Cryptanalysis is the study of analyzing information systems to understand hidden aspects of the systems. It is used to breach cryptographic security systems and gain access to the contents of encrypted messages, even if the cryptographic key is unknown.

Types of Cryptanalytic Attacks

  1. Ciphertext-only Attack:
    • The cryptanalyst has the ciphertext of several messages, all of which have been encrypted using the same encryption algorithm. The objective is to derive the plaintext of as many messages as possible, or ideally, deduce the key used to encrypt the messages.
  2. Known-plaintext Attack:
    • The cryptanalyst possesses both the plaintext (original message) and its encrypted version (ciphertext). The goal is to deduce the key used to encrypt the message.
  3. Chosen-plaintext Attack:
    • The attacker can choose arbitrary plaintexts to be encrypted and obtain the corresponding ciphertexts. Their goal is typically to learn information that reduces the feasibility of a brute-force search to find the key.
  4. Man-in-the-middle Attack:
    • The attacker positions themselves between two communicating parties and intercepts, relays, and possibly alters the communication, often unbeknownst to the two parties.
  5. Side-channel Attack:
    • Instead of targeting the cryptographic algorithm, these attacks focus on the implementation of the cryptographic system, exploiting physical information leaks like power consumption or electromagnetic leaks from the system.

Objectives of Cryptanalysis

  1. Total Break: The attacker deduces the secret key.
  2. Global Deduction: The attacker discovers an algorithm that is functionally equivalent to the encryption algorithm.
  3. Selective Deduction: The attacker discovers the plaintext for a subset of the ciphertext.
  4. Existential Deduction: The attacker discovers some information about the plaintext, but not necessarily the entire plaintext.

Cryptanalysis Tools and Techniques

  1. Frequency Analysis: Analyzes the frequency of letters or groups of letters in a piece of ciphertext.
  2. Pattern Words: Searching for known structures, like common headers or patterns in the ciphertext.
  3. Brute Force: Tries every possible key to decrypt the ciphertext until the original plaintext is found.
  4. Statistical Analysis: Studies the properties and patterns of ciphertexts to deduce probable transformations used to produce them.

Countermeasures against Cryptanalysis

  1. Increasing Key Length: A longer key means more possible combinations, making brute-force attacks more time-consuming.
  2. Regularly Changing Keys: Rotating keys reduces the risk associated with a key being compromised.
  3. Using Secure Algorithms: Using cryptographic algorithms that have been widely studied and peer-reviewed for potential vulnerabilities.
  4. Physical Security: Protecting devices and systems from side-channel attacks through secure environments or hardware protections.
  5. Implementing Cryptographic Best Practices: Including using random initialization vectors and salts, and regularly updating cryptographic libraries.


Cryptanalysis plays a dual role in the world of cryptography. While it is used by attackers aiming to breach security systems, it’s also a critical tool for security experts and researchers to test and improve cryptographic methods. By understanding potential weaknesses and continuously adapting, cryptographers aim to stay one step ahead of adversaries and ensure that information remains secure.