I recently learned about an encryption protocol called CipherSaber, which was developed in 2001 by author, consultant and Star Wars fan Arnold G. Reinhold in retaliation against government plans to restrict access to strong cryptographic techniques.
CipherSaber is based on a stream cipher called RC4 (a.k.a. “Arcfour”) that was developed by Ron Rivest. Since the RC4 algorithm is simple enough for a programmer to implement from memory, it is effectively immune to any sort of software embargo.
Although CipherSaber lacks important features like a key exchange mechanism and cryptographic techniques have moved on since 2001 (RC4 is no longer considered entirely safe), CipherSaber is still a useful cipher of last resort. I’d encourage anyone with an interest in cryptography or programming to try their hand at creating their own implementation. Reinhold’s pages are starting to show their age (broken links everywhere!), so I’ll summarize the algorithm below:
You will need:
- A secret key (up to 246 bytes)
- Binary data to be encrypted or decrypted (as many bytes as you like)
- A number
num_roundswhich should equal 1 for the original CipherSaber algorithm, or 20 for CipherSaber-2 (recommended). Or you can choose some other value if you like.
- Create two 256-byte arrays called
Sby filling it with all the values from 0 to 255 (i.e.,
S=2, and so on.)
- Copy the secret key to the bytes at the start of
- If you’re encrypting, you should then generate ten bytes of random data (called the initialization vector). Write a copy of these ten bytes to your output file. If you’re decrypting, read these ten bytes back in from the start of the binary data.
- Append the initialization vector to
S2, directly after the secret key. Then fill up the remainder of
S2by repeating the secret key and initialization vector until you have set all 256 positions in
- Now we have to randomize the contents of
Sbased on the contents of
S2. This is done by swapping bytes in
Saccording to the following method, using the value of
num_roundsyou chose earlier:
j = 0 for n in (1 .. num_rounds) for i in (0 .. 255) j = (j + S[i] + S2[i]) mod 256 swap S[i], S[j] end end
You can now discard
S2; it won’t be used any more.
Sto generate a pseudo-random stream of bytes to combine with the input data (using exclusive-or (XOR) operations). Since this is a symmetric cipher, the procedure is exactly the same for encryption and decryption:
i = 0; j = 0 for each byte b of binary data: i = (i + 1) mod 256 j = (j + S[i]) mod 256 swap S[i], S[j] k = (S[i] + S[j]) mod 256 output (b xor S[k]) end
Well I hope that isn’t too complicated. Frankly it’s about at the limit of what I’d be able to reproduce from memory, and I’m not sure I’d be able to get it right first time either. But do have a go at writing your own. You’ll probably want somewhere to test your code, and for that purpose I’ve set up an online encryption/decryption tool that you’re welcome to use.
And finally, don’t forget to use a strong password with CipherSaber. Here’s a text encrypted with CipherSaber-2 using one of the 25 most common passwords of 2013. See if you can figure out what it was:
f8 a2 76 5d d2 3a 75 67 0f 15 ea 1e 8d 55 9f 39 69 cd 3f d6 61 48 06 85 65 1e a3 1a eb d7 88 dd d8 cd 46 e8 0c d6 cd 2d b1 bf 7b 34 aa fc aa ed 39 a9 14 6f e7 5c 57 f6 23 f8 69 d3 17 f7 0a f8 a8 7d 29 f3 9c e7 45 51 0d 6c 92 b8 9f 3d 6c 5a c8 8c 7d 71 e0 60 75 fb 00 61 c6 f2 02 60 e3 38 ab c0 48 f7 ed bd 05 67 c0 25 99 cc 85 67 23 ae 67 61 e2 0c ce 90 95 c8 8a 9f 19 ca 2e 35 0b a8 c3 31 6a 39 3a 24 52 31 e4 81 ae 35 f6 d9 c7 5f 31 3e 6f 2f 2f 96 87 95 0c 2f 90 87 1f a2 94 68 e3 ac 93 29 4d a7 53 24 a1 ca 51 35 10 84 50 58 01 12 42 6a 6a 0b f4 1d a6 33