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Codebook appears, if I don't err, to be an antiquitated topic rarely touched upon in discussions of modern cryptography. Couldn't codebook nonetheless be of high practical utility and even be extremely advantageous in certain critical fields of modern secret communications? Consider e.g. the hypothetical situation where a manager has to securely correspond with his representative who is negotiating with the customer in a bid under rival competitions. It seems that the essential instructions and responses could be realistically formulated as sentences and phrases of an appropriately designed codebook having entries of, say, 256 in number. That is, one needs only to suitably employ a highly limited number of code words in entirely neutral appearing text messages or to otherwise transmit somehow a small number of bits denoting the indices of the involved sentences or phrases in the codebook in certain appropriate way (e.g. the scheme http://s13.zetaboards.com/Crypto/topic/6939954/1/). It may be remarked that the codebook need not be static but can preferrably be dynamic, i.e. the mapping between the codewords and their meanings is dependent on a session key, being a random permutation (Fisher and Yates algorithm or alternatives) determined by it. The codewords are preferrably to be chosen to be certain commonly employed words, e.g. surnames etc. in order to ease the composition of a fairly natural covertext. In case it is desired to have integrity check, one could employ two disjoint sets of codewords that are independently permuted w.r.p.t. the set of meanings so that each meaning (or only those meanings that are classified as important) will be trasmitted via the coexistence of at least one keyword from each set.

Thus seen, top secret communication isn't necessarily a hard problem, or is it? Since no encrypted stuffs are involved, the scheme avoids from the outset issues like enforcing delivery of encryption keys or implanting of "official" backdoors (cf. news of a current debate in US on Apple's phones.)

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    $\begingroup$ We all have computers in our pockets nowadays... $\endgroup$ – fkraiem Feb 24 '16 at 13:29
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    $\begingroup$ @fkraiem: I doubt to have properly interpreted what you wrote. I mean my OP concerns the security of the message (i.e. independent of the hardware involved). $\endgroup$ – Mok-Kong Shen Feb 24 '16 at 15:59
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    $\begingroup$ With the arguments of my OP, top secrect communication isn't necessarily a hard problem, or is it? (And all the discussions like enforcing delivery of encryption keys or implanating "official" backdoors would appear to be more or less "Much Ado about Nothing".) $\endgroup$ – Mok-Kong Shen Feb 24 '16 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ Why would you use such an obviously imperfect method when you can use strong algorithms? In a "codebook" system, the problem of key distribution still applies: the codebook is the key. $\endgroup$ – fkraiem Feb 24 '16 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ @fkraiem: Which "strong algorithms"? Do you mean encryption algorithms? If yes, see my last comment (i.e. one has the advantage of avoiding to have matters to do with law enforcement authorities which attempt to intrude into people's privacy as one amply sees in the recent news). $\endgroup$ – Mok-Kong Shen Feb 24 '16 at 16:22
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I believe the possible advantages of the principles behind a codebook are:

  • Can be memorized by humans.
  • Can be used in normal speech (e.g. over the phone/radio/in normal conversation) or in text (e.g. in a newspaper)
  • The data is compressed: it can replace longer phrases or concepts with shorter ones.
  • Plausible deniability: It's possible to deny any code exists at all.
  • As long as a specific code is only used once and the codebook is kept secret, it's perfectly secure.

So some uses would be for:

  • Military operations (e.g. "Execute Plan A" would be meaningless to enemies and also allows faster execution of the plan than having to detail it)
  • Communication to people with no high-tech equipment, e.g. resistance groups with only access to radios/tv.
  • Groups of people who want to stay anonymous referring to each other by a nickname.
  • Criminal organizations who do not want to be openly on record talking e.g. about drugs or plans.
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  • $\begingroup$ Many thanks for the comment. BTW I was elsewhere reminded of the use of codebooks in WWII, in particular the interesting history of code breaking in en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Midway $\endgroup$ – Mok-Kong Shen Feb 25 '16 at 10:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Mok-KongShen Unfortunately, some pundits refuse to accept this historical fact. There is a view that code books and one time pads could never have possibly worked because of the (naively) perceived distribution issues. $\endgroup$ – Paul Uszak Dec 6 '16 at 2:45
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You'd be surprised how common it is. Followers hear it quite often in televised F1 racing. The teams issue coded messages to their drivers that are sometimes publicly broadcast. These are usually for car settings or race strategy. They have to be coded as other teams can hear at least some their communications. The race pundits speculate as to the meaning of the messages.

You see a very interesting aspect of SIGINT traffic analysis when this happens. If a driver is in deep doo doo and falling behind in his lap times, a coded message goes out for "XXX?$$?". Everybody hears this if the race officials broadcast it, or the other teams intercept it. The race pundits are highly experienced ex drivers who then kinda guess that it might be a fuel setting to speed up the car. The time and context of the message therefore immediately suggests it's content. This traffic analysis can be automated and taken much much further.

Finally there is the issue of code book /key distribution, as with one time pads. This is not a problem in realistic cases. Code books are distributed out of band at the start of an operation, perhaps in person. This way they can be delivered securely and authenticated. This is one of the areas where code books and one time pads excel. There's no need to flail around with impossible to understand and often poorly implemented computerised authentication algorithms. Just physically hand them to the person you trust. Encrypted communication then proceeds subsequent to the distribution. Another meeting never has to take place. The mistake most people make is that they assume code books and one time pads can be used for encrypting their porn movies and twitter feeds. No. The important things can be said in a few words.

[Since F1 is the wealthiest sport in the world, you can bet your bottom $200M per race that every attempt is made to intercept and decrypt car telemetry and driver communications.]

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