbers might not be as promising for keys as one would think. pi is not. '3141', one of the possible four-digit keys, is when pi stops. The square root of 2 isn't much better. It stops at '14142', five digits long. '141' having a net effect of +1 is a bit of a show-stopper.
  • A direct crack of a ciphertext, as opposed to indirect methods like brute-force and related-key, begins by looking for clues that help indicate how the ciphertext could have been generated. Metaphorically, the destination ciphertext aids in reconstructing and reversing the encryption journey. But for this cipher, the origin and the destination are the same in one aspect: i's value. The tracing of i hinges on examining the array values; the question is how each final array value differs from what it was before one or more visits from i. Unfortunately, those differences are difficult to compute, because determining the unknown starting value of each array element is precisely the goal of the entire cracking process. Nevertheless, since the starting values are in a known range and each individual increase is in the range 1-3, someone could calculate "ballpark estimates" for the number of "i visits" that possibly resulted in a particular number. The final number of the encrypted message array, an index into the key, also establishes a lower bound for key size. Additionally, a key that repeated before returning to 0 would probably show more telling patterns than a key that didn't. On the other hand, larger keys are more bothersome to work with.
  • Alternative bases for the key digits is a possible variation that would enable a greater quantity of symbolized operations. The operations could become as complex as desired, too, although all operations must be exactly reversible, have inverses. A key in one base could be equivalent (isomorphic) to a key in a second base as long as the set of symbolized operations for the keys was equivalent. The key in the larger base would then be a "short version" of the key in the smaller base, similar to how programmers use hexadecimal.
My Javascript implementation of the Autonomous cipher is part of the blog layout, down at the bottom on the right. In the page source, search for 'autonomouscipher' (one word). If you use it or download it I am not responsible for any awful consequences. I don't advise you to use it for encrypting anything important or unimportant. Legal disclaimer, etc. It's purely for entertainment, educational, and/or edutainment purposes.

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